By Ochereome Nnanna
GOVERNOR Yahaya Bello of Kogi State is the most insecure of the 36 state governors right now. The Kogi State Election Petition Tribunal will, any moment from now, pronounce its verdict on the winner of the governorship rerun election that took place on February 28th, 2016.
Or more appropriately, the verdict will pronounce the person who will be governor between Bello, former Governor Idris Wada of the People’s Democratic Party (PDP) and the running mate to Alhaji Abubakar Audu, the late flag bearer of the All Progressives Congress, APC, in the original governorship poll which took place on November 22, 2016, Hon. James Faleke.
All three are tenaciously laying claim to the coveted seat, and there is no clear indicator as to where the “cat” is going to jump until the Tribunal makes its voice heard.
The Kogi governorship poll under contest was one of the most complicated in the seventeen years of our renascent democracy. Kogi is one of the states that fell outside the general electoral calendar as a result of earlier complications. Here is a recap of the story.
The governorship election took place on Saturday, November 22nd 2015. Audu woke up on Election Day and started complaining of stomach pains. He managed to vote and went back to his home for treatment. He remained there while the vote counting went on, and by the end of that Saturday, it was obvious he was in the lead. But by 9.00am the following morning, he died, and the drama of the Kogi polls took on a complicated plot.
Eventually, it turned out he won the majority of votes, according to Prof. Emmanuel Kucha, the Returning Officer of the Kogi governorship poll, with 240,876 compared to Governor Wada’s 199,514.
However, the election was declared inconclusive because, according to the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC), the 41,353-vote difference between Audu and Wada was less than the 49,953 registered voters who did not vote. At this point there was confusion everywhere.
Many commentators opined that INEC should still have announced the winner since the elections had been concluded before Audu died, meaning that his running mate, Hon. James Faleke, should have been pronounced governor-elect. This is Faleke’s main ground for going to the Tribunal and stubbornly refusing to act as Bello’s Deputy Governor in defiance of his party’s entreaties. But Wada’s camp and independent observers note that Audu’s death before the formal announcement of the results presented a big constitutional lacuna.
It only provides that if the flag bearer dies before an election, his deputy will not automatically step in as flag bearer since he did not participate in the primaries of his political party. Rather, the party will be allowed to produce a new flag bearer. And if the death occurs after the results are announced, the deputy automatically assumes the mandate of the people, having participated in the campaigns.
This difficult situation was further worsened when the Attorney-General of the Federation, Abubakar Malami, advised the APC to shop for a replacement for Audu to contest the rescheduled election to give the 49,953 voters on the register the opportunity to play the tie-breaker between APC and PDP candidates. APC found itself in a quandary and went back to the candidate who had come second during its primaries which Audu had won: Yahaya Bello. They ignored Faleke (who argued that Audu’s votes also belonged to him as both of them had worked for them) and asked Bello to stand in the place of Audu.
At the end of the rescheduled election of December 5th 2015, Bello, riding on APC’s victory crest, polled 6,885, while PDP’s Wada got 5,363. The problem here is that Bello was sworn-in as governor based on the “transferred” votes the Kogi electorate gave to the late Audu and Faleke.
The constitution and the electoral law have no provision for the “transfer” of votes from a dead candidate to a living one. Secondly, Bello is carrying the additional burden of going into the rescheduled election without a running mate, as Faleke declined his invitation to join the ticket. The constitution and the electoral law insist that for a governorship ticket to be valid there must be a flag bearer and a running mate.
When you look at this with the eyes of a layman, it seems that Bello might well be on “an excursion” in the Lugard House, as some of his own disgruntled party men have put it. It will be very interesting to see how the Tribunal will deal with this issue.
Faleke, on the other hand, will not have it as easy as his camp may wish. He is haunted by the unfortunate albatross of his principal dying before the result was announced.
If Audu had died after the poll was declared inconclusive, Faleke would have taken up the flag for APC in the rescheduled election without stress. We would then not be talking about “inherited” or “transferred” votes. If “transferred” votes are validated, it could open a new, bloody chapter in Nigerian politics where popular candidates will become endangered species and targeted for murder by every conceivable means just before they are officially pronounced winners.
Wada, on the other hand, might well surprise most pundits by finding himself favoured by the complex odds that have bedevilled the APC. It will, however, be surprising if the Tribunal will award victory to a candidate and party that did not win a majority of the Kogi electorate’s mandate.
However, Wada’s camp appears not to be banking heavily on benefiting from the calamities of the APC. They seem convinced that the forensic examination of ballots which showed that Audu benefited from a lot of electoral irregularities could swing back the majority of valid votes to their candidate, Captain Idris Wada.
Indeed, the next few days to the verdict of the Tribunal will be a period of great tension and expectations among the three contending camps in the Kogi governorship poll. We wait to see how it ends.