Kogi Guber: Legal option before Bello, By Shaibu Stephen Ojate

Posted by News Express | 20 January 2016 | 3,174 times

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The death of Prince Abubakar Audu, gubernatorial candidate of the All Progressive Congress (APC) in Kogi State, had prompted the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) to mandate the party to shop for a replacement. The APC Chairman Odigie Oyegun, on receiving the call for replacement from INEC, announced that the party shall conduct another primary election to enable it choose a new candidate to replace Audu, who died in the eve of the election when it was declared inconclusive.

The party, again, had to reverse the earlier proclamation when respected legal luminaries offered legal advice that it will be wrong to conduct another primary election as the time lag stipulated in the Electoral Act has already elapsed. They pointed out that nothing has invalidated the last primary: it still stands. As a result,

the APC had to summon stakeholders’ meeting to deliberate on the options for fielding one as replacement for their late flag-bearer. It was on this note that the idea of adopting the second runner in the previous primary election, and the choice of a running mate to the late prince as party’s candidate came to offing.

After much touted consultation, deliberation and consideration, they settled for the nomination of Alhaji Yahaya Bello, the second runner to Audu in the last party’s primary election. With this, Bello’s particulars were forwarded to the Independent National Electoral Commission. The supplementary election was later conducted and Alhaji Bello was declared the Kogi State governor-elect, as his party secured the highest number of votes cast at the election. His nomination as APC’s candidate and subsequent declaration as the winner of the last gubernatorial election has raised dust in the state. Incumbent governor, Capt Wada of the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) is contesting the result of the election on the ground that with the death of Audu, he should be declared the governor-elect. And he has commenced legal batch based on this argument.

The deputy governorship candidate of Audu, Hon James Faleke, was not left out as he too got displeased with the decision of the APC’s hierarchy in nominating Bello as replacement for the late candidate. He has also gone to court. Faleke once approached the Federal High Court in Abuja, where he challenged the nomination of Alhaji Bello as the party’s candidate, noting that the APC ought to have nominated him in the first instance, given the death of his principal. His prayer at the Federal High Court was thrown out. The court hinted that this was purely an election matter and does not fall under its jurisdiction. Faleke, again, has filed another legal suit against Bello at the Election Tribunal, challenging the decision of the APC hierarchy in nominating him as replacement for the late Prince. One of his counts is: “With the death of the party’s candidate, the Independent National Electoral Commission ought to have declared him winner, as the duo had already secured highest vote cast at the election.” Faleke based his take on the constitutional provision which stipulated that, ‘with the death of any governor-elect after the election, the deputy automatically becomes the governor.’ The National Electoral Act provides that the party shall nominate one to replace any of its candidates at the election in the event of death, but this was not explicit as to whether such provision should still be adhered to while conducting election. The election being declared inconclusive, as clearly pointed out above, has caused the confusion in the whole saga.

I must point out that one salient point on this constitutional matter, which Faleke is hanging on and should not be shoved aside by sentiment and which could make him get the favour of the court, is the total number of registered voters with permanent voters’ card (PVS) eligible to vote at the supplementary election versus the leading margin figure. Faleke might convince the court that he had a joint ticket with the late Audu and he is still alive and should be declared the governor-elect, as the duo led their opponents with high margin at the election.

With this, there is every possibility that the court could as well look into the direction of Faleke, by coming out with a final judgement that the Audu had already won the majority vote cast, noting that INEC erred in declaring the election inconclusive in the first instance, and also their later call for the supplementary election. The court could say ‘those with permanent voters’ card for the supplementary election were less than the leading marginal figures at the first total count of the election and, as such, Faleke should be declared governor.

In view of the above, as one of the public affairs commentators on the side of Bello, I have a very strong advice for him on how to overcome whatever position Faleke might present to court to challenge his nomination. Recall that after the All Progressive Congress primary election, the party constituted a ‘Primary Election Appeal Committee.’ Bello had once approached it to challenge Audu’s eligibility for the party primary election. Bello had prayed to APC election appeal committee to disqualify (Prince Abubakar Audu), saying he never resign his position as party leader in the state before standing for the primary, one of the laid down conditions for any APC party officials aspiring for political positions. The election appeal committee had sat on this and came with a recommendation that the late prince should be disqualified and to be replaced with the second runner, Bello. The recommendation was forwarded to the party’s hierarchy and was to be acted upon but they delay in implementing that as doing so at a time very close to the election could jeopardise the chances of the party winning in Kogi State.

As Faleke is not ready to sheath his sword on the call of spirited individuals, to allow the sleeping dogs lie, by accepting the deputy governorship position which he stood for, I, therefore, call on Bello to echo the ears of his lawyers to declare to the court that Audu was not duly qualified to stand for the APC primary election in the first instance. He should buttress this with the earlier recommendation of the APC Appeal Committee panel as forwarded to the party’s hierarchy.  His lawyer should tell the court that based on this, Faleke has no legal ground to challenge him, as he (Bello) supposed to be the rightful candidate of the party.

There is a saying: “Make the hay while the sun shines.” I believe that making this presentation before the court will go along a way to thwart any moves Faleke might stand upon in convincing it to declare him the rightful Kogi State governor-elect.

•Ojate, is an Abuja-based journalist and public affairs commentator. He can be reached through 08052666344 or 08102658380. Photo shows Yahaya Bello.


Source: News Express

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