Taraba: Understanding the Verdict

By Yusuff Ahmed Danladi —

I am not the typical political enthusiast, but there are certain things that cannot escape the attention of even the most apolitical. The judgment of the Justice Musa Danladi Abubakar-led Taraba Governorship Election Tribunal of November 7, 2015, is one of such. In the landmark judgment, the tribunal declared that the duly elected governor of Taraba State in the April 2015 election is Hajiya Aisha Alhassan of the All Progressives Congress (APC). She came second in the election, but the tribunal pronounced her winner because it believes that, in the eyes of the law, Arc. Darius Ishaku, the candidate of the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP), was not a candidate. The tribunal declared that since PDP did not hold its primary election in the state capital as prescribed by the Electoral Act 2010 (as amended), it had no validly nominated candidate in the election.

My initial reaction was to celebrate, and that was for two reasons. The first reason is that, at least, the so-called minorities in Taraba State would finally produce a governor. Since the creation of Taraba State in 1991, Christians have always ruled the state. Although I have nothing against Christians (I have many Christian friends and employees and they will testify I have never discriminated against them in my life), I believe in equity. I am against the perpetual domination of the governorship of certain states in the north by Muslims the same way I am against the perpetual domination by Christians. For that reason, I was happy. My wish is that, in northern Nigeria, anybody should be able to rule over any state no matter their religion or ethnic origin.

The second reason was that Alhassan is a woman. In southern Nigeria, which is evidently more liberal than northern Nigeria, no woman has ever been elected governor. The highest has been deputy governor. I was therefore naturally sympathetic towards Alhassan, who was going to be the first elected female governor not just in the north but all over Nigeria. You would appreciate this the more when you realise that no woman has been deputy governor in any northern state. If the region could not produce a female deputy governor, it would take a miracle to produce a governor. And I believed the miracle was about to happen in Taraba through Alhassan when the judgment was delivered. Maybe I should also add that I have five beautiful daughters who, I hope, would aspire to leadership in northern Nigeria someday.

However, my enthusiasm about Alhassan was curtailed when I read the tribunal’s judgment in full. As a lawyer who specialises in constitutional law, I was far from impressed. The loopholes were too many. It appears the honourable judges were also as enthusiastic as I am about Nigeria producing a female governor. That is the only sense I can make out of the judgment which ignored so many glaring incompetent prayers by Alhassan and her party in their petition. I would try to simplify the arguments of the petitioners and the respondents as well as the judgment as much as possible. I will highlight what I believe are the shaky grounds on which the judges arrived at their decisions.

For starters, the petitioners apparently filed their petition out of time. Section 285(5) of the Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria, 1999 (as amended), provides thus: “An election petition shall be filed within 21 days after the date of the declaration of result of the election.” The election was first conducted on April 11, 2015. It was declared inconclusive by INEC, with a run-off election held on April 25, 2015. Ishaku was declared winner with a total of 369,318 votes while Alhassan came second with 275,984 votes. The petitioners, it would appear, deliberately omitted the dates from their petition so as not to be caught out. In law, the competence of a case is as important as its substance; if you violate a procedure, you lose grip of the case.

The second area of interest to me is that while Alhassan and APC started on a very solid ground that Arc. Ishaku was not validly nominated, which is one of the very reasons an election can be nullified, they somehow undermined their own argument by failing to make the consequential prayers as established in law and in settled cases. Since the major ground of APC’s petition is that Ishaku was not qualified to contest the governorship election of Taraba State and his nomination was therefore invalid because of substantial non-compliance with the provisions of the Electoral Act and by reason of corrupt practices, Section 140(2) of the Act provides that they have to pray for nullification of election and an order for a fresh election. They did not. This again weakens their petition.

The third area that also drew my attention is that there were glaring contradictions in the petition. Alhassan and APC started out by saying Ishaku was the validly nominated candidate of PDP. They listed several wards where electoral fraud was allegedly committed. In my opinion, this is a very good line of argument to pursue. Many elections have been nullified by the courts since April because of allegations of corrupt practices. However, I think that Alhassan and APC spoilt their own case by arguing from another side of their mouth that Ishaku was not even a candidate in the election. It is not allowed in law for you to approbate and reprobate. You cannot say someone is your husband and should give you upkeep allowance and then argue that he was not even your husband in the first place.

I am a bit mystified that the tribunal decided to rule in Alhassan’s favour in the face of all the facts of the case. It specifically ruled that because Ishaku was not validly nominated, he was never a candidate and the person who came second should be sworn in as governor. Alhassan’s lawyers would be saying Father Christmas came to town too early. Going by Section 140(2) of the Electoral Act, where an election is nullified on the ground that the person who obtained the highest votes at the election was not qualified to contest the questioned election, it says the tribunal SHALL NOT declare the person with second highest votes as elected but SHALL order a fresh election. There is something that is not very pretty about the conclusion of the honourable judges. The Court of Appeal and the Supreme Court may not agree with them.

Without doubt, Ishaku and his lawyers would feel justice has been miscarried. If I were in their position, I would feel the same way. While I am still hopeful that the minorities would rule Taraba someday, I prefer things done within the ambit of justice and fair play. If Tarabans have voted for the governor of their choice, any attempt to impose a different governor on them through the judiciary has the potential to create a serious crisis in the state. If the majority of the people wanted Alhassan, they would have voted for her in April. But, in this case, they did not. I would vote for fair play any day, even if I am not that politically active.

Danladi contributed this article from Jos, Plateau State.


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