By Tonnie Iredia
With the nullification three days ago of a previously announced victory of Nigeria’s ruling party, the All Progressives Congress (APC) at the last governorship election in Bayelsa state, it is time for the party to take another look at her political misfortunes. Earlier, the party had squandered all its successes in the general elections in Zamfara state due to rancorous party primaries. The judiciary did not also hesitate in rubbishing the party in Rivers state in the same electioneering circle. In each case, APC leadership was always grandstanding making it look as if the party’s strength lies essentially in fighting an election as a war rather than as a game with defined rules. The problem can hardly be traced to just outside forces such as the judiciary or the electoral referee – the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC); instead, it is time for the APC to engage in self-examination and change her leadership style. She is transparently not harvesting good fruits from her current battle-ready bold-face approach.
In the case of her most recent loss-Bayelsa governorship- those who are blaming the Supreme Court are doing so because they are unfamiliar with the history of the case. Although what turned out to be the most prominent of the issues at stake was the disqualification of the party’s deputy governorship candidate, everything was wrong with the party’s entire team. In truth, the eligibility of even the APC’s main candidate was also shaky. For the governorship primaries, the party as usual played a dirty game, going by the uncontroverted version of the story made public by Senator Heineken Lokpobiri, that the party declared as its flagbearer, a candidate that did not win her primary election. No one knew why the governorship primary election committee under the chairmanship of Governor Mai Mala Buni of Yobe state allowed the confusion that bedeviled the event.
As Lokpobiri deposed in a 45-point affidavit, the primary election was well conducted but instead of the Yobe State Governor to supervise the collation and declaration of results in line with APC guidelines, it was “one Senator Emmanuel Ocheja that allegedly announced false results without any collation and made David Lyon the purported winner of the September 4 primary election.” This was what made Lokpobiri to go to court with a plea that David Lyon, the APC and INEC, the three respondents in the suit, should not be allowed to get away with a breach the 1999 constitution, the Electoral Act 2010 and the APC guidelines by making unlawful declaration and nomination of Lyon as the flagbearer of the party. The trial judge, having satisfied herself that the appropriate procedure was not adhered to, ruled that there was no valid APC candidate for the governorship election. Lokpobiri eventually lost at the Supreme Court not because anyone successfully countered his claim but only because he filed his case outside the time for doing so. If not, Lyon may still have been disqualified.
As for his running mate who was found to operate a multiplicity of names, the disqualification did not begin at the Supreme Court. The latter merely affirmed the decision of the High Court which had previously ruled against the disposition of the candidate. The party could have saved the day if she had proactively moved to sanitize her team by replacing the indicted candidate. Instead, she went ahead to organize a mega rally without any change as if she had a right to veto a judicial pronouncement. A sombre leadership ought to have reviewed a candidate whose names were not same for primary school, secondary school, degree, NYSC and MBA certificates respectively. This did not surprise this writer or any discerning analyst because Nigeria’s ruling political parties take delight in impunity and disregard for societal institutions. The Peoples Democratic Party did that from 1999 to 2015. In this latest Bayelsa case, the APC also showed that the attitude of a ruling party to a negative pronouncement is to abuse judges hence the APC leader in Bayelsa state – a former governor and current minister called the judge a harlot and nothing happened to him.
Our premise is that a ruling political party cannot continue to be adversarial as the APC has been doing except the intention is to leave us all with the impression that as the party in government, it is determined to control all the state instruments of coercion and put herself above the rule of law. There is doubt if Nigerians would be impressed with self-induced political crisis which destabilizes society when judicial intervention righty puts aside gains made in our march to responsible democracy. (Of what use for instance is the burning of the Bayelsa PDP secretariat two days ago?) Indeed, the current situation in Edo state which the APC is taking like a child’s play may be the next source of societal anarchy. As of today, the internal crisis in Edo APC has produced some destructive bombings (but inexplicably always without human causality). It is therefore clear that much of APC’s crisis is premised on ample contributory negligence – a technical term for self-inflicted jeopardy.
No attempt is being made here to present INEC, the law enforcement agencies and the Judiciary as angels in our election process. Of course, the nation is aware of a plethora of insider abuses in the commission; just as there have been several bad eggs in the judiciary and the Police. In the last governorship election in Kogi state, the politicians successfully indicted our law enforcement agencies by producing a handful of fake police that outwitted 30, 000 ‘genuine’ operatives. But as an analyst who once served in the nation’s electoral process, I can say without any iota of doubt that ALL infractions by judges, police and election personnel are induced by the political class who castigate state actors they are unable to manipulate. That appears to be what the APC is currently doing to the Supreme Court.
Luckily, the Apex Court, showed it was not averse to public feelings by ensuring that its decision in the Bayelsa case does not follow the situation in the Imo governorship case where votes credited to the winner reportedly exceeded not only the figure accredited to vote but also the total number of registered voters in certain locations. Should anyone be allowed to win an election using fake voter’s registers? It is thus noteworthy that the Court gave room to INEC to effect the spirit and the letter of the Bayelsa decision. What this suggests is that the Supreme Court accepts that judicial decisions must not be allowed to create absurdities. We are therefore encouraged, to once again, urge our highest court to look at the mathematical errors produced by the court’s decision in the Imo case as well as to critically examine whether or not the votes credited to any of the parties was attained through fraud. If she does, it would be an image-saving step.