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Kogi guber debacle: The game is politics


Wada and Audu

Wada and Audu

EXCEPT for a lacuna in Nigeria’s legal instruments governing election management, the November 21 Kogi State governorship election, considered generally peaceful by almost all local and foreign observers, would have been long concluded and attention shifted to next weekend’s exercise in Bayelsa.

The sudden death of the candidate of the All Progressive Congress (APC), Abubakar Audu, who was already leading his closest rival and incumbent governor Idris Wada of the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) by 41,535 votes, was announced after the process has been declared inconclusive because of cancellation of returns in 91 polling units across the state.

A clause in the electoral guidelines of the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) which the body relied on to declare the polls inconclusive, states that cancelled votes, which in this instance is 49,353, must not be more than the difference between the winning candidate and his closest rival.

But as the country was searching for a solution to a problem that was apparently not envisaged, with concerned groups seeking legal interpretation of the situation and stakeholders demanding judicial supports for their demands, a new twist was added to the controversy when the APC in Audu’s Kogi East Senatorial District, requested that the son of the deceased, Muhammed, should be handed the mandate of his father.

To these APC politicians, it doesn’t matter whether Muhammed’s proposed candidacy fulfilled all the legal obligations, party recommendations or election guidelines, they just want, like in hereditary ascendancy, the son to inherit the throne of the father.

Another demand that the Igallas who occupied Kogi East and to whom Audu and Wada belong, must produce a replacement for the late politician was brought to the fore and, like the earlier argument, it lacked any legal backing.

A dangerous dimension was however added to the controversy when a section of the sitting lawmakers, led by Abdul Mumini, threatened to impeach any non-Igalla man that emerged in the process of replacing Audu. Again, the arguments of the lawmakers were not supported by any legal citation.

This appeal to tribal and religious sentiments, although holding no legal waters, is already threatening the peace of the state. In a reaction to the substitution of Audu with Yahaya Bello, the runner-up in the APC primary election, hundreds of youths staged a violent demonstration against the party leadership threatening to make the state ungovernable unless an Igalla man is made to continue their “tenure”.

Another area of “politicization” of the Kogi debacle is the demand by Wada and the PDP that the incumbent, “being the living candidate with the highest votes”, be declared by the court as the winner of the inconclusive exercise. The party did not cite any legal antecedent for its demand which to discerning minds, is nothing but dancing around the issue for maximum political gains.

Speaking with The Guardian yesterday on politicians’ request for non-legal solutions to resolve the Kogi election impasse, former National Legal Adviser of the PDP, Chief Olusola Oke said the matter could only be resolved when the law is followed to the letter.

According to him, “although there is no direct precedent in law in the current Kogi election logjam, it has thrown up a lot of challenges and the matter could only be resolved through the law. This is more so because the parties have joined issues in the courts.”

He said, “trying to find a political solution to a legal problem that is already in the courts cannot lead to anything. The law is solid on this. Elections are conducted with instruments of law and when there is controversy, only the law can resolve it.”

Oke, who is now a chieftain of the APC said, “Speaking as a lawyer and not as a politician, I want to say that Wada is wrong to have approached the courts. On what legal basis is he demanding that he should be declared winner?

When has it become acceptable in any part of the world, Nigeria inclusive, for a contestant to have the mandate of his opponent when the person dies? It is not done anywhere. So Wada cannot get anything from the court.”

He said the APC, which has recorded the highest votes in the exercise, is on a good stead since the Electoral Act recognizes the party and not the candidate in any election. So all the votes already garnered are for the party and the death of the candidate cannot nullify the votes.

“The APC has three options to wriggle out of the present scenario. It can challenge INEC on its declaration that the election was inconclusive standing on the ground that none of the polling units recorded 50 percent voter turnout therefore the expected votes from the cancelled units, even if they were all for PDP, cannot upturn APC’s victory.

“There is also the issue of how many voters in the cancelled units have Permanent Voters Cards (PVC) which was said to be far less than the number of the disenfranchised votes. This will produce Faleke as the governor.

“Another option is to pick another candidate who must stick to Faleke as his running mate because his position as a member of the joint ticket with Audu is sacrosanct in the eyes of the law.”

Speaking on the demand that Audu’s son be made to carry the flag, Oke described it as “trivializing a sensitive national issue” saying “this is a position that is not in any way backed by any modern law. On what basis would the son of the deceased be made to continue in the election?”

In his submission, elder statesman and legal practitioner, Dr. Tunji Braithwaite aligned with Oke that a legal solution should be proffered to resolve the stalemate in order to strengthen the country’s electoral system.

He argued that the only way to solve the impasse is to seek a correct legal interpretation of all the issues raised even as he expressed delight that the matter is before the courts.

However on the demand that Audu’s son should step into the shoes of his late father, the Senior Advocate of Nigeria (SAN) said it is normal in the sphere of politics to make such demands.

According to him, “It is not unusual for voters to want to extend sympathy to a popular leader by drafting any of his or her children or heir to take their position in this type of unfortunate situation where Audu died.

“For instance, take the case of Jomo Kenyatta of Kenya when his son was drafted to step into his shoe. So what is happening in Kogi is not unusual.”

Braithwaite however examined the demerits of the demands saying “other contenders who are politically viable for their communities in this type of situation could feel undone as if Nigeria is operating a dynasty system. Take a look at what happened in Kwara State between the Sarakis. You see the way state positions are being shared among members of the Saraki family as if it is a family inheritance.

“In the case of Kogi, I will not want to make any suggestion to the party concerned other than to say that Nigerians are blind idol worshippers due to their low level of political enlightenment. They worship idol blindly for money sake and not because of any objective purpose. The blind support of political fathers in that part of the country (Kogi) has nothing to do with merit.”

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