By Tonnie Iredia
Following the declaration by the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) that the All Progressive Congress (APC) won the last Ekiti governorship election, the candidate of the party, Kayode Fayemi immediate past minister of Mines and Steel Development has since assumed office as the Ekiti state governor. But for Fayemi to remain in office, the election petition instituted by Kolapo Ishola, the candidate of the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) who is claiming to be the rightful winner has to be resolved in the governor’s favour. While people are anxiously awaiting the outcome of the petition, there is yet another legal hurdle for Fayemi which is not much publicised but which is equally if not more dicey than the election petition. This latter case which was initiated by former governor Segun Oni of the same APC is challenging the eligibility of Kayode Fayemi to have participated at all in the process which saw him through to the office of governor of the state. It is no doubt a case to watch.
Oni’s contention is that Fayemi was not legally qualified to take part in the party primaries of the APC which held on May 12, 2018. One of the arguments of Oni and his supporters is that a judicial Commission of enquiry earlier set up by the Ekiti state government had indicted Fayemi of some wrong doings which could make him ineligible to contest any elective positions in government. Whereas other interest groups had unsuccessfully canvassed this point in another court, political analysts are likely to show more interest in a second allegation that Kayode Fayemi failed to firstly resign his position in President Muhammadu Buhari’s cabinet before seeking to participate in the election process. The position of the law, in this case, the nation’s constitution and that of the APC is that any public officer seeking to participate in an election must resign from his public office not less than 30 days before the contest.
The rationale for this rule is that electioneering campaigns being time-consuming; campaigners may short-change their jobs while running for other offices. Indeed, many are known in Nigeria for using resources both funds and staff from their current offices for campaigns. The trend is no doubt worrisome especially in developing societies that are in search of scarce resources to prosecute projects. This is probably why leaders of government often compel their appointees who wish to contest elections to resign their positions so as to concentrate on their contests. In Bauchi state for instance, Governor Abubakar was quick at directing political appointees in the state who may wish to contest any position in the 2019 elections to step down from their current positions by July 31, 2018. Governor Rotimi Akeredolu of Ondo state did same in his state.
In the Ekiti case, Segun Oni says that Fayemi resigned as Minister only on May 30, 2018, some 18 days after the primaries. For this reason he approached the Abuja Division of the Federal High Court to nullify the former minister’s participation in the Ekiti governorship election process. The court, fixed September 25 to commence hearing on the suit marked HC/ABJ/CS/663/18. With what he saw as Fayemi’s legal disability, Segun Oni who was second in the primaries, imagines that in the eyes of the law, he was the valid winner of the primaries and as such ought to have been nominated as the APC candidate for the governorship election proper.
Not many know if in truth former minister Fayemi did not appropriately resign before the APC primaries. To this group, what the court eventually decides would fill the vacuum. If Oni is proven correct, Fayemi will pay dearly for it but it will serve as a lesson to other public office holders to observe every rule of the election process. If Oni is wrong, he would no doubt be sanctioned as a lesson to politicians who invent stories just to win a case. Therefore, the outcome of the case will help sanitize Nigeria’s election process. For this to be achieved, the case ought to be expeditiously handled – a development which Ekiti has not been particularly lucky to enjoy. It will be recalled that Segun Oni was elected governor of Ekiti State in April 2007 on the platform of the PDP. He was removed from office only on October 15, 2010 following the Judgement of an Appeal Court which ruled against him. It is therefore expedient to avoid this type of situation where the wrong governor of a state is allowed to remain in office for too long before he is removed
It is against this backdrop that people may have become apprehensive when the case of Oni V Fayemi came up on the appointed date and nothing substantive happened. Instead, those who besieged the court last Monday to see how the case would go were disappointed as the Judge; Justice Babatunde Quadri suddenly transferred the case to the Ekiti Division of the Federal High Court. This may have unsettled some people considering that the Federal High Court is only one and that although it is divided into judicial divisions for administrative convenience, each division has a nation-wide jurisdiction. The Judge did not say much; he merely stated that the case would be best handled in Ekiti. While it is hard to fault the Judge as the transfer reportedly got the approval of the chief Judge, the Judiciary can also not stop people from reading meanings to the development which is capable of delaying the case.
For many reasons, the case is one which has several trappings. It is easy to perceive that Segun Oni is probably seeking his bound of flesh bearing in mind that when the Court of appeal removed him as governor in 2010, Kayode Fayemi was the main beneficiary. That suggestion rests on morality. Some say the Oni group has been surreptitious about their handling of the present case because when it was first reported by the media, Oni was said to have denied knowledge of it. Again, Ekiti indigenes in the Diaspora and elders of the All Progressive Congress in Ekiti state reportedly sent delegations to plead with Oni to drop the case, yet the case which began before the July 14 governorship election in the state remains alive and on-going. Once more, all these points are moral issues. But whether or not Fayemi resigned appropriately before getting involved in his party’s governorship primaries is a legal matter which is weighty enough to demand professional handling devoid of emotions or the pressures of the moment. It is indeed, a case to watch.