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Election rulings: Walking a familiar path?




court.jpg-citynewsWITH the spate of nullification or partial cancellation of elections that have come out of tribunals as regards governorship and state assembly elections in Akwa Ibom and Rivers states, respectively, we may be walking a familiar route that would see elected office holders emerge from the courts, and not polling booths.

The emergence of state governors from the law courts, away from polling stations where elections took place, in the South West a few years ago, was seen as an aberration. The convention all over the world is for office holders to be elected at polling stations. But in Nigeria, where anything can happen (a la Charlie Boy Show of old), we saw people walk out of law courts to be sworn in as governors, long after the electorate had carried out their constitutional responsibilities. The case of Rotimi Amaechi, who did not contest election but was made governor by the Supreme Court, qualified for entry into the Guinness Book of World Records.

It appears we are about to witness a repeat of history. Quite curiously, the party at the head of this move wherever it is made is, once again, the opposition.

In the last decade or so, the then Action Congress of Nigeria (ACN), one of the parties that coalesced into the All Progressives Congress (APC), acquired a characteristics for achieving in the courts what it failed to achieve at the polling stations. Widespread allegations of money for justice, coupled with call logs from one of the GSM operators that showed exchanges of communication between election tribunal chairmen and one of the parties, not only denied a former president of the appeal court a second term but also earned him a suspension and eventual retirement.

The two states whose governorship election petition outcomes at the tribunal have been subjects of intense debate in the last one week are Akwa Ibom and Rivers, predominantly strongholds of the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP). While the tribunal that heard the petition on the Akwa Ibom election has ordered a re-run in 18 out of the 31 local government areas of the state, the one on the Rivers State election has outrightly cancelled the election, calling for fresh election in the entire state. And coincidentally, the opposition in those two sates, in this case the All Progressives Congress (APC) is the one that challenged the elections at the tribunals.

What makes the prayers of the APC candidates in Akwa Ibom and Rivers states different from the prayers of the ACN candidates in Ekiti, Osun and Edo states where governors emerged from the courts is that the former are not asking to be declared winners. Perhaps this is so because there would be no basis for such prayers since, as in the case with Akwa Ibom, the APC candidate did not score the number of votes that could be considered close enough to cause a reversal if the tribunal were to simply cancel disputed results and declare a winner based on the final results, as was the case in the three states where Kayode Fayemi, Rauf Aregbesola and Adams Oshionmhole, respectively, became governors courtesy of court judgments.

The ruling of the Delta State election tribunal has supported the general belief that most of the South South states like Akwa Ibom, Cross River Bayelsa, Delta and Rivers are traditional PDP states. In a free and fair election, it would seem quite far-fetched for the APC to win in any of the states, regardless of the erroneous belief that no section of the country wants to be in the opposition, because of the so-called benefits that are derivable from being in the mainstream. The fact shouldn’t be ignored that Nigeria cannot be a one-party state, either. From 1999 when the current democratic dispensation began till date, there have always been states on the opposite side of the political divide. And empirical evidence does not suggest that those states have suffered in any way for being in the opposition.

The calculation of the APC may be that in the re-run in Akwa Ibom and Rivers, it would win the number of votes that is significantly high enough to brighten its chance of claiming the governorship at the tribunal when it challenges an outcome that would not favour it at the polls, as it is certain it will do. Thus, in the tradition established by one of its legacy parties, the party may be hoping to achieve at the tribunal what it may not get at the polls.

Can this happen in Akwa Ibom, where election results since 1999 prove incontrovertibly that the state is a PDP state. We have had cases from that time till now, in which the party holds the three senatorial seats, the 10 federal constituencies (in the seventh House of Representatives) and all the state assembly seats (before May 2015). Nothing has happened in the state to significantly alter the political equation in favour of an opposition party, even if the party happens to be in control of the federal government. The state does not have a godfather who could sway votes in a particular direction. The handful of past leaders who testified for the opposition candidate at the tribunal in Abuja has since lost political relevance in the state, and may be seeking rehabilitation.

But beyond the fact of the state being a PDP state, the incumbent governor, Udom Emmanuel has, since assuming office, proved beyond doubt that he is not occupying the office by happenstance. To borrow the cliché, he hit the ground running from day one, perhaps in anticipation of a situation such as might play out if the appeal and Supreme courts uphold the ruling of the tribunal, which would mean returning to solicit for votes when he had yet to even settle into office. The governor has endeared himself to the people of the state with his focus on revolutionizing the state, industrially speaking. The question is, would they be keen to get on the change bandwagon that has so far not had any effect on the country, even in the states that are in the mainstream?

Can the APC record enough votes in a re-run in the state to give it any chance of winning the governorship at the courts, as it might be calculating? Only time will tell/

• Chinedum Nwoke is a Public Affairs Analyst from Abuja.

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