Kogi State Governor, Yahaya Bello

ON the surface, Governor Yahaya Bello of Kogi State has won a major judicial battle to entrench his reign after James Abiodun Faleke and other petitioners exhausted their appeals before the courts of the land. The victory was not without some questionable pronouncements.

For instance, the election petition tribunal, in determining the disputes, either ignored the salient issues of the petition or in the end gave a perverse decision. Among other issues, Hon Faleke had in particular petitioned the tribunal to settle whether the November 21, 2015 governorship election was conclusive or not, and whether Mr Bello was right to have contested the supplementary election without a running mate. The tribunal ignored the issue of the conclusiveness of the poll, and made no definite pronouncement on Mr Bello’s presence on the ballot without a running mate.

The Appeal Court appeared to understand some of the issues in dispute, but it either spoke on facts not in evidence before it or even deliberately built inexistent facts into the dispute in order to come to a strange conclusion. For instance, though Mr Bello’s defence did not claim he voted in the poll, and the petitioner proved he did not, the Appeal Court, without any evidence, found that he did. Worse, though INEC documents and the petitioner proved Hon Faleke was not Mr Bello’s running mate, the court bewilderingly claimed that Mr Bello adopted him. In addition, responding to other issues in the petition, the court also claimed that the manual of the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) supersedes the relevant provisions of the constitution.

The country therefore waited to see whether the Supreme Court would talk law or gymnastics, politics or jurisprudence, or whether the eminent justices would find the magical dexterity to build something on nothing. The apex court has not given reasons for affirming the position of Mr Bello and dismissing Hon Faleke’s petition, but in their unanimous judgement last week, they built a castle whose location, whether in the air, as many Kogites moan, or firmly anchored on the ground, as the governor’s supporters enthuse, no one can tell. By the end of the month, when the justices thunder as they promise, a legal analysis on the three judgements will be done and published on this column. This column has the abundant patience to wait.

So, on the surface, Mr Bello has won the legal battle for the Kogi governorship seat after the highest court in the land gave its decision in an abominable practice of deferring the reasons for the verdict till a later date. The implication is that when the judgement is being written later, when calmness takes over the mind, and when better, intuitive perspectives well up in the intellect, the apex court can no longer change its mind. They will have to justify their decision by hook or crook. Yet, there are only some 10 days between September 20 when they announced their verdict and September 30 when they promised the reasons would be adduced.

Mr Bello knows, however, that despite winning the court battles, he neither won the election nor the hearts of the traumatised people of Kogi, a people he is chastising with his tongue and with scorpions. Newspapers perversely reported jubilation after the apex court sustained the governor in office, as if the word had lost its meaning and exuberance. A few of the governor’s supporters in court in Abuja when the decision was announced, and some at the Government House in Lokoja, the state capital, grinned like Cheshire cats and raised their hands in victory, but there was nothing any sensible person could describe as jubilation. Instead, from the blighted plains of Okunland, to the disgruntled Savannah of Igalaland, and the harsh hills of Ebiraland, a pall of frustration and funereal silence descended upon the state the moment the apex court, upon which the good people of the state had invested their trust and confidence, voted with the inscrutable minds of the local courts.

In barely eight months, enough time for the youthful bohemian Mr Bello to prove his bona fides and convince the state he was very much worth the mistake and quixotism of his party, the All progressives Congress (APC), the governor has instead underscored his magnificent incompetence and spitefulness. (Sometimes, incompetence and evil can indeed acquire a malevolent, beguiling and artistic form of magnificence). When Chris Ngige, former Anambra State governor and current Employment and Labour minister assumed office by a crooked manipulation of the ballot, he nonetheless proved by sheer industry, imaginativeness and charisma that something good could come from Nazareth. Mr Bello, on the other hand, has been befuddled, vicious, haughty, insensitive, imprudent and childishly sentimental. He managed to elevate these vices into an art so quickly and so comprehensively that the state groaned for a messiah. They knew the circumstances of his emergence, and loathed them, and wished, indeed pined, for salvation. The tribunal and Appeal Court proved too distracted and disinterested to be of any help. So, with bated breath, and given the antecedents of many justices of the Supreme Court since independence, Kogites summoned the instinct to expect succour at the ninth hour, hoping to be delivered from the grasping hands of Mr Bello who had their feet to the fire. When the apex court’s hammer fell anticlimactically, Kogites gnashed their teeth and have been wailing since. Any newspaper that talks of jubilation is therefore misguided and mischievous.

But Kogi is merely a pawn in a desperate and bitter ethnic and religious power play within the heavily polarised APC. Mr Bello himself is even a more insignificant and pathetic pawn. The late Abubakar Audu, who died at the point of his electoral victory, was a supporter of Kano’s ex-governor Rabiu Kwankwaso for the presidency. Though he eventually supported the APC presidential ticket and rallied enthusiastically for APC victory in the poll, he was still treated as an outsider, and a corrupt one to boot, though no court had found him guilty. His death was thus a convenient excuse for powerful forces to jettison the APC ticket in last year’s governorship poll. Worse, since the sensible thing for the party to do was to ensure his running mate inherited the mantle, the party, clutching primordial considerations, and immersing itself in religious and intra-party power play, spurned Hon Faleke and gave the undeserving Mr Bello the inheritance.

The consequence was that what should have been settled at the political level became a costly legal adventure destined to widen the cracks in the ruling party. The cracks have now widened to the point that no one can paper over it anymore. Mr Bello was neither registered in Kogi to vote, nor did he vote. More, he even supported the opposition against the APC when Prince Audu held the ticket. But he is smartly connected in Abuja and professes identities the power mongers in the party find enticingly congenial. Hon Faleke, they claimed, was simply the face of competition that must not be given an inch, let alone a yard. There would be no court in the land to give him the justice he was petitioning for, the power mongers swore. Demonstrating more clearly that the breaches in the APC appear irredeemable, the power mongers, who are not limited to one geopolitical zone, have expanded their forays beyond Kogi to afflict the electoral process in Ondo State.

It will, therefore, be inaccurate to imagine that the Kogi debacles are a product of purely legal shenanigans or state manipulations. There are many camps in the APC today; and though boundaries are shifting rapidly, it is still obvious that one camp has the upper hand at the moment. That supremacy is of course very tenuous, but it is nonetheless evident. It is that camp that worked its sorcery in Kogi, that did and is still doing wonders in Ondo, and is plotting yet other chicaneries elsewhere. That camp has found willing Southwest recruits, with religion subtly deployed as a common denominator to the dismay of true democrats and liberals within the party. It is not clear what is preventing an open war, whether timing or indecision. But the fractures in the party will undoubtedly manifest sooner or later, with the war front limited in the short run to the Southwest where many of the zone’s leading politicians have spurned unity and common interest for personal and egotistic considerations.

As the many post-judgement analyses on this page have shown, it is simplistic to imagine that the judicial pronouncements on Kogi have been limited to purely legal considerations. They are not. More importantly, the judgements have indicated both the vulnerability of the judiciary and the terrible fractures in the polity in terms of ideological, cultural and religious fissures. The APC, it is clear, is disunited and without a binding tradition and belief. More and more, thanks to President Buhari’s inability to stamp authority and a unifying ideal upon the party, the APC is looking like a multipurpose vehicle which a cabal has hijacked to luxuriate in power as an end in itself. The party appears now to cater to a narrow interest sustained by a narrow coterie of northerners and ambitious Southwest politicians who, ignoring the lessons of history, believe that they need a shifty alliance to project power. The alliance will prove unworkable, for it is impossible for it to exist in the context its architects plan, without the principles and values that ennoble and advance a great society.

The Kogi tragedy cannot be remedied until some three years or so to come. The people may gnash their teeth all they can and watch in dismay as Mr Bello and his fellow incompetents push the state to the edge of despair, but with the disarray in the country, the entrenched divisiveness fostered by the ruling party everywhere, and the contempt security agencies have for the constitution, not to say the weakness and impotence of the opposition Peoples Democratic Party (PDP), their feeling of hopelessness will be further accentuated. When the party assumed office last year and almost immediately began to get off track, this column and many others believed some gentle or fierce admonition would restore it to the path of sanity. That hope appears now lost.

It takes a party without a sense of unity and justice to promote the nonsense in Kogi that has culminated in Mr Bello’s judicial victory. It takes even much worse for the same party to sweep the injustice in Ondo under the carpet. The implication is that the APC’s change mantra is suspect. Shorn of an ideology, shorn of principles, and bereft of a fierce dedication to great and noble values such as justice, equity and fair play, it is impossible for a party, let alone a country, to stand and prosper. Surely the APC has a commonsensical understanding of these fine points. But alas, the party appears overrated.

After the Appeal Court undermined the principles of its own sacred and legal existence in the Kogi election dispute, and the lower tribunal shirked its responsibility with such daring and indifference, many felt the Supreme Court would save the day. That day was not saved; indeed, it is now lost. For a state that has groaned for more than 12 years under inept leaders, the next three years under a bungling Mr Bello could prove tremendously injurious and calamitous. The only thing left to hope is that the APC’s irresponsible approach to both politics and the cause of national unity will, regardless of the party’s incompetence, confine the gloom to a few states and individuals.

But given the nature and texture of what is happening everywhere, especially the wheeler-dealing and back-stabbing in Abuja, the Southwest may not emerge into that hypothetical future unscathed. The zone has had a history of fractious and treacherous politicking. That history is being entrenched. The zone has led the country in peaceful religious co-existence, where politics is religion-blind and governors and their deputies sometimes emanated from the same religion; now its people are being foolishly divided along religious lines by short-sighted politicians who link up with alien forces and outsiders to promote religious division in Southwest states, schools and local communities, a division antagonistic to their proud and iconic culture. The Southwest may arguably be the most liberal in the country, and may also have produced a slew of great democrats and mentors, but it is highly vulnerable, and its politicians widely believed to be appallingly easy to manipulate. Last week, Kogi, and to a lesser extent, Ondo, simply showed those fault lines in all their ugly pompousness.

By: Idowu Akinlotan

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