What Happens to Kogi Politics After Tribunal Verdict?

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Kogi State has been enmeshed in a series of political crises following the aftermath of the November 21, 2015 governorship election. Will the recent judgment of the Governorship Election Tribunal which upheld the election of Yahaya Bello mark the beginning of the end of the lingering crises?

It all began with the sudden demise of the political icon, late Prince Abubakar Audu, who was already cruising to the ‘Lugard House’ in the November 21, 2015 governorship polls in Kogi State when the cold hands of death snatched him away. Audu, who was candidate of the All Progressive Congress (APC), had polled 240,867 votes to lead his opponent, the then incumbent governor Idris Wada, who had 199,514 votes.

The Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC’s) state returning officer for Kogi, Prof Emmanuel Kucha, had declared the election inconclusive and declined to make returns after collation of results on issues bordering on the margin of victory for Audu.
He said the margin of votes between Audu and Wada was 41,353, hence the election was inconclusive because the total number of registered voters in 91 polling units in 18 local government areas, where election was cancelled was 49,953, a figure which he explained was higher than the votes with which Audu was leading with.
The returning officer further said by INEC guidelines, no return could be made for the election until a supplementary election was held in areas where votes were cancelled. The inconclusive nature of the election and the sudden death of Audu created a vacuum with attendant rounds of political crises following the ensuing battle for his replacement.
Subsequently, INEC fixed a supplementary election for December 5, and asked the APC to get a replacement for its late candidate. After consultations, the party finally settled for Alhaji Yahaya Bello who happened to be the first runner-up in the APC governorship primary in the state. He polled 703 votes against Audu’s 1,109.
After the December 5 supplementary election, Bello was declared winner and subsequently swore-in as governor on January 27, without a deputy. Audu’s running mate, Mr. James Abiodun Faleke had declined to run with Bello on grounds that INEC ought to have declared him winner of the election after Audu’s death.
Not satisfied with Bello’s emergence, Faleke, former governor Wada, Labour Party’s candidate, Philip Salau and others approached the Governorship Election Petition to challenge him (Bello).
He urged the tribunal to declare that the election was already conducted and concluded on November 21 before Audu’s death, and that he had already emerged as the deputy governor-elect. Faleke therefore, asked the tribunal to declare him as the valid substitute for the late Audu and should be returned as the governor-elect.
But in its ruling, the three-man tribunal led by Justice Halima Mohammed held that Faleke had no locus standi to challenge Bello’s election having never been sponsored by his party, the APC, as a governorship candidate in the November 21 election or December 5 supplementary poll.
“The petition lacks merit and it is, therefore, dismissed,” the tribunal ruled.
The tribunal held that contrary to Faleke’s contention, the November poll had not been concluded and thus the right had not accrued to him to step into the late Audu’s shoes going by the provision of section 181(1) and (2) of the constitution.
The tribunal also held that it was the INEC that was charged with the responsibility of declaring an election conclusive or inconclusive.
In the judgment read by Justice Mohammed, the tribunal had upheld Bello’s preliminary objection to the effect that Faleke lacked the legal capacity to file the petition, holding that the November 21 election which he claimed to have won was inconclusive as declared by INEC, adding that he was never nominated by the APC as its candidate for the supplementary poll.
It also held that the issues contended by Faleke bordered on the powers of a political party to nominate its candidate, a decision which Justice Mohammed ruled that the tribunal lacked jurisdiction to interfere with.
The tribunal also dismissed Wada’s petition, asking the tribunal to determine whether Bello was qualified to be declared governor-elect even though he did not take part in all the electoral processes that led to the supplementary poll.
The former governor of Kogi argued that INEC contravened the Electoral Act by allowing the APC to replace the late Audu.
But the tribunal in its ruling held that Wada lacked the locus standi to challenge the process that produced Bello as the APC candidate.
Justice Mohammed said Bello’s nomination was in line with the Electoral Act and that Wada not being a member of the APC, had no right to challenge the process.
Also dismissed by the tribunal was the suit filed by the Labour Party’s candidate. The tribunal held that the party failed to prove the allegations of irregularities and non-compliance with the Electoral Act.
Meanwhile, some of the parties that lost at the tribunal have described the verdict as a “miscarriage of Justice” and have vowed to appeal.
But for Governor Bello, the verdict was a confirmation of the “divine mandate” given to him by the Almighty God, adding it has provided him the opportunity to deliver the needed good governance to the people.
While assuring that he would not let Kogi people down, Bello urged them to give the needed support to enable him deliver on his promises. “I knew that this mandate is from Almighty Allah and I had no doubt in my mind that we were going to have this victory today. It is victory for Kogi and for our party,” the governor said.
The verdict of the tribunal has no doubt opened a new chapter in the political permutations and maneuverings in the state. A lot of political alignments and re-alignments are expected to take place in the weeks ahead as it was learnt that some politicians in the camps of those that lost at the tribunal are already making moves to cross over to the camp of governor Bello.
Daily Trust learnt that some of the supporters of the principal actors that lost out at the tribunal are now expressing doubt over their chances at the appeal court and as such mulling  crossing over to the ‘mainstream camp’ in order not to lose out completely.
Analysts are of the view that the verdict will to some extent bring some relative peace to the hitherto turbulent political atmosphere that had pervaded the state in the aftermath of the November 21 election. This is more so that Governor Bello on his part is said to have expressed readiness to extend a hand of fellowship to some of the aggrieved parties that challenged his emergence at the tribunal.
Prior to the judgment, the APC state party structure was polarised with some said to be loyal to Audu/Faleke camp, with another group rooting for Bello. But now there are also moves by some executives that were opposed to the governor may realign to avoid the risk of being or schemed out.

Credit: / Daily Trust