DISQUIET OVER SACK OF GOVERNORS
• Muftwang, Abba Yusuf, hang hopes on Supreme Court • Judgment must be reviewed -Falana
With the sack of Governor Caleb Muftwang Plateau State on Sunday joined the league of states where the people have been put on tenterhooks over uncertainty over who will preside over their affairs in the next four years with their eyes now focused on the Supreme Court to see if eventually, there will be a change of guards.
To be candid, the decision of the Court of Appeal on the governorship seat of Plateau State was not unexpected. Before Sunday, the appellate court had sacked members of the State House of Assembly, House of Representatives and Senators elected on the platform of Peoples Democratic Party, PDP in the 2023 general elections.
Significantly, the appellate court nullified the election of Simon Mwadkwon, the senator representing Plateau North senatorial district and minority leader of the Senate.
The Appeal Court gave the ruling in a suit filed by Chris Giwa of the All Progressives Congress (APC) and Gyang Zi of the Labour Party (LP).
The appellants had alleged in the suit that Mwadkwon was not qualified to contest the election because the PDP failed to comply with a previous order of a Plateau High Court delivered in 2020. Since the same PDP structure also produced Muftwang, there were fears that he would go the former Senate minority leader’s way.
Why Muftwang cannot remain in office – Appeal Court
That fear was confirmed with the sack of the governor on Sunday as the appellate court in a unanimous judgment by its three-member panel agreed with the appellant that the governor was not validly nominated for the 18 March governorship election by his party, the PDP.
The panel also dismissed the argument of Muftwang’s lawyers that the issue of qualification was a pre-election matter. On the contrary, they argued that the issue under Section 177(c) of the Nigerian Constitution 1999 and Sections 80 and 82 of the Electoral Act, 2022 was both a pre and post-election matter.
The panel noted that failure of the PDP to comply with the 2020 order of the Plateau State High Court directing it to conduct valid ward, local governments and state congresses before nominating its candidates for the various elective posts and the Court of Appeal order in CA/J1/93/2021 was a breach of the law.
In the lead judgment delivered by Justice Williams-Dawodu, the appeal court ruled that the disobedience of the court order means that the PDP has no valid structure that can nominate a candidate for the election as it did in the 2023 general elections.
The Appeal Court, therefore, ordered the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) to withdraw the certificate of return issued to Muftwang and issue a fresh one to Dr. Nentawe Yilwatda of the All Progressives Congress, APC, as the valid winner of the election. However, the APC will only take over if the Supreme Court endorses the Appeal Court judgment.
Yusuf, Lawal battling to retain the mandate
Just like in Plateau State, the people of Zamfara and Kano states are also looking up to the Supreme Court following the judgment of the Appeal Court sacking their governors. The Court of Appeal in Abuja had on Friday upheld the ruling of the Election Petitions Tribunal sacking Governor Abba Yusuf of Kano State.
The appellate Court had agreed with the judgment of the tribunal that Abba Yusuf was fielded by the New Nigeria People’s Party, NNPP for the governorship election in breach of the Electoral Law as he was not a registered member of the party and, therefore, not qualified to contest the election.
The appellate court also upheld the ruling of the tribunal declaring the All Progressives Congress (APC) candidate, Nasiru Gawuna, as the winner of the March 18 election.
In a video released over the weekend, Yusuf rejected the appeal court judgment, vowing to challenge the decision at the Supreme Court.
He described the appeal court judgment as a miscarriage of justice while urging the people of Kano State to remain calm and law-abiding, as he assured them that he would reclaim his mandate at the Supreme Court.
Governor Dauda Lawal of Zamfara also made the same appeal to the people of the state following the judgment of the Appeal Court which declared the March 18 governorship election inconclusive.
The court ordered a rerun in three local government areas of Birnin-Magaji, Bukkuyum and Maradun. Lawal, who spoke through his Senior Special Assistant on Media and Publicity, Sulaiman Idris, in a statement in Gusau described the verdict as a temporary setback.
He added that members of his legal team are thoroughly reviewing the verdict and will follow through with the necessary actions to achieve a just outcome.
He added that the outcome of the governorship election on March 18 represented the people’s yearning for a shift towards positive development and progress.
“I remain optimistic that the collective decision of the people will ultimately prevail. We will emerge victorious, our unwavering determination and steadfast commitment leave no room for doubt or fear. Though we faced numerous challenges on the road to victory in the last election, now we are fully committed to retaining this widely acclaimed mandate,” he said.
Tension in Kano, Plateau states
The judgments were delivered against a background of tension and fear of violence, especially in Kano and Plateau states, hence the appeal to the people to maintain the peace while waiting for the final verdict from the apex court.
Indeed, in Plateau State armed soldiers were deployed to prevent a breakdown of law and order ahead of Sunday’s Appeal Court judgment. This followed earlier protests over the Appeal judgment which sacked all the National Assembly members elected on the platform of the PDP. Indeed, some members of the PDP had immediately after the judgment taken to the streets in protests against what they described as an attempt to steal their mandate through the court.
And in Kano, the leadership of APC and NNPP signed an agreement to maintain the peace a day before the judgment. However, while members of the APC are celebrating the judgment, their counterparts in the PDP and the NNPP are crying foul. Yet, tension continues to rise with reports that some groups were planning massive protests against the judgment. Police issued a stern warning against such protests on Monday.
Confusion, Miscarriage of Justice
A group which described itself as the Forum of Former Youth Leaders (Veterans) in Plateau had in reaction to judgments nullifying the election of lawmakers elected on the platform of PDP sought intervention of the Supreme Court and the National Judicial Council (NJC) in the legal precedence against the legislators.
Mr Yakubu Itse, leader of the group said the judgments have created uncertainties, fears, doubts and apprehension in the state’s political landscape. It also claimed that the judgment ordering the Plateau PDP to conduct a repeat congress was complied with when the party held a fresh congress on Sept. 25, 2021.
“The court as an umpire, must be able to see that what is more important at this point is the issue of locus standi, legitimacy, popularity and aftermath of any further decision than legal sophistication. Plateau and its people are peace-loving,” the party said.
It noted that the PDP recorded overwhelming victories in the 2023 general elections.
“PDP got two out of the three senators, six House of Representatives members out of eight, 16 House of Assembly members out of 24 and the governorship seat.
“The NJC should take urgent steps to address the lack of morality and justice in the judicial system, particularly the Court of Appeal in Abuja,” he said.
Yusuf will regain mandate at Supreme Court
In Kano, the NNPP is singing the same tune. Alhaji Abba Ali, the NNPP acting National Chairman told journalists on Saturday in Abuja that Yusuf was given a popular mandate by the people of Kano State.
“For our party, and we are sure for INEC as well, the issue of membership of candidates is a non-issue since the system of nomination is designed by INEC in such a way that only registered members can be nominated and uploaded onto the portal.
“It is, therefore, unbelievable that the Appeal Court would refuse to look at the merit of our party’s appeal and cling to the erroneous issue of membership that has already been settled severally by both the Appeal and Supreme Courts.
“We are, therefore, informing all members of the NNPP and indeed all Nigerians that our party has already briefed our lawyers to appeal this injustice at the Supreme Court.
“We believe that the Supreme Court will correct the errors of the tribunal and the Appeal Court and restore the mandate of the good people of Kano State by re-affirming Alhaji Yusuf as the duly elected Governor of Kano State,” he said.
Judgments Must Be Reviewed – Falana
Speaking during a television interview, Lagos lawyer, Femi Falana said the Supreme Court must intervene to resolve the conundrum and apparent contradictions contained in the judgments as delivered by the Court of Appeal panels. He also said votes of the electorate should not be wasted because of the failure of INEC or political parties to do the right thing.
“You are being told in Plateau that there was a judgment of the high court to the effect that primaries have to be conducted. The judgment, as usual, was dishonoured and disobeyed and the election went on.
“It is different from Kano where you are being told that voters can be punished. It is a very dangerous judicial policy to sanction voters for the mistake of electoral officers. We are being told that 165,000 votes are wasted, they are invalid because some electoral officers committed an error by not stamping them. How does that affect the validity of the election?
“I do hope that this time around the Supreme Court will resolve these needless controversies surrounding the non-stamping of ballot papers by INEC officials who have not been recommended for any sanction. This is why these judgments will have to be reviewed.”