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Take not the path to one party rule

The revelations in the CTC of the judgment of the Court of Appeal on the Kano governorship race is the clearest indication that politics rather…

The revelations in the CTC of the judgment of the Court of Appeal on the Kano governorship race is the clearest indication that politics rather than law is determining judicial outcomes on election litigation. The three-member panel of the Court of Appeal led by Moore Adumein had nullified Governor Kabir’s victory on the ground that he was not an authentic member of his political party, the NNPP. Consequently, the appellate court declared his closest challenger, Nasiru Gawuna, of the All Progressives Congress (APC), as the winner of the  March 18 governorship election. However, the certified true copy (CTC) of the judgement issued by the Court of Appeal, states in some sections that Mr Yusuf won the election but also said the opposite in other sections, contrary to its clear ruling last Friday. 

The chief registrar of the appellate court, Mr Bangari, in reaction to revelations in the CTC, claimed that the discrepancy between what was read in open court and what was contained in the certified true copy of the judgement was a “clerical error”. It cannot however be a clerical error as it is not a question of a couple of misspelled words but about considered judgements contradicting each other, which means they were rewritten and someone forgot to remove what the new text was supposed to have replaced. 

In one instance, the appellate court declared for example that: “I will conclude by stating that the live issues in this appeal are hereby resolved in favour of the 1st respondent (APC) and against the appellant (Governor Abba Yusuf)”, but went further to contradict itself in another sentence. The court said: “In the circumstances, I resolve all the issues in favour of the appellant (NNPP) and against the 1st respondent (APC).

The court further shot itself in the foot, declaring “Therefore, I find no merit in this appeal which is liable to be and is hereby dismissed.” But in the final line of the judgement, the court set aside the judgement of the tribunal, which sacked the governor. “The judgment of the tribunal In Petition No.: EPT/KN/GOV/01/2023 between: ALL PROGRESSIVES CONGRESS (APC) v. INDEPENDENT NATIONAL ELECTORAL COMMISSION & 2 ORS. delivered on the 20th day of September 2023 is hereby set aside,” the CTC of the judgement read. 

In the past week, the appellate court has sacked three governors that INEC declared as winners in the March 2023 poll. All the three governors sacked by the appellate court are in opposition parties. They are Abba Yusuf of the New Nigerian People’s Party (NNPP) and declared his All Progressives Congress (APC) counterpart, Nasir Gawuna, as the winner of the poll. In Zamfara, the appellate court removed Governor Dauda Lawal of the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) when it declared the poll inconclusive about eight months later. The court ordered INEC to conduct a fresh election in three local government areas of the state. PDP’s Lawal and APC’s Bello Matawalle are the major contenders in the race.

Last Sunday, the appellate court also removed PDP’s Governor Muftwang and ordered INEC to issue a Certificate of Return to APC’s Nentawe Goshwe. The court held that the party violated the court order that a valid congress be conducted in the 17 local government areas of the state. On Thursday, the same court reinstated Governor Abdullahi Sule of Nasarawa State who had previously been removed by the Election Tribunal. The story is clear, the courts are restoring to APC, seats that the voters have voted them out of. It is a dangerous place for Nigerian democracy to find itself. 

As Femi Falana has argued in reference to the Kano governorship election, a mistake was done by INEC and the court is using that to punish Kano voters by wasting 165,000 votes, declared invalid because some electoral officers committed an error by not stamping them. In the numerous seats taken from the PDP by the court in Plateau State and given to APC, there is no argument that PDP won the elections, technical arguments were simply marshalled to turn winners into losers. This is the pathway to dismantling Nigerian democracy.  

In some of the judgments delivered, the judges made no attempt to hide their bias. In the Kano State governorship election petition decided last September, Benson Anya, a judge on the tribunal, openly pronounced that NNPP supporters are “bandits in politics” and decided  “to condemn the gang of Red Cap wearers (NNPP supporters) as being a violent and terrorist cult who chased us out of Kano and put us in the fear of our lives. How can such a judge be seen to be fair after such commentary?

The Court of Appeal judgments in favour of the ruling APC are all coming out in the context of some of them having had their names proposed for elevation to the Supreme Court and many people think this fact has been used to blackmail some of them. For some of the others, financial inducement might be the mechanism of choice. There have been numerous allegations of significant escalation of bribes being directly offered to judges. 

One of the most worrying issues is the lack of consistency in the use of precedent and established principles of law. Depending on the party in question, the principle of not bringing pre-election matters to the appellate court is used or thrown out. This type of behaviour makes nonsense of the law and tells litigants from opposition parties that whatever the merits of their case may be, the law will be used against them.

When APC member of the House of Representatives, Yusuf Gagdi arrogantly declared that “They’ll know who we know” when the matter relating to the Plateau governorship race gets to the Supreme Court, he is telling the world to forget law and justice, they will use the courts to turn Nigeria into a one-party state. It’s frightening. It must be resisted.


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