Nigerian politician’s recurrent penchant for impunity has made a serious mess of the country’s democracy. From 1999 when democracy returned till the last 2019 general elections, the story has remained the same as gladiators from different political parties deliberately sidelined acceptable processes for their self-made rules thereby treating the country’s laid down rules with disrespect.
It was this scenario that played out in Zamfara state where the ruling All Progressives Congress (APC) ignored the directive of the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) with regards to the conduct of party primaries within the acceptable time frame which they flouted. They, however, managed to manoeuvre the system before the election but they got their hands badly burnt as the Supreme Court wielded its big stick in a Judgement delivered on the 24th of May 2019. The country’s apex court concurred with subsisting judgement of lower courts that the All Progressives Congress (APC) failed to hold a valid primary and that presenting candidates for elections in Zamfara state was null and void. Consequently, the court stripped APC from any benefits it could have enjoyed from the elections it ought not to have participated in the first place.
The ruling has since been complied with by the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC), who had on Saturday reversed the victory of APC candidates and declared runners-up in all categories of elections held in the state as the winner. While the development had elicited divergent views, what was however apparent was that the APC was the architect of its own misfortune in Zamfara.
Early indication that Zamfara may slip from the grip of APC emerged after it missed out on the deadline fixed by the electoral umpire for the conduct of primaries. INEC timetable for the 2019 elections provided for party primaries to hold between 18th of August and 7th of October 2018. But the APC in Zamfara was enmeshed in an internal scuffle and watched the deadline to conduct a valid primary to elapse.
From the governorship to the national and state assemblies’ candidates, there were sharp disagreements on who should pick the party’s ticket. Zamfara state governor, Abdul-Aziz Yari, who is serving out his two-term tenure had lined up candidates for the position up for contest but a rival camp, G8 group, offered stiff resistance to the move.
In the end, none of the camps could hold a valid primary and as such, INEC took a position that APC would not field candidates for elections in Zamfara. This was reinforced by a High Court in Abuja which stopped APC from fielding candidates, putting to rest any doubt on the position taken by electoral umpire.
But given the typical culture of impunity mostly exhibited by Nigeria politicians, Yari who was also affected by the disqualification of APC, appeared defiant and initiated moves to ensure APC was restored on the ballot by INEC. Even though a High Court order not to accept APC for elections in Zamfara subsists, Yari and his camp were bolstered when a Zamfara High Court held that APC had a valid primary and ordered INEC to include the party on the ballot few days to the election.
Notwithstanding the confusion created by the conflicting judgement, INEC complied with the later order and included APC on the ballot. With the elections completed, APC governorship candidate, Alhaji Mukhtar Sheu scored 534,541 votes to edge out his close challenger, Bello Mohammad Mutawalle, of the PDP, who polled 189,452 votes. Yari also won his election to the Senate as well as every candidate presented by the APC.
But those victories were short-lived as the Court of Appeal, Sokoto Division, agreed with the position of Abuja High Court and INEC that there was no valid primary held in Zamfara and the party should not have been on the ballot for the general elections in the state. In the appeal filed by an aggrieved governorship aspirant, Senator Kabiru Marafa and 129 others, Justice Tom Yakubu who read the lead judgement adopted by two other justices; Tijani Abubakar and Jamilu Tukur, set aside the Zamfara High Court order that mandated INEC to accept APC in Zamfara.
On Friday, the matter was conclusively resolved, however, it was against impunity. The five-member panel of the apex court in a unanimous judgement held that the APC did not conduct a valid primary in the buildup to the 2019 elections in Zamfara state, hence, dismissing the appeal filed against the Appellate Court on fielding candidates.
The Supreme Court voided the votes attributed to APC in the election as it held that a party that had no valid candidate cannot be said to have emerged winner of an election. “Candidates other than the first appellant with the highest vote stand elected. A cost of ₦10 million is awarded against the appellant,” the apex court ruled. The pronouncement handed the runners-up, most of whom are PDP candidates, victories.
This victory is beyond PDP or any other beneficiary but a crush against impunity. The development in Zamfara offered enough counsel to political gladiators across party lines that laid down rules and guidelines are essential ingredients in a democracy that must abide with. The loss of Yari and others in Zamfara state are indeed a hard lesson for impunity.
Oke Umurhohwo is a Political Analyst and Strategist. He tweets via @OkeStalyf and can be reached via [email protected]