The verdict of the Court of Appeal sitting in Makurdi on the governorship candidature of the All Progressives Congress (APC) in Benue State has thrown a spanner in the party’s wheel of progress ahead of the March 11 election, political analysts believe.
The court, on January 23 ordered a rerun of the party’s governorship primary election into 11 local government areas.
A three-man panel led by Justice Biobelle Abraham Georgewill also ordered that the primary election be held within 14 days from the date of judgement, and ordered the erstwhile governorship candidate, Hyacinth Alia and the party to pay the plaintiff, Professor Terhemen Shija the sum of N2million.
Shija had brought an appeal challenging a Federal High Court decision on his case against the governorship candidate of the party. The court had dismissed his suit challenging the primary election in Benue State, which produced Alia as candidate.
Leading other two colleagues – Justice Mohammed Danjuma and Justice Ibrahim Wakali – Georgewill held that Professor Shija was able to prove that the APC did not conduct gubernatorial primary election on May 27, 2022.
The court, however, held that Shija failed to prove that the party didn’t hold a rerun governorship primary on June 9, 2022; hence the judge ruled,
“Yes, I have seen that the APC did not conduct a valid primary election on May 27, 2022, reason the appeal panel ordered a fresh election conducted on June 9, 2022 in some local government areas. In the interest of justice, I cannot allow those voters in the remaining 11 local government areas to be disenfranchised. Therefore, the APC should go back and conduct election in 11 local governments within 14 days, and the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) should recognise the winner afterwards, adding both results to declare the gubernatorial candidate of the party,” the judge ruled.
The local government areas expected to hold the fresh primary election as ordered by the court include Gboko, Gwer- East, Gwer-West, Guma, Katsina, Logo, Makurdi, Otukpo, Ukum, Tarka and Vandeikya.
Earlier, a rerun was held in 12 local government areas of Buruku, Kwande, Agatu, Konshisha, Ogbadibo, Ushongo, Oju Okpokwu, Ado, Ohimini Obi and Apa.
In a related development on same day, the court dismissed Senator Barnabas Gemade’s appeal, thereby upholding the lower court’s decision which dismissed the former’s suit against Alia for being statute-barred.
Consequent upon this twist, the APC would rather now focus on repeating primary election in the affected local areas instead of proceeding with governorship campaigns like the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP).
In reaction to the ruling, the APC said it would comply with the court order to conduct fresh primary election in the affected areas within the time limit set by the INEC.
The state chairman of the party, Comrade Austin Agada, at a press conference in Makurdi said, “The APC, Benue State chapter, has received the judgement of the Court of Appeal in the case filed by Professor Terhemba Shija against its gubernatorial flag-bearer with equanimity. The party will immediately comply with the judgement by going for a rerun.
“As a law-abiding political party, we call on our teeming members and supporters in the affected local government areas to remain calm and prepare for the rerun.
“However, we are fully aware of the antics of certain moles in her membership who have become willing tools and agents of the opposition to destabilise the party. We encourage our loyal members to remain focused as the party is poised to defeat both the internal and external enemies in the forthcoming general elections.”
Meanwhile, Shija, on Wednesday kicked against the court judgement. In a statement signed by Dr James Mbachiantim, the director-general of the Professor Terhemba Shija Governorship Campaign Organisation, noted that after due consultations with stakeholders and his lawyers, he decided to appeal against the judgement of the Court of Appeal.
The statement reads, “While we appreciate the courage of the justices of the court, their pronouncements, however, fell short of our expectations. The judgement also threw up certain legal issues that can only be resolved by the highest court in the land. For instance, since the court accepted our submission and held that there was no APC governorship primary election in Benue State for the 2023 polls at the first instance, how could there have been any basis or legitimacy for a rerun?
“The resolution of the foregoing and several other issues has compelled us to approach the Supreme Court.
“We appeal to APC members and the entire Benue electorate for calm and understanding that the judicial process is part and parcel of democracy.
“Perhaps it might be necessary for us to recall that the privilege and burden of representing the people was thrust upon Professor Terhemba Shija early in life when he was elected as a member of the House of Representatives on the platform of the Social Democratic Party (SDP) for Vandeikya federal constituency in 1992.
“There is no doubt that if allowed to strive, beneficiaries of impunity today would be its victims tomorrow; hence it has become necessary that enduring democracy thrives in a trajectory that transcends the current participants on the scene.
“This is the context in which we have resorted to the judiciary.”
However, political observers believe that the foregoing is being orchestrated to thwart Alia’s ambition to rule the state.
A political analyst, Edwin Gbeji said, “Let me say that many of these ‘big men’ are afraid of the candidature of Fr. Alia. It is becoming clearer that he is the man to beat, so they don’t want him to get to the poll. Those fighting him from within the party also have scores to settle with the leader of the party in the state, Senator George Akume, who they believe forced Fr. Alia on them, while those outside, especially the PDP, fear that they may lose the election with the formidable candidature of the cleric.”
Another political observer, Christian Ochapa, however, thinks that a rerun would still be in favour of Alia, adding that in the event that the APC would not conduct the rerun, the result validated by the court from the 12 other local government areas would be enough to qualify him for the election.
He said, “That the Court of Appeal accepted results from 12 out of the 23 local government areas in the state is a clear indication that Alia and others participated in the primary although the process was said to be laced with irregularities in some council wards, which occasioned a rerun in those wards sometime last year. So, the court verdict ordering a rerun in the 11 local government areas will legitimate the party’s primary.
“Alia is seen as a highly refined Reverend gentleman whose acceptability cuts across party divides. The PDP has since developed cold feet following the Appeal Court judgement ordering rerun in 11 local government areas of the state.”
It would be recalled that the party’s first direct governorship primary election of May 27, 2022 produced Alia as winner, but some aspirants, including Chief Barnabas Gemade, Chief Mike Aõndoakaa, former Attorney-General of the Federation and Minister of Justice; Dr Mathias Byuan, Chief Stephen Lawani and Prof Terhemba Shija wrote a petition to the National Working Committee of the party, calling for cancellation of the election, citing electoral malpractices.
Consequently, the NWC ordered for a rerun in 12 local governments, which was held on June 8 and 9 2022, and Alia maintained his landslide victory.
In the meantime, apart from Lawani, who has laid down his guards to work for the party’s victory, the likes of Gemade, Shija and Aondoakaa are still on warpath to reclaim Alia’s victory. At the time of filing this report, judgement in Aondoakaa’s appeal is pending.
The PDP also dragged the APC and its candidate to court, alleging that they did not comply with the electoral act to hold a valid primary election.
Alia had in the foremost primary polled a total of 526,807 votes to defeat 12 other aspirants of the party, including the former national chairman of the PDP, Senator Gemade, a former deputy governor of the state, Lawani, Shija, a business tycoon, Dr Mattias Byuan, two former ministers; Sam Ode and Michael Aondoakaa respectively, among others.
The priest won in 13 out of 23 local government areas while Lawani led in five, Ode in four and Byuan in one.
The chairman of the APC electoral panel for Benue, Dr Peter Ojie, announced the winner on May 28, 2022 during a special congress of the party.
He announced that the leadership of the party in the state had adopted the direct method of governorship primary election, which was reaffirmed by the National Executive Council of the party in accordance with the amended Electoral Act, 2022.
Arising from this development, political analysts believe that in weeks to come, more dramas would unfold as the general elections fast approach.