By Abdallah El-Kurebe
SOKOTO State Governor, Aminu Waziri Tambuwal has many things in common with Senator Umar Dahiru Tambuwal. Both are from Tambuwal town in Tambuwal Local Government Area. Both are lawyers by profession and politicians and were at the National Assembly at the same time – the former as a member of the House of Representatives and Speaker and the later as a Senator and Senate Committee Chairman on Judiciary.
They were together in defending former Governor Aliyu Wamakko during his protracted legal battles against his governorship seat.
The Wamakko/Dahiru romance was said to be so deep to the extent that the Senator was viewed as Wammakko’s successor-in-waiting. It was also viewed as Wamakko’s reciprocal gesture to Dahiru, who helped to rescue Wamakko from the legal hurricane.
Before throwing his heart into the contest, Dahiru (Tambuwal) reportedly was made to believe that Waziri (Tambuwal)
Settled that he would not have to face any opposition, at least not from the former Speaker, Dahiru started his ground works.
Meanwhile, Dahiru and all other National Assembly members except Senator Ahmed Maccido, Speaker Waziri, and Hon. Umar Bature had defected to the APC along with former Governor Wamakko. However, Waziri’s late defection to the APC on October 28, 2014, changed the ball-game. When Waziri entered the APC and not long after sought the governorship ticket of the party, Dahiru kicked and rebuffed pressures to step down for Waziri.
The December 4, 2014, APC governorship primary was to be the stepping stone for the legal battle between the two Tambuwals.
Dahiru said the entire process in the conduct of the primary in which Waziri was declared the winner with over 3,000 votes, was marred by irregularities. He claimed that since the party at state and national levels failed to address his complaints, he approached the Federal High Court in Abuja for justice.
He told the FHC that provisions of the 2010 Electoral Act and the governorship electoral guidelines of the APC were breached in favour of Waziri.
In an interview with Vanguard, Dahiru said that the governorship election committee from the APC national headquarters was not allowed to listen to the complaints he lodged before it.
Discontented with what he terms as “injustice,” Dahiru went to the Federal High Court to challenge the primary election that led to the nomination and sponsorship of Aminu Waziri Tambuwal by the APC to contest the Sokoto State Governorship election held on April 11, 2015. He sued the trio of the All Progressive Congress (APC), the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) and Rt. Hon. Aminu Waziri Tambuwal who were Defendants in Suit No. FHC/ABJ/CS/11/2015 filed on January 27, 2015. Barrister Abubakar Sanyinna, who also contested the governorship primaries, was joined as the second Plaintiff.
However, Waziri challenged the jurisdiction of the Federal High Court Abuja because elections were already conducted and he had won. He contended that Dahiru’s case had become an “academic exercise.” The FHC, however, overruled the preliminary objections raised by the APC, INEC, and Waziri, and held that it had jurisdiction to hear and determine Dahiru’s cause of action. The court also considered on May 26, 2015, that “The issue is simple and straightforward, and that the conduct of election, does it extinguish the right of the Plaintiff to the action? My obvious answer will be in the negative. So the mere fact that election took place does not extinguish the right of an aggrieved party to the suit. On this my proposition of the law, I will place reliance on the case of GWEDE VS INEC & 3 OTHERS (2014) LPELR 23763 SC.”
Disappointed by the ruling of the Federal High Court, the APC, INEC and Waziri appealed to the Appeal Court against the ruling of the FHC, and on December 21, 2015, the Appeal Court found merit in the appeal and agreed that the suit by Dahiru had become an academic exercise because Waziri had been elected as governor on April 11, 2015. “…In conclusion, this Court has jurisdiction to entertain this appeal on substitution of a candidate for an election which is a pre-election matter. This application lacks merit, and it is hereby dismissed,” the Appeal Court held.
Also dissatisfied by the Appeal Court, Dahiru and Sanyinna approached the Supreme Court to determine whether the matter had become an academic exercise and whether courts, including the Supreme Court, lack the jurisdiction of determining hypothetical and academic issues. The Supreme Court observed that “The real issue in controversy between the parties is not whether the trial court lacks the jurisdiction to hear and determine appellants’ cause of action but whether the jurisdiction as conferred under section 87 (9) of the Electoral Act 2010 as amended has become academic in other words needless, empty and incapable of being enforced with the conduct of the Sokoto State gubernatorial election on 11th April 2015.”
In his judgment, Justice Musa M. Dattijo stated that for the Supreme Court to allow the Appeal Court’s perverse decision was to enthrone judicial impertinence. The Supreme Court, therefore, set aside the judgment of the Appeal Court and ordered a retrial of the substantive case by the Federal High Court. “Accordingly, I find merit in the appeal and set aside the lower court’s judgment. The matter is hereby remitted to the trial court for same to be heard and determined expeditiously,” he stated.
Commenting on the Supreme Court judgment and Waziri’s preparedness for the retrial at the Federal High Court, Attorney-General and Commissioner for Justice, Barrister Suleiman Usman said in an interview that since the main case was halted by preliminary objection, the Supreme Court ordered that the case be tried on its merit.
“Any discerning mind, any right-thinking person that watched the way the primary was conducted in a transparent, fair manner will know that there is no real likelihood or chance of success of that case. At the end of the day, it could be dismissed for lack of merit. This is because primaries were conducted in a fair atmosphere and he was roundly defeated,” Usman said.
On the whole, as the Federal High Court acts on the order of the Supreme Court to retry and determine the matter based on its merit, the burden of proof now lies on the palms of Senator Dahiru. He must not only provide valid but also admissible evidence to prove that the Electoral Act 2010 (as amended), the APC 2014 Guidelines for the Nomination of Public Offices and the Constitution of the Republic of Nigeria, 1999 (as amended) were not complied with during the primaries by the defendants.
On the other hand, Governor Waziri must be ready to defend himself by proving that his election as APC’s governorship candidate for Sokoto State was qualified by the essential provisions of the Electoral Act 2010 (as amended), the APC 2014 Guidelines for the Nomination of Public Offices and the Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria, 1999 (as amended). Until then, it is apprehension and excitement as to which way the case would go – Governor Tambuwal’s or Senator Tambuwal’s?