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Supreme Court verdict on tenure elongation: Constitutional Crisis Looms

The Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC), which took the case to the Supreme Court, will approach a court of competent jurisdiction to seek interpretation of…

The Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC), which took the case to the Supreme Court, will approach a court of competent jurisdiction to seek interpretation of the verdict as it applies to Kogi State, where a governorship election conducted on December 3, 2011 produced Captain Idris Wada of the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP), as winner.

When our reporter contacted the Chief Press Secretary to INEC’s Chairman, Mr Kayode Idowu, on what the electoral body would do next, he said, “INEC lawyers are studying the verdict and will advise us on the full ramifications of the judgement. INEC will take a position after receiving our lawyers’ analysis in the coming week.”

However, a commissioner with the electoral body confided in Sunday Trust that INEC officials met over the weekend and were considering to the idea of going to court to seek a clear interpretation. This is to avoid a situation in which INEC’s next steps will attract fresh legal battles that will compound the electoral processes in the affected states.

One state where political crisis is imminent in Kogi State where Captain Wada’s fate is hanging in the balance as a result of the confusion with regard to the Supreme Court ruling. After the swearing-in of both Captain Wada and the Speaker of the House of Assembly, Abdullahi Bello, as governor last Friday.

In an interview with our correspondent last night, a Senior Advocate of Nigeria (SAN), Tayo Oyetibo, told said there is no vacancy in the Kogi State Government House, as far as the Supreme Court verdict was concerned. He said the seat became vacant on May 29, 2011, but with the election of Captain Wada in an election conducted by INEC in December, the position had been filled.

According to Oyetibo (SAN), “The governorship seat in Kogi State was already vacant when a new election was conducted by INEC. So it is the election which produced the new governor that is very much valid at the moment.’’

The lawyer described the Kogi governorship situation as being a far cry from what happened in Anambra State in 2007, where the governorship seat was not declared vacant constitutionally before the electoral body conducted election there-in. The court had nullified the election of Chief Andy Ubah, following which it stated that the tenure of Governor Peter Obi had not expired.

Also reacting to the Supreme Court judgement, a legal practitioner and lecturer at the University of Lagos, Dr Wahab Shittu, said the verdict of the apex court was clear to the effect that May 29, 2011 was recognized as terminal date for the governorship seat in the state. He said since the election in Kogi State had been conducted and a candidate emerged after the terminal date, the victory is valid, since the law does not recognize vacuum.

On his part, another lawyer Sebastine Hon, also a SAN, in a chat with Sunday Trust, said that both Bayelsa and Kogi states presented constitutional complexities.

“In Kogi State, former Governor Ibrahim Idris was supposed to have left office last year, but because his tenure was elongated by the Court of Appeal, he hanged on till the Supreme Court, last Friday, ruled that he should go. If he had left by May last year INEC would have conducted elections.

“We take it that he (former Governor Idris) was occupying that seat defacto from the time  he was supposed to leave and the time the Court ordered him to leave. INEC recently conducted elections into the office of the governor of Kogi State. Alhaji Wada was declared the winner and that election was conducted pursuant to all the constitutional provisions. The election cannot be voided as it was an expression of the political will of the Kogi people. So that will must be respected in spite of the complexities introduceed by this sudden SC ruling.”

According to him, now that the Speaker of the Kogi State House of Assembly has been sworn-in as governor, Captain Wada would need to go to a Federal High Court, and perhaps, all the way to the Supreme Court to claim his mandate through legal means.

Speaking further, he said, the Attorney General of the Federation (AGF) and Minister of Justice Mohammed Bello Adoke, SAN, has no powers to direct the Chief Judge (CJ) of any State to swear in a Speaker of the State House of Representatives as acting governor.

He said, “He can, at best, advise.  I want to believe that he was misquoted. It is a wrong directive, with due respect, because if he directs that the Speaker should be sworn in what happens to the election of Wada, who is a governor-in-waiting.”

“In other places where we do not have a scenario like this, you can advise and only advise that the Speaker should be sworn-in, in accordance to the Constitution. The Constitution must be interpreted as a whole document.”

He warned that any attempt to treat Wada’s election as being nullified will lead to constitutional crisis, adding that at this level, the issue was still a political crisis.

However, another constitutional lawyer, Mike Ozekhome, said Captain Wada’s election cannot stand, based on the Supreme Court ruling, and that he ought to have been arrested for taking an oath of office last Friday. He added that Wada’s election was not sustainable.

Colonel Bello Fadile, a former Director of Legal Service, who holds a PhD in Law, said at the weekend that SANs were misleading Nigerians in the case of Kogi State, arguing that elections shouldn’t have been conducted in Kogi State when INEC knew that there was a pending case in court.

According to him, “There is no way Kogi should have been excluded (in the Supreme Court ruling) when Governor Ibrahim Idris was the first to go to Court. At any rate, it is still our disrespect for Rule of Law that brought us to where we are today. Ordinarily, we should have waited for the outcome of the court cases before conducting the election. It is also part of our Laws that when a matter is in court, concerned parties should not do anything but wait for the outcome. As a fact, the Supreme Court came down heavily on the PDP for delaying proceedings by bringing series of preliminary objections –  all in attempt to frustrate the case. Nevertheless, the issue before the court has been resolved in favour of INEC, and INEC can now conduct elections. As far as the law and judgment stands, no election has taken place in Kogi State.”

On his own, the winner of the January 9, 2011 governorship primary election of the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) in Kogi State, Alhaji Jibrin Isa Echocho, says he is ready for a fresh governorship election, if ordered by court.

Echocho, in a statement yesterday by his consultant on Public Communication and Strategy, Phrank Shaibu, described the apex court’s ruling as a “cast-iron victory for truth and a clear-cut expression of the electoral wishes of the Kogi people and Nigerians”.

“I am proud of the courageous judgment. Truth and electoral wishes of the people have finally triumphed. As for the judiciary, it remains the last bastion of hope for the common man and custodian of the rule of law. We give kudos to our modern day Daniels. We are set for fresh elections as may be ordered within 90 days. This has indeed strengthened our position as the authentic and validly nominated candidate of the PDP”, the statement read.

It would be recalled that Echocho withdrew from last September primary of the PDP that eventually produced Captain Idris Wada as the party’s gubernatorial candidate for December 2, 2011 election which he (Wada) won.