Kogi: From Knotty Governorship Primary To Soppy Substitution by Leo Sobechi

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Delivering the certificate of return to late Prince Abubakar Audu after the APC governorship primary election in the state took quite some time. Most politicians in Kogi cited the former governor’s alleged corruption investigation by the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC), for the uncertainty that surrounded his emergence after the primary election, which he won. It was not in doubt that some APC leaders never anticipated that the former governor would clinch the ticket, because even in the state some chieftain complained against the rationale of fielding Audu for the governorship after two previous attempts at regaining the office he left in 2003.

In order to prove the party’s inclination to internal democracy, the governor of Kaduna State, El Rufa’I was nominated to chair the primary election committee in the belief that none of the aspirants would have the substance to bribe a sitting governor. And knowing the challenges posed by the various tendencies in the build up to the first election the party was facing after its triumph in the presidential election, the Kaduna governor moved into Lokoja with a full complement of his state cabinet. After the votes were cast and counted, Prince Audu came out tops. But the matter did not end there. Petitions were shipped to the national headquarters of APC in Abuja and an appeal committee went to work.

While the appeal committee looked into the merit of the petitions, some influential members of the party brought pressure to bear on the leadership of the party. But, weighing the consequences of disqualifying Audu after winning a transparent primary on the basis of mere allegations that beg for proof, APC dithered. “All possible options were evaluated but in the end, the prevalent opinion was that Prince Audu should be left to face Kogi electorates,” a source at APC headquarters told The Guardian.

Last Wednesday a ‘stranger’ to the Kogi governorship election was sworn into office as governor. The new governor, Alhaji Yahaya Adoza Bello, came second in the APC governorship primary. The party gave reason for selecting him to take the place of Audu, who kicked the bucket minutes after result of the November 21, 2015 gubernatorial election was announced. But the general perception in the state was that the sudden death of Audu provided those who complained against his emergence as APC flag bearer, the blue opportunity to insert a substitute without objective consideration of the circumstances surrounding the election. Part of what constitutes a constitutional logjam in the Kogi governorship is that available indices show that the election had been won and lost at the point the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC), declared the election inconclusive. Next to that, it is also perceived that the body language of certain political interests in APC does not favour the movement of the governorship to Kogi East Senatorial zone. Then there is the argument of section 181 (1) of the Constitution. Section 181 (1) stipulates that “If a person duly elected as Governor dies before taking the oath of allegiance and oath of office, or is unable for any reason whatsoever to be sworn in, the person elected with him as deputy governor shall be sworn in as governor and he shall nominate a new deputy governor who shall be appointed by the governor with the approval of a simple majority of the House of Assembly of the state.”

Lawyers and law researchers are agreed that the situation in Kogi, where a governorship candidate in an election dies, at the point of winning; but was yet to be declared as such, was not contemplated by the framers of the constitution. But it has been argued that where facts and law mix, moral comes in to aid interpretation. Analysts hold the view that one does not need a law degree to know what is fair and just. They argue that there is what is known as right of first refusal in property law. Going by that dictum, what APC would have done in the view of the supplementary election ordered by INEC, was to ask Audu’s running mate in the person of Honourable James Faleke, to step into his master’s shoes and collaborate with him to select a running mate. What happened was that while Faleke did the proper thing as anticipated by section 181(1), APC leadership went to its archives to dust up the name of Alhaji Yahaya Bello, the runner up in the primary election. In doing what it feels amounts to playing safe, APC lost sight of the fact that Faleke, having gone round the state in electioneering campaigns with the deceased flag bearer, enjoyed more moral claim to the earned votes of the inconclusive poll more than a fresh entrant.

Opinions are divided on whether Nigeria needs strong institutions or strong men to power leadership. In the political farcicality playing out in APC, the party has so far raised the fear that it lacks both. The national chairman of the party, Chief John Odigie-Oyegun, has also been reluctant to inspire confidence that he could navigate the party to provide the change it promised Nigerians. APC, more than INEC, has a lot of explaining to do on why the governorship election in Kogi is proving too tough an assignment to resolve. The outcome of supplementary election held in Southern Ijaw local government council during the Bayelsa governorship poll exposed the possibility that those who did not favour Audu’s name on the party’s ticket may have moved the electoral umpire to declare a settled election inconclusive. On the other hand, whether INEC knew about Audu’s death before its verdict or opted for a supplementary poll to normalize Bello’s anointing would remain a scar on its organisational independence.

While he took the oath of allegiance and oath of office as governor of Kogi, Bello gave vent to his emotions. But instead of lamenting the demise of the man who secured the victory he was called to savour, the governor remembered his parents and the suffering he went through. The implication of the show of humanity by Governor Bello is that his backers in Blantyre Street, Wuse 11, may have rewarded his anguish with the governorship ticket at the expense of Faleke. The governor’s ascendance has left the door to continuous recriminations about APC’s handling of the Kogi governorship open.

As if to prove the farce that the inauguration represents, Bello had no running mate; his governorship thus simulated a marriage that witness a divorce at the point of approaching the altar. Faleke had called the bluff of the APC leadership by denying a joint ticket with Bello before the supplementary poll. That chasm brought to open the nonchalance of APC leadership because if it was claiming respect for extant laws in its selection of Bello, it would also have known that by going into the extra-poll without a running mate, Bello has rendered his candidacy impotent.

What played out at the inauguration ceremony seems to be a replay of farce. What the state Chief Judge did by administering the oath of allegiance and of office on Bello, without a running mate; was to affront the Constitution further. Instead of pledging to get involved in the fight against corruption, Bello would have remarked on the constitutional deficiencies of his mandate and pleaded with Kogi people to accept him. If he cannot advance any cogent reason why the party could not raise a deputy for him before the swearing in, Bello should recognise the fact that the party lacked similar locus to adopt him in the first place. The question now is with these constitutional injuries, should Governor Bello be believed that he would protect or preserve the constitution?

In his remarks at the occasion, the new governor said: “I will be responsible to all people irrespective of where they stood during the election. President Muhammadu Buhari’s statement on May 29, 2015 where he declared, ‘I belong to everybody, I belong to no body’ will characterise my tenure as I promise equitable governance for all the people of the state.” The governor’s allusion to President Buhari’s inaugural speech has a tinge of tinge of irony. APC made him a no-where man by the method of his adoption for the governorship seat. Though the governor sought the understanding of the people and benefit of doubt for him to “redeem the lost image and restore the glory of the state”, it is obvious that he has no compact with the people. He neither campaigned nor promised them anything, having not campaigned to be governor.

Meanwhile the whole exercise would now be taken through the full mileage of legal examination as Faleke’s insistence on boycotting the inauguration shows that he is resolute in pursuing the mandate. Speaking on the rationale of his absence from the swearing in ceremony, Faleke described the whole exercise as a ritual that had no bearing or impact on his quest to actualize the mandate given to Audu/Faleke by a greater percent of Kogi people.

“We have stated over and over again that the Audu/Faleke team won the November 21, 2015 governorship election in Kogi State and that if any swearing in is to take place, it should be Hon. James Faleke, who is Audu’s running mate,” he declared.

Speaking on a Radio/TV programme, Faleke disabused the mind of those who call him deputy governor-elect, saying “I am not the running mate to Alhaji Yahaya Bello in the December 5, 2015 supplementary election in Kogi State and therefore there was no reason for me to be in Lokoja for the swearing-in on Wednesday. The December 5 supplementary election has come and gone but in the form that was submitted, it was clear that our party submitted a form to the INEC to say that I was not a running mate. So, I don’t know the basis for which I would have gone to Lokoja for the swearing-in.”

He denied that the leadership of APC has reached out to him on the position of serving as deputy governor under Bello. “The only time we were invited to the party’s national secretariat was when all of us including Alhaji Yahaya Bello, Mohammed Audu and so many others, were invited on December 1, 2015. And it was on that same day that the national chairman of our party announced the decision of the National Working Committee (NWC) to all of us to say that the NWC had adopted Alhaji Yahaya Bello as the candidate for the December 5 supplementary election, and appealed to us to cooperate with him.”

Faulting Oyegun’s approach, Faleke disclosed that “we made it clear there that they should have called us before the day to a round table discussion before coming to make the announcement to us.” “I also told them then that the decision was a wrong step and thereafter, there was no consultation up till today. I want to make it clear that the party’s national chairman, Chief John Oyegun that we see as a father has decided to champion a cause that is anti-people and that was why we were not invited.”

Faleke made a remarkable revelation that bears out the general thinking that there were forces within APC that did not want Faleke to step into the governorship seat. Narrating what transpired during the same meeting with NWC in Abuja further, Faleke said: “The governor of Kaduna State, (Nasir El-Rufa’i), was also in attendance at the meeting; he did certain things that were shocking to some of us that were present at that meeting. Before then, I had thought that the Kaduna State governor was a man of his words and a man who believes in the rule of law and that the right things must be done at all time. But to our surprise, he virtually knelt down to beg and we felt why would a governor be kneeling down to beg if what was done was right; if what was done was justifiable?”

By now APC as a party would have seen the folly of its actions in Kogi and Bayelsa, especially the imposition of a governorship candidate on the party in Bayelsa without a transparent primary. Even the rival PDP referred to the constitutional provisions regarding the nomination and election of a governor, stressing that what happened in Lokoja last Wednesday was an aberration. The party’s legal adviser, Victor Kwon stated: “The constitution says that the nomination of a governorship candidate is not complete unless there is the nomination of his deputy or a running mate, it is an aberration.”

It would be to the courts to determine how long Governor Bello would stay in Kogi.

– Extracts from Leo Sobechi’s Piece, “Nigeria: APC’s Political Mixed Bag – Farce in Kogi, Fracas in Kaduna”. First published in Guardian Newspapers.