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SDP: Supposed third force hobbled by intrigues, court intervention

By Leo Sobechi (Assistant Politics Editor)
23 December 2018   |   3:16 am
When an Abuja Federal High court ruled that the emergence of Mr. Donald Duke as the standard bearer of Social Democratic Party (SDP) did not comply with the provisions of the SDP constitution and regulations, observers expressed worry over inability of parties to conduct their affairs well.   The nation’s apex court had on several…

Professor Jerry Gana

When an Abuja Federal High court ruled that the emergence of Mr. Donald Duke as the standard bearer of Social Democratic Party (SDP) did not comply with the provisions of the SDP constitution and regulations, observers expressed worry over inability of parties to conduct their affairs well.
The nation’s apex court had on several landmark pronouncements declared that it is the responsibility of the national leadership of a political party cum its national headquarters to determine/submit its candidates for elective positions.
However, the courts also aver that political parties must endeavour at all times to abide by the dictates of their constitutions and written regulations.

What is left out of the loop of interpretive extrapolations is the duty of the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) during selection of candidates by political parties?
Is INEC’s presence at party primaries limited to sightseeing or ensuring that the process falls in line with the constitutional and regulatory stipulations of the party? Consequently, being the statutory organ charged with the administration of elections, does the stamp of approval given by INEC after overseeing the party primary amount to having probative value?
Those are some of the issues raised by the judicial intervention on the nomination and submission of Donald Duke’s name by the SDP to INEC. And, as was to be expected, the court ruling has pitched stakeholders of the party against the judiciary.

While party faithful believes that the court interpreted the letter of the constitution and closed its eyes to the spirit, the court seems to have founded its judgment purely on the legalistic, with due regards to the SDP constitution regarding the balance of party positions between the northern and southern parts of the country.
Perhaps, determined to clutch unto the spirit of the SDP constitutional provision, which sought to ensure that the zoning arrangement does not rob any of the two broad sections of the country adequate representation, Duke has served notice of his intention to challenge the ruling at the Supreme Court.
But despite the time wasting and distraction which the legal excursion to the apex court would toll on SDP electioneering, the appeal to a higher court would help to clarify among other foggy imputations whether the proviso on the party’s constitution that no one section would hold the Presidency and party chairmanship relates to nomination or expected to come into effect after election of President.

That is to say, whether the zoning clause was meant to ensure that having produced the head of government of the federation, a section of the country should not hold the office of national chairman of the party.
Another area of concern in the unfolding legal conundrum is what happens to the ballot generated by the votes of delegates to the SDP presidential primary vis-à-vis the inability of the SDP leadership to give clear direction to the presidential aspirants before the primary.
Justice Hussein Baba-Yusuf had in his ruling nullified Duke’s winning votes tally of 811 to give effect to his (court’s) position that since the party’s chairman, Chief Olu Falae, is from the South and Duke is from the South too, “the claimant laid sufficient evidence to have the judgment in his favour; it is a clear violation of the party’s constitution; the court cannot wave right over illegality.”
Also, having declared that “the law is clear; there is nothing to write in-between” and that “the law has crystallised that political parties should abide by the regulations which they have made by themselves,” it is left to be seen whether the legal provision is so powerful as to suspend the decision of SDP members as expressed in their votes.
Granted that the law is clear and that leaders of political parties should abide by the regulations they have made, should Duke be punished for the inability of SDP leaders to debar him from contesting, assuming the intendment of the SDP constitution was that prior to the emergence of a President (not a candidate for presidential election) the fact that the party chairman comes from a particular zone should preclude presidential aspirants from same zone?

And having participated in a credible party primary, is the law potent enough to cure Prof. Jerry Gana’s deficient votes and crown him as SDP presidential candidate at the expense of the endorsement of majority of party members?
Mouthing the supremacy of the country’s constitution, the embattled SDP presidential candidate, Duke, who is also a lawyer has declared that any law that seeks to curtail or subvert the right of any Nigerian that meets legal requirement to contest for the office of President in any guise is unconstitutional, null and void.
Duke said: “The delegates of our great party at its convention in October overwhelmingly elected me as their presidential flag-bearer. Any attempt to subvert their wishes through the instrumentality of the courts will be challenged…We are optimistic that the Appellate Court will reach a decision that reinforces the essential tenets of the Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria.”

IN 2003, a former Kano State governor, the late Abubakar Rimi had aspired to contest the presidential election on the platform of Peoples Democratic Party (PDP), but owing to the party’s zoning format which espoused that the position would be in the former Southern protectorate of Nigeria, the national leadership of the party decided to reject his application.
The party had to raise a covering note attaching a draft of N5million being refund of the cost of nomination form Rimi had earlier paid into the party’s account.

In the forwarding letter signed by the then PDP national secretary, Dr. Okwesilieze Nwodo, the party politely informed the personable former Kano governor that due to the party’s zoning arrangement, which precluded aspirants from outside Southern Nigerian from participating in the presidential race; it was returning the nomination fee lodged in the PDP’s bank account.
Perhaps, equipped with the knowledge of the above scenario, Prof. Gana had expected SDP to do likewise by dishonouring Mr. Duke’s aspiration, in line with the zoning arrangement, which was alluded to in the SDP constitution. However, by the time Chief Falae and other notable members of the party decided to exhume SDP from the ashes of annulment of the 1993 presidential election, which the late business mogul, Chief Moshood Abiola, was believed to have won, there was nothing to suggest that the party was adopting the PDP’s format.
Being mute on which part of the country would begin the zoning the leaders of the party decided on Olu Falae’s chairmanship, not only because he is a founding member, and perhaps to serve as a form of restitution for the annulment of Abiola’s imminent Presidency.
Against that background therefore, it could be inferred that the 2018 presidential primary, which admitted aspirants from both parts of the country was done in the belief that whichever part that produces the President should not aspire for the position of national chairman of the party, more so when the Falae tenure was heading to its terminal point.
It is therefore unthinkable that in the event that Duke wins the 2019 presidential election, a person from Southern Nigeria should be in line to succeed Falae.

However, that thinking hovers in realms of conjecture, but the fact that the SDP constitution was not explicit on its zoning arrangement should not be lost any one.

SDP And Third Force Politics

THE repackaged Social Democratic Party (SDP) has always presented as a special purpose political vehicle.

When the All Progressives Congress (APC) mounted its vigorous challenge against the ruling PDP, some stakeholders in the party suggested that the ruling party should fall back on SDP to try to douse the APC fervor in Southwest.
Shortly after the APC mounted the saddle as the ruling party and some of its leaders from the Southwest caucus were being sidelined, SDP was fingered as possible platform to call the bluff of the Presidency cabal. But Falae’s insistence that “I won’t be programmed by anybody,” in allusion to the former governor of Lagos State, Asiwaju Bola Tinubu, stayed the attempt.
Recently, after former President Olusegun Obasanjo flew the kite of a possible third force in the polity to provide a credible alternative platform to grow new leaders to replace the otiose leadership styles of APC and PDP, SDP was mentioned.   
In the course of time when it became obvious that the incumbent, President Muhammadu Buhari, was doing everything practicable to ensure a second term in office and having discovered from the outcomes of Ekiti and Osun elections that pandering to youth take over may not achieve the overall purpose of regime change, PDP was seen as a strong platform to confront the ruling party.

With that realization, as well as the promise of a possible Atiku Abubakar presidential ticket, the third force arrangement and its choice of African Democratic Congress (ADC) were subjected to silent review.

At the height of political realignments, the Coalition of United Political Parties (CUPP) initiative came up.
It was during these political conversations that the former Cross River State governor, Duke moved back to PDP, ostensibly to pair with either the former Kano State governor, Senator Rabiu Kwankwaso or the outgoing governor of Gombe State, Dr. Ibrahim Hassan Dankwambo on the PDP presidential ticket.
But when the prospects of Governor Aminu Waziri Tambuwal or Atiku emerging PDP standard bearer became imminent as the party remained adamant on zoning the position to the north, Duke again switched to SDP believing that with the CUPP arrangement, any candidate that emerges on the PDP platform could pair up with the presidential candidate of any of the parties in the coalition.
Duke seemed confident to trounce Prof. Gana and his group, which defected to SDP in protest against the rejection of micro-zoning of the post of chairmanship at the PDP national convention in December 2017.
True to his expectation, despite his belated membership of SDP, Duke beat Gana to clinch the SDP presidential ticket and readied himself for the eventual revitalisation of the CUPP arrangement. But Atiku had gone ahead to settle for former Anambra State governor, Mr. Peter Obi.
On their part, both Gana and Prof. Tunde Adeniran, had migrated to the SDP in the belief that when PDP shunts Atiku aside, SDP would be his best bet for alternative platform to ventilate his presidential ambition, especially as speculations were rife that PDP won’t honour Atiku with its ticket.     


PIQUED by the non-emergence of Tambuwal as PDP standard- bearer and the unilateral and hasty manner in which Atiku selected his running mate, Duke, who is one of former President Obasanjo’s favourite ‘young’ politicians, voiced his party’s disinclination towards the CUPP arrangement.
The court ruling on Gana’s suit against Duke’s emergence therefore came as a double jeopardy for Duke at the very time the SDP was excluded from the vice presidential debate and its presidential candidate was grandstanding against CUPP.
Against the background of SDP’s role in the recent Osun governorship election, it was speculated that the party was tending towards a mutually beneficial political working relationship with the ruling party.
So, as the days go by and the Court of Appeal sits on Duke’s legal interrogation of the Abuja High Court ruling, Nigerians would learn from the pleadings how far the intermix of politics and jurisprudence could go in determining the fidelity of electoral process.
The journey to 2019 general election would prove interesting, specifically as the presidential election seems to be a challenge between abiding democracy and quasi absolutism.

Between Duke and Gana, whoever succeeds ultimately to fly the SDP flag during the presidential election would not only be a latecomer, but without the full support of the entire house.