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Nigeria: It’s Dangerous for Judiciary to Sanction 165,000 Voters for Electoral Officers’ Mistakes – Falana

Renowned lawyer and Senior Advocate of Nigeria (SAN), Mr. Femi Falana, yesterday, described as a dangerous judicial trend the recent tendency by the courts to sanction voters and deprive them of their rights to elect leaders of their choice due to the mistakes of some electoral officers.

Falana made the assertion in a television programme. He called for a review of some recent judgements delivered by the Court of Appeal, which sacked two governors of the opposition Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) in Zamfara and Plateau states, and a New Nigeria Peoples Party (NNPP) governor in Kano State.

Similarly PDP, yesterday, called on the Chief Justice of Nigeria (CJN), Justice Olukayode Ariwoola, to defend the integrity of the judiciary by setting up a judicial inquest into alleged public boasting by leaders of the ruling APC that the party had persons in the judiciary, particularly at the Court of Appeal and Supreme Court, who would do their bidding on election cases before the courts.

Still on the mounting reservations over recent judicial pronouncements, former Vice President and PDP presidential candidate in the last general election, Atiku Abubakar, said APC’s “snatch, grab and run” agenda was inimical to democracy.

But the federal government condemned PDP and Atiku’s spokesman for unfairly impugning the integrity of the judiciary by alleging partisanship against it in the wake of the judicial setbacks suffered by PDP governors in Plateau, Zamfara and Nasarawa states.

Nonetheless, the Court of Appeal in Abuja dismissed an appeal filed by Titus Uba of PDP against the election of APC’s Reverend Father Hyacinth Alia as Governor of Benue State and affirmed the governor as validly elected.

The Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) had declared Abba Yusuf (Kano), Dauda Lawal (Zamfara), and Caleb Mutfwang (Plateau) as duly elected governors of their respective states in the March 2023 governorship elections.

But the Court of Appeal, in separate judgements, sacked the governors, who are all members of the opposition PDP, except the Kano State governor, who belongs to NNPP, also an opposition party.

In Kano, for instance, the Court of Appeal declared the APC governorship candidate, Nasir Gawuna, winner of the poll. It ruled that the poll in Zamfara State was inconclusive and ordered INEC to conduct a fresh election in three local government areas of the state, where APC is believed to be strong.

In yet another judgement, the appellate court ordered INEC to issue a Certificate of Return to APC’s Nentawe Goshwe in Plateau State.

However, speaking during an interview on national television, Falana said, “If you look at what happened in Lagos, it is different from what happened in Plateau. You are being told in Plateau that there was a judgement of the High Court to the effect that primaries have to be conducted. The judgement, as usual, was dishonoured and disobeyed and the election went on.

“It is different from Kano, where you are being told that voters can be punished. It is a very dangerous judicial policy to sanction voters for the mistake of electoral officers.

“We are being told that 165,000 votes are wasted, they are invalid because some electoral officers committed an error by not stamping them. How does that affect the validity of the election?

“I do hope that this time around, the Supreme Court will resolve these needless controversies surrounding the non-stamping of ballot papers by INEC officials, who have not been recommended for any sanction. This is why these judgements will have to be reviewed.”

Falana had aired a similar view days back, when he argued, “Nigeria cannot conduct credible elections without amending the relevant provisions of the constitution and Electoral Act to provide for the appointment of INEC members by advertisement, deployment of technology for accreditation of voters and transmission of election results from polling units to the central server of INEC.”

Speaking on “Updating Nigeria’s Electoral Reforms” at the Retreat of the Joint Committee on Electoral Matters, supported by Policy and Legal Advocacy Centre in Lagos, Falana said, “Once the electoral process is fully technologised the proof of election petitions will be based on the BVAS reports and uploaded results.

“The onus of proof of conduct of credible elections should shift to INEC and winners of elections. The question of dumping election materials will not arise, as they would be produced and certified by INEC.

“Democracy cannot be consolidated, where the masses are asked to tighten their belts while elected public officers are paying themselves jumbo salaries and allowances.”

According to him, “Since democracy is under threat due to mass poverty, the political system must address the welfare and security of the people.”

In a similar vein, PDP called for a review of the election judgements, especially the Court of Appeal judgement on the Plateau State governorship poll. National Publicity Secretary of PDP, Debo Olohunagba, said the appeal court judgement was skewed against the party in favour of APC.

PDP Advises CJN to Probe APC’s Claim to Judiciary Control

PDP called on the CJN to defend the integrity of the judiciary by setting up a judicial panel of inquiry to probe the open boasting by APC leaders that the party had persons in the judiciary, particularly at the appeal court and Supreme Court, who would do their bidding on election cases before the courts.

In a statement by PDP’s National Publicity Secretary, Debo Ologunagba, the party said Nigerians were appalled by such boastings, as also contained in a viral video by an APC leader, Hon. Yusuf Gagdi, a member of the House of Representatives from Plateau State, wherein he said, “We have gone to appeal court and the final destination is the Supreme Court and we will meet there. That is where we will know whom they know and they will know whom we know.”

According to Ologunagba, “The above statement by Hon. Gagdi further confirms the suspicion in the public domain that the APC has set up a special team comprising two former governors of the APC, who are also serving cabinet ministers, and a prominent APC leader from the North-east zone with the mandate to ensure the inducement of certain judicial officers to deliver judgements against the PDP, as being witnessed in the series of bias judgements by the Plateau State Election Appeal Court Panel.

“This statement by Hon. Gagdi also lends credence to allegations that a former governor of the APC reportedly induced members of the Plateau State Election Appeal Court Panel with the sum of $5 million to deliver a bias judgement against Governor Caleb Mutfwang’s victory at the poll contrary to the position of the law on nomination of candidates and already established pronouncement of the Supreme Court that a political party cannot interfere in the internal affairs of another Party.”

Ologunagba said more worrisome was that the public claim by APC that it had persons, even at the Supreme Court, had directly put the integrity and honour of the highest temple of ;ustice in the country at stake.

The PDP spokesman said, “The loss of public confidence being generated by this claim has the capacity to push Nigerians to resort to self-help, which is a recipe for anarchy, chaos and breakdown of law and order in our country.

“What Nigerians expect at this moment is for the judiciary to come clean on these grave allegations as well as uphold the primacy of pronouncements by the Supreme Court in the dispensation of justice on election matters.”

Atiku: APC’s ‘Snatch, Grab, Run’ Agenda Inimical to Democracy

Former Vice President Atiku Abubakar said APC’s “snatch, grab and run” agenda towards mandates belonging to the opposition parties was inimical to democracy

In a statement by his media aide, Paul Ibe, Atiku said the ideal notion of democracy did not just reside in a representative government, but was essentially rooted in the plurality of ideas.

He said for a system to be seen as truly democratic, it must necessarily accommodate opposition and opposing views.

“Sadly and suddenly,” the statement said, “we have seen a trend whereby the range of opposition engagement continues to be narrowed by the ruling party in Nigeria. Either through the electoral process, where opposition parties are rigged out with brazen impunity, or during the post-election court processes, where the judiciary is conspicuously doing the biddings of the ruling All Progressives Congress (APC), it has become increasingly apparent that the democracy in Nigeria is in a state of ill-health.

“It gets more curious that all the states, where the courts have made controversial declarations, are states being controlled by the opposition political parties. From Nasarawa, Kano, Zamfara and now to Plateau State, where we are witnessing a situation in which what the ruling party missed out on Election Day are being delivered to them through the courts.”

Atiku explained that those were ominous signs that threatened not just faith in the electoral and judicial systems, but also evinced that democracy was compromised.

He stated, “It is also crystal clear that the ruling party will not desist from this inglorious ideology of ‘snatch, grab and run away with power.’

“It is even more worrisome that what is playing out now in the Plateau governorship election petition is a confirmation of the threat echoed by an APC lawmaker in a viral video that the ruling party will compromise the judicial process to ensure its ultimate victory in the courts.

“It, therefore, means that the times we are in are, indeed, ominous, and the journey ahead in rescuing our democracy from these buccaneering power grabbers is a long one. It also means that every man and woman of good conscience should come together for this common patriotic purpose.

“But we are not surprised by what is going on. In Lagos State, where Tinubu holds sway as godfather, opposition became an anathema. Everyone, including judges, was forced to join his party.

“The few opposition members who managed to get elected were beaten to submission, including at the Lagos State House of Assembly, where the sole PDP member, back in 2018, was suspended and arrested for gun running, but mysteriously had the charges dropped immediately after he defected to the APC.”

Corroborating his point, Atiku stressed, “The Asset Management Corporation of Nigeria (AMCON) withdrew a N135bn lawsuit it had instituted against an opposition senator from Anambra State less than 24 hours after he defected to the ruling party. These are the crude methods that Bola Tinubu has employed in order to reduce the ranks of the opposition and consolidate his hold on power.

“Is it not mysterious that it was the same panel that sat and heard all the election petition cases from Plateau State before the Court of Appeal? How is it that in election cases where the PDP came first and the APC came second, the court ordered that the APC be declared winner while in elections where the PDP came first and Labour Party came second, the courts ordered a rerun in order to give the APC a chance of victory?”

The former vice president maintained, “As Justice Dattijo Muhammad said in his valedictory speech, which has also been buttressed by Olumide Akpata, the immediate past President of the Nigerian Bar Association, the judgements emanating from courts in recent times have been questionable and show obvious compromise.

“As Mr. Femi Falana (SAN) put it recently, the judiciary under military dictatorship was much more courageous and had better integrity than what we have today.

“It is obvious that the APC has turned the once respected Nigerian judiciary to a ‘cash and carry’ one where politicians who don’t participate in primaries are named as candidates while actual winners of elections are sacked for flimsy reasons. They simply deliver judgements but not justice.”

Atiku also said, “Tinubu has already appointed his loyalists as Resident Electoral Commissioners, who have now been confirmed by Senator Godswill Akpabio, his lackey who is supposed to be heading an independent arm of government. This is how the APC plans to impose a one-party state on Nigerians.

“Eternal vigilance remains the watchword if Nigeria’s democracy will survive the APC onslaught on our democracy and the institutions that are supposed to check the excesses of the ruling party.”

FG Lambasts PDP, Atiku for Casting Aspersion on Judiciary

The federal government scorned PDP and Atiku’s spokesman for unfairly questioning the integrity of the judiciary by alleging partisanship against it in the wake of the judicial setbacks suffered by PDP governors in Plateau, Zamfara and Nasarawa states.

In a statement yesterday, Special Adviser to the President on Information and Strategy, Bayo Onanuga, accused PDP and Daniel Bwala, who was spokesman of its presidential candidate in the 2023 election, of throwing caution to the wind by assaulting the integrity of the judiciary and making libellous allegations against Tinubu.

Onanuga accused PDP and Atiku of desperation for blaming the reversal of the election of some PDP governors at the appeal court on Tinubu and the judiciary.

He said it was sheer irresponsibility and disservice to the country for the opposition, after failing to observe the letter and spirit of the law, to now turn around to tear down an important arm of government.

Onanuga denounced Atiku and his party for blaming others and failing to do any soul-searching before going public with their weighty allegations.

The statement said, “While we do not hold brief for the judiciary, we urge Nigerians to discountenance the malicious allegations by the PDP and its candidate that President Tinubu, as governor of Lagos, silenced the opposition and corrupted the judiciary and that he is planning to foist a one-party state on the country by appointing ‘loyalists’ as Resident Electoral Commissioners (RECs).

“President Tinubu is a democrat to the core. We make bold to say that as president, he has not interfered with the judgement of the judiciary. We had witnessed how under his watch the PDP governor in Osun defeated the APC at the Supreme Court.

“Similarly, the PDP governor in Bauchi also won his case in the appeal court, beating the APC.”

Onanuga denied insinuations that Tinubu was hatching plans to impose a one-party state on the country, as alleged by PDP, Atiku and Bwala. He said those allegations were deliberately aimed at unnecessarily heating up the polity and causing disenchantment in the country.

Onanuga asserted further, “They exist only in the imagination of the PDP and the former vice president.

“Unlike Atiku Abubakar, President Tinubu’s record as a democrat par excellence and a strong advocate of the rule of law have been globally acknowledged.”

The presidential spokesman lauded Tinubu’s record of service as governor, which he said witnessed giant strides in various facets of the state. Onanuga said Tinubu’s record was responsible for the dominance of his political structure in Lagos, not by any undemocratic conduct, as Atiku Abubakar wanted the public to believe.

He added that on the contrary, Atiku was quoted on record recently confessing about the electoral heist his party executed in the South-west in 2003, which only Tinubu incidentally survived, out of the six governors of the defunct Alliance for Democracy.

Onanuga stated, “While Atiku and PDP are now crying wolf over the appeal court rulings on governorship polls in Plateau, Zamfara and Nasarawa states, we hasten to ask the former vice president where he was in 2019 when the court ruled against All Progressives Congress in Zamfara State. The court then awarded all the positions won by the APC to PDP.

“Where was Atiku also in 2019 when in Rivers State, the court stopped APC from fielding any candidate in both the governorship and House of Assembly elections?

“Where was Atiku and the PDP in 2019, when on the eve of the swearing-in of Bayelsa governor-elect, David Lyon, the Supreme Court handed the victory of the APC to the candidate of the PDP, Governor Diri, who was earlier rejected at the poll by the people of Bayelsa?”

Onanuga wondered why Atiku and his party were defaming the president and the judiciary now that the courts were annulling PDP victories, based on blatant violations of the law by the party. He said in the past the same Atiku and PDP then savoured those court-handed trophies as sweet victories for PDP and celebrated the courts as protectors of democracy.

He implored Atiku and PDP to stop the campaign of calumny and blackmail against the judiciary and the judges, saying court rulings, particularly those decided in election petition cases, are based on law and evidence, not sentiments and emotions.

Appeal Court Dismisses PDP’s Appeal, Affirms Alia Benue Governor

The Court of Appeal in Abuja dismissed the appeal by Titus Uba of PDP against the election of Reverend Father Hyacinth Alia as Governor of Benue State.

A three-member panel of the appellate court, in a judgement delivered yesterday, held that the appeal lacked merit and subsequently dismissed it.

Justice Onyekachi Otisi, who delivered the lead judgement, affirmed the judgement of the Benue State Governorship Election Petitions Tribunal, which had in September affirmed the declaration of Alia of APC as winner of the March 18 governorship election in the state.

INEC had declared Alia, a Catholic priest, winner of the Benue governorship poll, saying he scored 473,933 votes ahead of his closest rival, Uba, who scored 223,913 votes.

Dissatisfied, Uba and PDP approached the governorship election tribunal to challenge INEC’s return of Alia as governor. Among others, they sought the disqualification of Alia on account of alleged certificate forgery and provision of false information in the form EC9 by the deputy governor, Sam Ode.

However, in their judgement, the three-member tribunal led by Justice Ibrahim Karaye, dismissed the petition for lacking in merit.

The tribunal held that it had no jurisdiction to entertain the petition on the grounds that the matters raised before it were pre-election issues as captured in section 285 of the Electoral Act.

In the unanimous judgement, the tribunal held that the petitioners ought to have pursued their case of non-qualification, forgery and perjury beyond the Federal High Court to the Court of Appeal and not the tribunal.

Not satisfied, Uba and PDP approached the appellate court to set aside the judgement of the tribunal on the ground that the lower tribunal erred in law in dismissing their case.

The reliefs sought included the setting aside of the judgement of the tribunal and nullification of the election of Alia as governor of Benue State. They also requested the court to declare them as authentic winners of the election after voiding the election of Alia of APC.

However, in a unanimous judgement, the Court of Appeal resolved all issues raised against the appellant and affirmed the judgement of the tribunal, which upheld Alia’s declaration as Governor of Benue State.

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