Monday, 2nd October 2023

Kogi guber election dispute: Still more rivers to cross

By Ralph Omololu Agbana, Lokoja 
31 May 2020   |   2:49 am
Six months ago, the Kogi governorship election was declared won and lost by the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC). However, from the pool of 24 candidates and political parties that contested the November 16, 2019 election, three parties and candidates are locked in post-election...

Yahaya Bello

• PDP And The Abubakar Idris Challenge

Six months ago, the Kogi governorship election was declared won and lost by the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC). However, from the pool of 24 candidates and political parties that contested the November 16, 2019 election, three parties and candidates are locked in post-election legal battles to claim and reclaim the mandate.

The candidates in court are incumbent Governor Yahaya Bello of the All Progressives Congress (APC), Engr Musa Wada of the Peoples Democratic (PDP), Barrister Natasha Akpoti of the Social Democratic Party (SDP).

At the end of the process on November 17, 2019, according to INEC, Bello polled 406,222 votes to defeat his closest opponent Wada, who scored 189,704 votes. Akpoti came a distant third with 9,482 votes

Wada and Akpoti however contested the result of the election at the Kogi State Governorship Election Tribunal, which sat in Abuja, both of whom have had their petitions dismissed. 

A third of the litigation surrounding the conduct of the election, though a pre-election matter, which emanated from Action Peoples Party (APP), also has been struck out.

The APP, in a pre-election matter had dragged the INEC before the Federal High Court, Abuja, allegedly for excluding its candidates from the ballot. The party claimed that INEC prevented it from replacing its candidates earlier disqualified by the electoral umpire.

Besides alleged violence and other electoral malpractice, exclusion of the logo of the SDP from the ballot also formed part of the grounds on which Akpoti had gone to the tribunal to contest the authenticity of Bello’s victory at the poll. But while delivering judgment in the suit on Monday, May 18, 2020 the three-member tribunal led by Justice Kashim Kaigama held that the petition failed woefully. Mr. Kaigama also held that the testimonies given by the petitioners’ witnesses amounted to “hearsay, were doubtful, illogical, and of no probative value”.

Consequently, the tribunal dismissed the petition and ordered the petitioners (SDP and Akpoti) to pay N100, 000 to each of the respondents. The total cost to be paid by the petitioners sums up to N600, 000. 

In her reaction, Akpoti vowed to appeal against the judgment immediately. 
“I find today’s Kogi guber tribunal’s judgment the funniest thus far.The icing to its stupidity is that I should do N100, 000 giveaway to APC, INEC… appeal (court) here we come”.

Like Akpoti, for Wada and PDP, the battle is far from being over. The bone of contention in the PDP camp was that the election was characterised by massive over voting, illegal thumb printing and state-sponsored violence, among others. The icing on the cake was the admission of forensic evidence ordered by the Supreme Court, having been earlier rejected by the tribunal. 

Another huddle before Wada, which he also scaled before the tribunal judgment was the decision of the Appeal Court to reverse the judgment of the high court in Lokoja, which had stripped Wada of the ticket of the PDP. Wada had headed to the Appeal Court, and on April 21, 2020, the three-man panel led by Justice Muhammad Ibrahim however allowed the Appeal to clear the coast for the PDP candidate to focus on the big occasion, which was the tribunal judgment. 

On Saturday, May 23, 2020, the majority judgment delivered by Justice Kaigama however upheld Bello’s election on the grounds that the petitioners failed to prove allegations of rigging and other malpractices in the November 16, 2019 governorship election. Justice Kaigama therefore dismissed the petition of the PDP and its governorship candidate, Wada.

Wada’s team of lawyers led by J S Okutepa (SAN), signalling a return to the trenches next week at the Appeal Tribunal described Saturday’s judgment, which dismissed his client’s petition as a miscarriage of justice as it did not represent the position of the law.

In his reaction, Wada, buoyed by a minority judgment, which called for the cancellation of the election and rerun in seven local governments, appealed to the people of the state to be rest assured that the mandate would be retrieved.

In a two-to-one verdict, the dissenting judgment delivered by the Justice Ohimai Obviagele held that there were evidences of massive fraud in seven local government areas in contention. She subsequently nullified Bello’s election, ordered a rerun in the seven local government areas, while directing INEC to withdraw the Certificate of Return issued to Bello.
Justice Obviagele dealt extensively with the expert evidence of Prosecution Witness (PW19), the forensic expert whose evidence was not challenged by any of the three Respondents and held that when there is no contradiction or challenge to an expert evidence, the court was duty bound to accept such evidence.

The learned judge also held that in the seven local governments in dispute, the expert forensic evidence clearly showed that 234,000 unlawful and illegal votes were credited to Bello by INEC, which, if deducted from the 406,000 votes of Bello the petitioner would have the majority of the lawful votes in that election.

The dissenting judge also agreed that the petitioners had proved the violence during the election through Exhibits P146 and P147, which were video evidence that showed the use of Helicopter to intimidate voters and gory pictures of dead bodies.

“The videos were played in the open court and evidence of dead bodies tendered by PW32, which was admitted. On the totality of the evidence before the tribunal therefore the 2nd Respondent was not duly elected by majority of the valid votes.”

Abubakar Ibrahim Idris v Musa Wada: Another Huddle For PDP 
BETWEEN the inter-party legal tussle with the APC over the governorship mandate, Kogi State chapter of the PDP bleeds internally. As the party heads to the Appeal after suffering a bloodied nose at the tribunal, one more hurdle before the PDP candidate, Wada is the disputation of the party’s gubernatorial ticket, challenged by Alhaji Abubakar Idris, one of the aspirants at the PDP governorship primaries of September 3, 2019.

Abubakar Idris, son of former Governor Ibrahim Idris and incidentally brother in-law to Wada, insisted he and not Wada won the primary election. 
It will be recalled that on the night of September 3, 2019, midway into the sorting of the ballot papers, unknown gunmen invaded the Confluence Stadium, Lokoja, shooting sporadically and in the process ended the proceeding abruptly. The Governor Ahmadu Umaru Fintiri-led Kogi State PDP Governorship Primary Election Committee however declared Wada winner of the election. 

The committee said since casting of votes had been concluded at the time of the attack, the process of counting of the ballot was later concluded at another venue with all the agents present and witnessed by the INEC. 

But Idris would have none of that. He had approached the Kogi State High Court, Lokoja and demanded to be declared winner of the PDP primary. But the trial judge, Justice R O Olorunfemi, instead voided the entire process.

This outcome jolted both camps. Neither Idris nor Wada benefited from the judgment. The ultimate loser was the PDP. Abubakar Idris did not see it coming. Voiding of the primary was not part of his prayers. He had not gone to contest the fact that the PDP held a primary election. He had on September 27, 2019 gone to court to claim that he won the election and to ask to be declared winner of the election. 

But Justice Olorunfemi, in his surprise ruling, not only dismissed the claim on the ground that he did not substantiate his claim, he proceeded to rule that the PDP did not have a candidate in the last election in Kogi State.

“The primary election that produced Engr Musa Wada as the PDP flag-bearer was fraught with irregularities, such that an hour-long downpour and sporadic gunshots, which led to the delegates scampering for safety, cannot be said to be fair enough to produce a candidate. Neither the claimant Alhaji Abubakar Idris nor the defendant, Engr. Musa Wada can lay claim to being the authentic flag-bearer of the Peoples Democratic Party since the primary was inconclusive….”

Wada appealed the controversial judgment at the Court of Appeal through his lawyer, J S. Okutepa (SAN) on the ground that the trial judge did not have jurisprudence to grant reliefs not sought before him.

The Court of Appeal sitting in Abuja on Tuesday April 21, 2020 affirmed Musa Wada as duly nominated by the PDP as it’s candidate for the November 16, 2019 gubernatorial election.

The three-man panel of Justices led by Justice Ibrahim Muhammad Saulawa, with Justices Joseph E. Ekanen and Yasir Nimpar as members also set aside every order made by the trial court to the effect that there was no primary election by PDP in the state and that the appellant was not a candidate in the election.

“Every order made by the trial court that there was no primary election and that the appellant was not a candidate in the election is hereby set aside,” the court held.

The court, however, allowed the appeal, which sought to prove that PDP presented a candidate in the last election in the state in the person of Wada.
Abubakar Idris headed to the Supreme Court after the Appeal Court had ruled in Wada’s favour, a decision that angered party faithful who saw in his action an attempt to scuttle the ambition of the party.

For his insistence on pursuing the legal action without exhaustion of internal party machinery, he was accused of disloyalty and anti-party activities and on May 15 the younger Idris was pronounced expelled by his Ward executive.
The notice of expulsion letter signed by the Icheke ward PDP chairman, Sunday Idakwoji, said the decision was taken in accordance with chapter 10 and section 57 of the PDP Constitution (as amended).

Asked to comment on the allegations, Abubakar Idris told The Guardian that it would amount to time wasting to respond to an “un-addressable” group.

“I have never heard of them before they just sprung out of no where. A group that has no address nor state in America where they are talking from; a group that has not taken time to investigate the facts of the matter nor hear from the other party but rather just takes sides on a matter and they are supposed to be grounded with happenings in the state, where is the integrity?” PDP supporters sympathetic to Idris are of the view that the party has not been fair to both sides in their handling of the crisis.
The position of the Abubakar Idris’ media team was that rather than see the politician as a spoiler within the PDP, he should be appreciated for embarking on a legitimate action that would help strengthen internal democracy within the party.

All things being equal, the authentic candidate of the PDP for the 2019 Kogi Governorship election will only be unveiled at the Supreme Court in days to come. Whatever that portends for the main opposition party in its post-election petition also at the apex court, which is aimed to dislodge Yahaya Bello and APC from the Lugard House is a subject for another day.