Opinion: An Election Tribunal Verdict and Deputy Gov’s Office

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By Shehu Azimazi.

The Kogi State Election appeal recently handed down a verdict in the suit brought by Mr James Faleke, the running mate of the late Alhaji Abubakar Audu, the All Progressives Congress (APC) candidates who had together polled the majority of lawful votes cast in the November 21, 2015 gubernatorial Election. It is the case of Faleke that the Independent Electoral Commission was wrong in declaring the said election inconclusive and that he being the running mate, ought to be declared winner of the election or be the candidate to substitute his principal, Audu in the said election having been the running mate of the deceased winner and having a joint ticket with Audu. The Court of Appeal refused his appeal and with due respect, it seems that the Appellate Court’s decision contravenes the spirit of the 1999 Constitution.

The Tribunal ruled and Court of Appeal affirmed that INEC was right in declaring the election inconclusive and that the party has the power to substitute Audu with anybody whatsoever and that it was not automatic that Mr Faleke replaces his principal in the circumstance. However, legal minds have posited with due respect that the decision of the Court of Appeal seems to lack any founding in the Constitution. Jurist believe that the verdict of the Court renders the office of the deputy governor (Vice President) or running mate impotent and useless in Nigeria, a development that is not in tandem with the spirit of the Constitution and which is at variance with the intendment of the drafters of the Constitution. With due respect, the line of thinking of the Court, has the tendency to increase political party tyranny and ridicule the office of the deputy Chief Executives in Nigeria. A meticulous look at the Constitution shows that the Vice President or the deputy governor are able assistants of their respective principal, both have a joint ticket and if anything befalls the pacesetter, his partner should replace him.

One will recall that following the death of  Audu, APC attempted to replace/substitute him with Alhaji Yahaya Bello who had come second in the primary election that led to the nomination of the deceased candidate. The party attempted to superimpose Alhaji Yahaya Bello on Mr James Faleke, but Falake refused claiming that going by the spirits of the Constitution, he had a joint ticket with his principal and he automatically should step into the shoes of his master, since the November 21, 2015 election had satisfied the provisions of Section 179 (2) of the constitution. However, the party claimed that Bello participated in the primary and Faleke did not, as a result, only Bello should be allowed to grab the mandate he did not work for.

One question that arise here is, where is it written or where can it be reasonably inferred from the Constitution that the candidate for Vice President or deputy Governor ought to participate in primary election before he can be nominated for the position? Going by the Provisions of Section 187(1) Constitution, nomination of running mate is the duty of the candidate, who polled the highest at the party nomination exercise-party primary election. Audu participated in the gubernatorial primary election of APC in Kogi State alongside Bello and he won the majority of votes cast in the primary election.

Upon his victory, he gained the party’s nomination for the position of governor and nominated his deputy in line with Section 187(1) of the 1999 Constitution. Therefore, there is no legal basis to assert that Faleke ought to participate in primary election before he can be a running mate or inherit the votes of his principal.  Therefore, it is our position that the ambulatory or testamentary desire of Late Audu was for Faleke to step into his shoes should he be unable to discharge his duty as governor or standard bearer of the party for the said election. One issue that was well established in the Kogi gubernatorial Appeal is that the governorship candidate and his running mate have a joint ticket. This implies that if anything happens to the principal candidate (governorship candidate), his running mate would be allowed to conclude the race in his stead.

When the running mate (who has now succeeded his principal) now succeeds, he will now pick a running mate in consonance with the 1999 Constitution. The principle of joint ticket, joint comradeship, political matrimony, executive pis encapsulated in the Constitution and ought to easily and effortlessly be applied to the Audu/Falake situation. This principle can be seen in the Constitution in at least three (3) instances. The Instances are : (1) Death of President/Governor before taking oath of Allegiance and Oath of office Sections 136 and 181 CFRN 1999(2) Removal of President or Governor by Parliament whilst in office provided for in sections 143 and 188 of the Constitution ,(3) Resignation or permanent incapacity of Governor.

The spirit of the Constitution is that the governor and the deputy are in a holy political matrimony; the governor being the groom, gets nomination as the party’s flag bearer after a keenly contested primary, appoints, nominates or marries his bride, the deputy governor who they now partner to stir the ship of leadership in the State. Just like in any family, the Father is the head, whilst the wife compliments him and acts in his stead in his absence. Until there is a divorce, they both stir the affairs of the state. This with due respect, is the intendment of the ground norm and it can be seen in the provisions highlighted hereunder.

Assuming that the election was indeed inconclusive, making the conduct of a supplementary election mandatory, there is no reason why Falake should not be the standard bearer or be allowed to continue the election process. Supplementary election is not a fresh election requiring a fresh nomination, supplementary election is a continuum of the original election, no need to substitute candidates, going by the spirit of 181 and 191 CFRN 1999, In fact, the issue of nomination of candidate for a general election does not arise.

Azimazi, writes from Lokoja, Kogi State.

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