INEC‘s Indictment, Yahaya Bello and Second Term Delusion

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The drums will tomorrow be rolled out in Kogi State to celebrate Governor Yahaya Bello’s second year anniversary in the saddle. But Ayo Oluwadare, a lawyer, insists Bello rode to the office on the back of a conspiratorial scheme of the All Progressives Congress (APC) leadership, aided and abetted by ‘suspicious judiciary’. In this article, the lawyer lists the odds against the governor’s second term bid.

By tomorrow, Alhaji Yahaya Bello will be celebrating his second anniversary as governor of Kogi State. His emergence as governor of the Confluence State was not without events.

On November 21, 2015, the governorship election held throughout Kogi State. The late Prince Abubakar Audu contested the election on the platform of All Progressives Congress (APC), with House of Representatives member James Abiodun Faleke as his running mate. At the end of the polls, the joint ticket of Audu/Faleke scored majority of 240,867 lawful votes.

Significantly, the results in all the 21 local government areas of the state were collated and announced. Curiously, however, the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) deliberately delayed the announcement of the final result for a reason that later became obvious: INEC got wind that the winner of the election, the late Prince Audu, had died. Thus, the stage was set for all kinds of political manipulations and manoeuvres.

Ultimately, the process was hijacked by political hawkers and jobbers and the table was unjustly turned against the running mate of the late Prince Audu, who was on ground to continue the election. The process was skewed eventually in favour of Alhaji Yahaya Bello, who had earlier lost out in the primaries of the parties.

Bello was made to substitute the late Audu in a questionable supplementary election that was designed to hoodwink the people of Kogi in a well-orchestrated contrivance. At the end of the day, Bello was returned governor upon winning just 6,885 votes! Consequently, it turned out that a man the people of Kogi did not vote for was installed as governor of the state.

The concern of this piece is to x-ray the recent indictment of Governor Bello by INEC for double registration as a voter. It is no longer news that INEC recently came up heavily against the governor, having proved against him the allegation of illegal double registration as a voter. INEC confirmed that Bello registered twice for the Permanent Voter Card (PVC).

According to the electoral umpire, the governor illegally registered as a voter in Abuja and Kogi State. The commission bravely provided details of Bello’s double registration. It stated that his first registration was on January 30, 2011 in Wuse Zone 4, Abuja. It also found out that Bello registered as a voter for the second time on Tuesday, May 23, 2017 in the Government House, Lokoja, outside INEC’s designated centres, which, according to the commission, is another act of illegality.

Consequent upon the foregoing, the commission approved the summary dismissal of two of its staff for acts of gross misconduct and compulsorily retired an electoral officer. In respect of Governor Bello, INEC stated that it would have prosecuted him but for the fact that he is currently covered by the immunity clause under Section 308 of the Constitution.

Governor Bello responded to the allegation. In a mendacious manner, characteristic of him, he stated that he was not in the country as at the alleged date of the second registration. The governor’s political aides were his undoing. The governor forgot that when he registered the second time at the Government House in Lokoja, his political aides counted it for him as a big achievement. Gleefully, they went viral, posting the pictures of his registration, which turned out to be his second one, into the social media, with the caption: our digital governor now registered in Kogi. In their ignorance, little did they know that they were advertising the governor’s act of criminality.

The act of the governor, deliberately flouting the electoral law, is simply scandalous. In civilised climes, it is capable of igniting a process of impeachment against him, if he failed to resign honourably. Regrettably, this is a land where honour means nothing to a man, particularly in Kogi State, where anything goes and the political class is reputed for their complacency.

 

What the law says

The process of registering as a voter is guided by the provisions of Electoral Act 2010 (as amended).  Section 12 (1) (a) – (e) of the Act stipulates the qualifications for registration thus:

12 (1): A person shall be qualified to be registered as a voter if such a person

(a)           is a citizen of Nigeria;

(b) has attained the age of 18 years;

(c)  is ordinarily resident, works in, originates from the local government  area, council or ward;

(d) presents himself to the registration officers of the commission for registration as a voter;

(e) is not subject to any legal incapacity to vote under any law, rule or regulation in force.

Presumably, it was upon meeting the above qualifications that Bello was registered as a voter in Wuze Zone 4 in 2011.

The Electoral Act envisages the possibility of a voter relocating from his place of primary registration and accordingly, provides for transfer of the PVC to the new constituency of his relocation. Governor Bello would simply have taken advantage of the provisions of the law by applying to transfer his PVC to Kogi State from Abuja. Section 13(1) of the Electoral Act is explicit on this as it provides:  that “a person who before the election is resident in a constituency other than the one in which he was registered may apply to the Electoral Commissioner of the state where he is currently resident for his name to be registered on the transferred voters list for the constituency.

Curiously, perhaps due to ignorance, Bello did not follow this simple procedure but chose to follow the path of illegality and criminality.

 

Double registration as an offence

Double registration is a criminal offence under the Electoral Act 2010 (as amended). Section 12 (2) and (3) criminalise the act:

(2) A person shall not register in more than one registration centre or register more than once in the same.

(3) Any person who contravenes the provisions of subsection (2) of this section commits an offence and is liable on conviction to a fine not exceeding       N100, 000 or imprisonment for a term not exceeding one year or both.

From the above provisions, the offence of double registration occurs where a person registers twice, either at same registration centre, or at different registration points. The punishment is specifically spelt out in sub-section (3). INEC has also stated that the Government House, Lokoja, where the governor registered, is not a place designated for registration, which act, according to the commission, constitutes another offence under the Electoral Act. It follows that the governor now has two electoral offences hanging on his neck.

 

Can Bello now transfer his voter card?

One pertinent issue that arises here is, can Governor Bello now transfer his voter’s card to Kogi State to qualify him for the next election? Going by the provisions of the Electoral Act 2010 (as amended), he cannot. He has bungled the process. He has shot himself in the foot. He has disqualified himself.

Section 13 of the Electoral Act that provides for transfer of a voter card to a constituency in a new location pre-supposes that such a voter has not registered in the new place of residency at all. Now, having illegally registered in Kogi State, Bello cannot seek to transfer his card to the same state as long as the criminal allegations against him hang on his neck. He who comes to equity must come with clean hands. In any event, Section 13(3) places a duty on the Resident Electoral Commissioner (REC) to whom an application for transfer is made, to investigate the registration status of the applicant.

The governor should, therefore, stop amusing himself of the possibility of a second term in Kogi State. He could seek a further term in the constituency where he is a registered voter. He surely does not belong to the electoral community of Kogi State. He remains an unregistered voter in Kogi. He can neither vote nor be voted for. It is no longer going to be a solitary fight of Faleke but a collective fight of all well-meaning Kogites and lovers of democracy who will not allow the altar of democracy to be desecrated again in the state!

The governor should also not imagine that the political and judicial abracadabra that catapulted and transfigured him to Lugard House, Lokoja, on a platter of gold at the expense of the efforts of others will work in 2020. Kogites are all the wiser now. And, it is doubtful if the Judiciary that was battered on his own account would do the biddings of mentors again.

It would be recalled that the Supreme Court delivered reasons for its mysterious judgment on September 30, 2016, and the home of Justice Sylvester Ngwuta, who curiously chaired all the panels that heard all the cases relating to the governorship seat of Kogi State, was raided seven days later by the Department of State Services (DSS). He is currently being tried at the Federal High Court.

 

Commendation for INEC

INEC must be commended for its courage and forthrightness in handling the governor’s double registration saga. The commission could easily have swept the matter under the carpet, given the status and position of the governor. After all, we live in a society where, unfortunately, the law is applied with two weights and measures – one for the rich and powerful individuals and another for the poor.

It is, however, hoped that INEC will keep its words by pursuing the case to its logical conclusions at the expiration of the governor’s tenure so that the full weight of the law can be applied. Governor Bello should not be spared. Time does not run against a crime.

How judiciary inflicted injustice on Kogites

The electoral status of Yahaya Bello was contested through all the rungs of the judiciary; from the Federal High Court through the Election Petition Tribunal, and the Court of Appeal, to the Supreme Court. The fact that Bello registered as a voter in Abuja and not in Kogi State and, therefore, not qualified to vote or be voted for in the state was duly established before the courts. Disappointingly, the courts prevaricated and gave a dubious, questionable and unjust stamp of authority to legitimise an obvious illegitimacy.

At the end of it all, the will of the people of Kogi State was subverted by judicial process. This is the greatest injustice that can be inflicted on a people.

One of the grounds upon which his ‘election’ was challenged was that at the time of that supplementary election that transmuted him to power, Bello was not qualified to contest the election because he was not a registered voter in Kogi State. The voters’ register of his Agassa Okene Ward was tendered. His name was not found there. His sole witness, one Edward Onoja, indeed, confirmed, under cross-examination, that his application to transfer his voter card to Kogi State had not been approved. It was further established, as INEC now confirmed, that he registered at Wuse Zone 4, Abuja. Nigerian judiciary closed it eyes against this fundamental point.

The Supreme Court, in the past had tangentially pronounced upon a situation of this nature in Yusuf vs. Obasanjo (2005) 18 NWLR (Pt. 956) 96 at 166 paras: D-E, holding that an unregistered voter cannot be validly nominated and can neither vote nor be voted for. The Supreme Court said: “I do not think the eleventh petitioner’s witness was a witness of truth. He claimed to be the gubernatorial candidate of the second petitioner for Imo State whereas he was not registered in his village in Imo State where he alleged to have voted after evading military road block by passing through footpath to exercise his franchise.

He testified to be registered at Ogudu GRA in Lagos. In that circumstance, could he have been nominated as a governorship candidate for Imo State when it was basic that to be validly nominated, one must be a registered elector within the constituency? I do not think so. Could he have been able to vote in his village, as he claimed, when he was not on the voters’ register there? Certainly not! And if he did, he did so unlawfully or dishonestly”.

Faleke’s case, wherein the issue of non-registration of Bello as a voter in Kogi State was raised and his electoral status challenged, provided the Supreme Court the rare opportunity of advancing the law and tenets of democracy by consolidating on its earlier pronouncement in Yusuf v. Obasanjo (supra). Regrettably, the opportunity was sacrificed on the altar of political expediency, reading of body language, and judicial timidity and timorousness. The Election Tribunal made a finding of fact that Bello registered in Abuja but drew no conclusion therefrom. The Court of Appeal told an outright lie by holding that Bello voted, a fact which the trial tribunal never found and which was never proved. The Supreme Court unjustly avoided the point like a plague, making no pronouncement on it. It behaved as if the point was never made.

All these happened in order to reach a pre-determined end and favour a particular person and party. The effect of that singular injustice is what we have today in Kogi State.

Bello, as governor of Kogi State is a product of a conspiratorial scheme at the top echelon of the leadership of the All Progressives Congress (APC), aided and abetted by a timid and corrupt judiciary.

The aftermath of this is the imposition of an incompetent and visionless man who finds himself wearing over-sized shoes of governance. He finds himself doing a job he least prepared for.

Consequently, what we see today in Kogi, is a spectacle of pains, distress, agony, misery, torture, suicides and despair being inflicted on the people, who should have been enjoying dividends of democracy.

Impunity, terror and mendacity have been instituted as guiding principles of governance in Kogi State. Never in the history of the state have Kogites been subjected to hardship and humiliation of the magnitude they are currently experiencing. The cries, anguish, complaints and murmurings in the land are unprecedented. The full story of how Governor Bello succeeded in pauperising and terrorising the people of Kogi State, making destitute of them, is being chronicled. In the fullness of time, it will be told.

Credit: The Nation