….Declares minister-designate Aisha Alhassan winner
By Ikechukwu Nnochiri, Abuja
It is not the best of times for the Peoples Democratic Party, PDP, as the Taraba State Election Petition Tribunal, yesterday, sacked Governor Darius Ishaku, its candidate in the April 11 gubernatorial poll, from office.
The tribunal, which sat at the Abuja Division of the Court of Appeal, in a unanimous judgment by a three-man panel of judges, yesterday, declared Senator Aisha Jumai Alhassan of the All Progressives Congress, APC, as the winner of the poll.
In the meantime, Aisha Alhassan is one of the 37 ministers-designate expected to be sworn-in by President Muhammadu Buhari next week.
The Independent National Electoral Commission, INEC, had concluded the Taraba State governorship election on April 25, after the initial poll was declared inconclusive.
In its judgment, the Justice Musa Danladi Abubakar-led tribunal said it was satisfied that Ishaku was not validly nominated by the PDP to contest the election.
The tribunal maintained that there was overwhelming evidence that the PDP in Taraba sidelined the provisions of the Electoral Act 2010, and the 1999 Constitution, as amended, when it decided to hold the primary election that produced Ishaku as its candidate in Abuja instead of Jalingo, the state capital.
It held that the purported nomination of the governor for the election, without a valid primary election monitored by INEC, was in breach of Sections 85, 87 and 138(1) of the Electoral Act 2010, as well as Section 177 of the 1999 Constitution, as amended.
The tribunal stressed that the governorship primary election, the PDP held at its National Headquarters in Abuja, on December 11, 2014, was not known to the law and was, therefore, invalid.
Besides, the panel held that the PDP failed to give cogent and verifiable reason why it decided to hold the said primary election in Abuja without the consent of INEC.
According to the tribunal, it is a fundamental law in Nigeria that a candidate for an elective position must be duly nominated and sponsored by a registered political party before the candidature of such person could be deemed to be legally valid.
It said that the proof of evidence, adduced before it by all the parties, showed that the PDP did not conduct a valid primary election that could have led to the emergence of anybody as its sponsored candidate for the governorship contest.
Besides, the tribunal noted that INEC confirmed that it was not part of the primary election that produced Ishaku as the PDP candidate, saying Section 85 of the Electoral Act made it mandatory that PDP must give the electoral body 21 days notice before it could hold a convention or primary to nominate its governorship candidate.
Consequently, the tribunal held that, in view of the fact that Ishaku was not sponsored by any known registered political party in Nigeria, he could not lay claim to votes cast for any political party at the April 11 election nor could he claim that he took part in the poll as an independent candidate.
Declaring all the votes Ishaku secured at the election as invalid, the tribunal, ordered that the APC candidate, Alhassan, having scored the second highest votes at the poll, be sworn-in as the winner of the governorship election in Taraba State.
It directed INEC to immediately withdraw the certificate of return it issued to Ishaku and issue a fresh one to Alhassan.
The tribunal said it was not unaware of the portion of the law that forbade it from directing the governor to vacate his seat. However, it said that, in the instant case, it had the power to remove the PDP governor on the grounds of his non-qualification to participate in the poll.
Earlier, the tribunal dismissed the allegation by the APC and its candidate that the Taraba governorship election was marred by over-voting.
The petitioners had contended that the number of votes recorded during the election far exceeded the number of voters accredited by the card reader machines.
It was the position of the tribunal that mere reliance on data captured by the card readers was not sufficient for the petitioners to prove that there was over voting.
Likewise, the tribunal dismissed four separate preliminary objections that challenged it’s jurisdiction to entertain the petition as well as the locus standi of the petitioners to file same.
The APC and its candidate, Alhassan, had gone before the tribunal to challenge the victory of Ishaku of the PDP at the polls.
The petitioners prayed the tribunal to void the governorship poll for corrupt practices and substantial non-compliance with the provisions of the Electoral Act 2010, as amended.
They also urged the tribunal to disqualify the 1st respondent, Ishaku, and hold that all votes credited to him during the election were “wasted and thrown away votes”.
The petitioners through their lead counsel, Mr. Abiodun Owonikoko, SAN, told the tribunal: “Contrary to the provisions of Section 85 of the Electoral Act, which requires the service of at least 21 days to INEC before the holding of congress for the conduct of primary election, the 2nd respondent (PDP) only delivered their notice to INEC on December 11, 2014, at exactly 6:04pm and held the purported primaries on the same day. This was apparently after they has conducted the said primary.
“That in defiance of the requirement of Section 87 of the Electoral Act, the 2nd respondent held the purported primary at Abuja as against Jalingo, Taraba State capital.
“That relying on their earlier notice to INEC for the holding of the primary at the Taraba State capital, INEC (3rd respondent) sent their monitoring team to observe the primary election on December 8, 2014, but the congress did not hold without any explanation from the party.
“That in flagrant disregard to the demand of the Electoral Act 2010, the 1st and 2nd respondents held their primary in Abuja without approval from INEC.
“That by reason of paragraphs i, ii, iii, and iv above, the 1st respondent was not duly sponsored by his political party as required under section 177(c) of the 1999 constitution nor duly sponsored, the 1st respondent is/was not qualified to have contested the gubernatorial election that held in Taraba State on April 11 and 25, 2015”.
Ishaku has a maximum of 21 days to appeal the judgment of the tribunal.
PDP blames Buhari
Reacting to the verdict, last night, the PDP leadership described it as a plot by Buhari to use all means, especially the tribunals, to decimate the opposition.
According to the party, the judgment was an evidence of executive interference in the judiciary.
The PDP was, however, optimistic that the Court of Appeal would restore its “mandate”.
In a statement by the PDP National Publicity Secretary, Chief Olisa Metuh, the party noted that the reason given by the tribunal for arriving at what it described as the bizarre decision was intriguing and further exposes the contradictions and double standards inherent in most tribunal rulings against PDP interests recently.
APC hails verdict
But the National Women Leader of the APC, Hajia Ramatu Aliyu, asked Nigerian women to support the judgment, describing it as a watershed.
Aliyu, in a statement, said the judiciary displayed boldness and unfettered commitment to the sacred principles of honour, good conscience and truth.
She said: ”It is a clear affirmation that no matter how long it takes, never will the verdict of the people during elections be manipulated against their popular choice as expressed through the ballot box. Indeed, by the ruling, it has been proven that true democracy, sovereignty ultimately resides with the inviolable will of the people.
”I call on Nigerian women to rally support for the Tribunal’s ruling, especially in the circumstances that it remains a priceless watershed in our political history for our great Party to produce the first elected female Governor in Nigeria as desired and manifestly by the electorate in Taraba State.
”I exhort the Judiciary to remain alive to its avowed commitment to dispensing justice to all, man or woman, rich or poor, without fear or favour especially, in our collective effort to enthrone and sustain an enduring constitutional democracy rooted in free and fair elections.,respect for the rule of law and the wishes of the people.”