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Page 64

Page 64 Musical chairs in Taraba If Minister-designate Senator Aisha Jummai Alhassan, alias Mama Taraba, ultimately prevails in the Supreme Court, she will become Taraba…

Page 64

Musical chairs in Taraba

If Minister-designate Senator Aisha Jummai Alhassan, alias Mama Taraba, ultimately prevails in the Supreme Court, she will become Taraba State’s fifth governor in three years. Danbaba Danfulani Suntai was the governor until his plane accident in October 2012. Garba Umar UTC, who had been Suntai’s deputy for only two weeks, took over as the acting governor until the Supreme Court removed him last November and reinstated Suntai’s impeached deputy Abubakar Danladi, who consequentially became the acting governor. Darius Ishaku took over the governorship last May and, if his run of bad luck continues up to the Supreme Court, he may soon be back practising architecture in Kaduna.

The Election Petition Tribunal’s ruling in Abuja on Saturday which annulled Ishaku’s election and declared Mrs. Alhassan as the governor generated emotions ranging from extreme satisfaction to extreme anger, depending on one’s political interest. A cursory look at the Sunday newspapers showed that the media shared in the politicians’ emotions. While one newspaper headlined “Aisha Alhassan On The Cusp Of History” and another one had the headline “History Beckons As Tribunal Declares Alhassan Winner of Taraba Poll,” yet another paper had the sad headline “Anxiety, As Election Tribunal Sacks Another PDP Governor.” In between, some newspapers had more neutral headlines such as “Tribunal Ousts Taraba Governor” and “Tribunal Removes Ishaku, Declares Jummai Governor.”

It is easy to see what the excitement and the sadness are all about. Nigeria has never had an elected female state governor since the Second Republic. Seven Nigerian military regimes since 1966 never appointed a female military governor either. The only woman who briefly occupied a governor’s chair was Dame Virgy Etiaba of Anambra following Governor Peter Obi’s controversial impeachment in 2006. Her tenure ended when the courts reinstated Obi. However, many women have been deputy governors since 1999, beginning with the formidable Madam Kofo Akerele Bucknor in Lagos. Many South West states have now established a good tradition of having female deputy governors, including Lagos, Ogun, Osun and Ekiti but the tradition is yet to take root in other parts of the country. In the North, I think only Mrs. Pauline Tallen of Plateau was a deputy governor since 1999.

So, there is good reason to wish that Mrs. Alhassan will break the jinx and make it into the Jalingo Government House on her own steam. Matters are sweetened by the fact that she has no known political godfather and no overwhelming husband. If she does make it, it is proof that women can make headway in Nigerian politics. I am not however discounting the odds against her. Since Saturday, some legal authorities have privately doubted the grounds on which she was declared the governor. They said the tribunal should at worst have annulled the election and ordered a fresh one. Since my entire knowledge of the law was gleaned from newspaper pages, I will patiently wait for the Supreme Court to sort this one out.

Whatever happens there will not be without precedent. I mean, tribunals have quashed elections only for superior courts to revalidate them while tribunals have upheld elections only for superior courts to annul them. Both Governor Ishaku and Senator Alhassan should study this history closely. In 2008-2010 the courts threw out a raft of governors and installed their election opponents in their places. Those ousted included Prof Oserheimen Osunbor of Edo, Dr. Segun Agagu of Ondo, Prince Olagunsoye Oyinlola of Osun and Engineer Segun Oni of Ekiti. Mama Taraba will be praying hard that Ishaku joins this heap. On the other hand, some governors had their elections annulled and went for reruns, which they won. They include Aliyu Wamakko of Sokoto, Murtala Nyako of Adamawa, Timipre Sylva of Bayelsa, Ibrahim Idris of Kogi and Liyel Imoke of Cross River. And then there were those governors that had their elections quashed by tribunals, only to have them restored by higher courts. They include John Odigie-Oyegun of Edo [in 1992] and Sa’idu Dakingari of Kebbi [in 2008].

Of these two narrow-escape options, Ishaku will be praying fervently for the second one because if a rerun is ordered in Taraba, he could conceivably lose it now that Federal power is no longer in PDP’s hands. That brings me to the reason for the “anxiety” earlier mentioned in one newspaper headline. Ishaku is the third PDP governor this year to have his election annulled by a tribunal, after Akwa Ibom’s Udom Emmanuel and Rivers’ Nyesom Wike. As a result, PDP is shouting itself hoarse that there is an APC orchestrated plot to snatch many of the governorships that it won in April. This is not impossible, but it is hard to imagine at this point. The one man who has the power to orchestrate things, President Muhammadu Buhari, is unlikely to sit down and plot how to penetrate tribunals and get them to deliver certain judgments. The other APC chieftain who could do so is Asiwaju Bola Tinubu, because he did it before. He is unlikely to do so this time because APC does not have the old ACN’s cohesion.

It could be a coincidence that the three election annulments in Akwa Ibom, Rivers and Taraba all affected PDP governors, though I do not expect any PDP chieftain to believe it. Now, if in the end Darius Ishaku loses his exalted office because of the reasons adduced by the tribunal, i.e. that PDP did not hold proper governorship primaries in Taraba State, he will not have many people’s sympathy. That is because, unlike Mrs. Alhassan who seems to be sailing on her own steam, Ishaku has a powerful godfather, General T.Y. Danjuma, and he arrived at the Government House courtesy of his godfather’s do-or-die politics.

The messy Taraba PDP governorship primaries were moved to Abuja in order to loosen Garba UTC’s grip on the party and to actualise General TY’s vow that Southern Taraba must produce the governor. The shock Supreme Court ruling last November that removed UTC and reinstated an impeached deputy governor was at least as suspicious as last Saturday’s tribunal verdict, from a neutral observer’s viewpoint. So, it may be a case of just deserts, but we do not know yet.

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