Sacked governors and changing power equations
Sunday, February 05,  2012

• Imoke

In judicial parlance, a case is not over until it is over. And, indeed, a case is only as good as the lawyer that argues it. When the Independent National Electoral Commission INEC and the governorship candidate of the Congress for Progressive Change (CPC) in Adamawa State, Buba Marwa, went to the Supreme Court to seek correct interpretation of the tenure of office of the governors who took second oath of office following their victories in the rerun elections in their respective states, not a few people had dismissed the move as inconsequential.

Many even described it as an abuse of judicial process. In all this, they relied entirely on the Appeal Court’s ruling which granted tenure extension to the affected governors on the ground that their term of office takes effect the day they took second oath of office. It, therefore, barred INEC from conducting governorship elections in the five states of Adamawa, Bayelsa, Cross River, Kogi and Sokoto during the April 2011 general elections. So, hardly did anyone pay any further attention to the proceedings on the matter until last Friday when the apex court sacked the respective governors from office. They are Murtala Nyako (Adamawa), Timipre Sylva (Bayelsa State), Ibrahim Idris (Kogi), Aliyu Wamako (Sokoto) and Liyel Imoke (Cross River).

A seven-member panel of Supreme Court chaired by the Chief Justice of Nigeria (CJN), Dahiru Musdapher, said their tenure ended on May 28, 2011. In a unanimous judgment prepared and read by Justice Walter Onnoghen, the apex court held that their tenure of four years started on May 29, 2007 when they took their first oath of office and oath of allegiance. According to Justice Onnoghen, no person elected under the 1999 Constitution can remain in office beyond four years. As the judgment reads in part, “The oaths they took in 2007 remain valid. To accede to the request of Respondents (governors) is to bring uncertainty to the Constitution. It is to continue the cycle of impunity”

And this is very instructive. Indeed, never again will Nigeria fall back to the abyss of the immediate past era where people rigged elections with impunity and yet got reward for it. The rest is history. However, the issue of fresh election in the affected states still remains a talking point in the polity today. But the INEC has already cleared the air on that by saying that the timetable earlier released still remained valid. The only exception is Kogi State where the governor-elect, Idris Wada, has assumed office following the initial political quagmire that arose from the earlier directive of the Attorney General of the Federation and Minister of Justice, Muhammed Adoke, that the Speaker of the House of Assembly should be sworn-in as Acting Governor.

In the remaining four states, the race to the Government House has already begun in earnest. And the stake is very high because the ruling of the apex court has irretrievably changed the balance of political equations. Although the PDP has said that the primaries that produced its candidates for the coming elections in Adamawa, Bayelsa, Sokoto and Cross River still subsist, there are still pockets of resistance by other interested aspirants in the states. For instance, in Cross River State, the contest for the ticket was largely between Liyel Imoke and his main challenger, Ambassador Soni Abang. Abang is believed to have enough financial muscle to slug it out with Imoke. This, he demonstrated with excitement during his campaign carnival when an aircraft carrying a large banner with an inscription ‘Abang for Governor,’ flew severally over the huge crowd. With the party’s decision, he might want to take his own pound of the flesh through protest votes.

In Sokoto, Aliyu Magatakarda Wamakko of the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) will be slugging it out with his main rival candidate of the Democratic People’s Party (DPP), Alhaji Muhammadu Maigari Dingyadi. There has been a running litigation battle between Dingyadi and ousted governor Wamako since the outcome of the rerun election in the state. Dingyadi had challenged the decision of the Election Petition Tribunal over the qualification of Wamako to contest the rerun election in Sokoto State. It will be recalled that the arrest of the Appeal Court ruling on the matter by the Supreme Court was the major cause of disagreement between the former Chief Justice of Nigeria, retired Justice Iyorgher Katsina-Alu and the President of the Court of Appeal, Justice Isa Ayo Salami. The coming election, therefore, provides another opportunity for Dingyadi to prove his popularity.

Besides, there is also the threat of CPC and ANPP for Wamako to grapple with. The CPC is now seen to be representing the political aspiration of the core north, especially now with latest political developments in the country. Indeed, many political pundits consider ANPP and CPC as potent threat to PDP in this coming poll. If the structuring process already put in place by the CPC leadership is successful, its candidate may give Wamako a good fight in this contest. A former Chairman of the party, Senator Rufai Hanga, speaking with Sunday Sun, said the CPC had everything it takes to sweep the votes in the entire north during the last election but lost because of imposition of candidate by the leadership.

For instance, a former Commissioner for Water Resources, Alhaji Dahiru Yusuf Yabo, who had earlier clinched the governorship ticket of the CPC had to abandon the party and pitched tent with the All Nigerian Peoples Party (ANPP) which later offered him the platform. Yabo is believed to be a formidable grassroots politician. His strength combined with the support of former governor Attahiru Bafarawa who is now back in the ANPP is now a big source of worry to Wamako’s camp. Some observers believe he is a man to watch in the unfolding political game in the state.

This is more so now that the state chapter of the PDP is enmeshed in some internal crises arising from the primary that gave Wamako the ticket. Supporters of his major power contender, Alhaji Yusuf Suleiman, a former Sports Minister, may want to take their own pound of the flesh in this election.

The scenario in Adamawa governorship election is not in any way different. Here, erstwhile governor Murtala Nyako of the PDP will be slugging it out with the candidate of the CPC, Brigadier Buba Marwa (rtd). The former Military Administrator of Lagos State is a formidable force to beat in this election. Apart from his grassroots support, he also has the financial wherewithal to pull weight with Nyako. It was he who filed the suit that led to the sack of the governors by the Supreme Court. To that extent, the judgment of the apex court was like a dream come true. He would not hesitate, therefore, to deploy all resources at his disposal to fight out his course in this election.

All eyes are on Bayelsa State for the February 11 governorship election. The intrigue that led to the emergence of Seriake Dickson as the governorship candidate of the PDP is a familiar story. Unlike other states where similar election is holding, the contest here is largely between the two rival factions of the PDP. One is the group led by the embattled former governor, Timipre Sylva who was excluded from November 19, 2011 governorship primary election of the PDP by the national leadership in controversial circumstance, while the other is the faction loyal to President Goodluck Jonathan.

Although Sylva has eventually turned out to be an underdog in the ensuing power struggle, that may not be the end of the game. With the support of the federal might and all available resources, victory is sure for Dickson. But that may just be the end of beginning of another exciting legal battle to watch in the months ahead. Already, Sylva has been granted the request by the Supreme Court to seek the interpretation of the INEC’s decision, saying that only candidates who emerged from the primaries conducted after the Appeal Court’s ruling which gave tenure extension to the ousted governors would be recognized. So, nothing is settled until the final determination of this case by the competent court of jurisdiction.

Meanwhile, Bayelsa has been agog with Dickson’s campaign train, preparatory to next Saturday’s election. And all things being equal, the result of the election is predictable.

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