Sequel to the demise of the All Progressives Congress (APC) candidate in the November 21, 2015 governorship election in Kogi State, Prince Abubakar Audu, and his subsequent substitution by the party, with the 1st runner-up in the governorship primary, Alhaji Yahaya Bello, the claims and counter-claims will eventually be put to rest today, as the Apex court in the land, decides on the case, writes ADEBIYI ADEDAPO.
The Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) declared Yahaya Bello of the All Progressives Congress (APC) the elected governor of Kogi State, after inheriting the largest number of votes from a former governor of the state and leading candidate in the election, Prince Abubakar Audu.
The election was declared inconclusive after the winning margin between APC’s Audu and the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) candidate and the immediate past governor, Idris Wada was less than the number of registered voters in the 91 polling units where votes were cancelled.
Expectedly, running-mate to the late Audu, James Faleke laid claims to the already gathered votes by the Audu/Faleke ticket, as Audu died a few hours before the result was declared. While the candidate of the PDP, Wada, also claimed that he contested against the late governor and as such should be declared winner, being the leading candidate after Audu.
The supplementary election was held in 91 polling units across 18 local government areas in the state, with the exception of Mopa, Ogori Magogo and Yagba East local governments.
Already, the Audu/Faleke ticket had recorded 240,857 in the November 21 election, while the replaced candidate, Bello, garnered 6,885 votes in the December 5 supplementary election, bringing the total votes it received to 247,752.
The second runner up, the Peoples Democratic Party and its candidate, Idris Wada, who was the incumbent governor, scored 5,363 in the supplementary election, bringing PDP’s total votes to 204, 877 votes, having had 199,514 at the November 21 election.
Although, Faleke attempted to pull-out of the supplementary election through a letter addressed to INEC, the National Electoral Commissioner who supervised the Kogi election, Ms. Amina Zakari, stated that Faleke could not withdraw himself as the deputy givernorship candidate of APC.
Zakari said: “Candidates letter is not enough to withdraw himself, the name was provided by the party.”
Testing the validity of his argument, Faleke challenged decision of the APC to substitute Bello for Audu at the Kogi state election petition tribunal.
Faleke prayed the tribunal to declare him as the authentic winner of the November 21, 2015 governorship election in Kogi state on the ground that the current Governor, Bello never participated in the said election.
But the tribunal ruled against Faleke, as it held that the petitioner lacks the locus standi to challenge the substitution of the late Audu Abubakar having not participated in the APC primaries that produced Audu Abubakar.
The tribunal in its ruling delivered on 6th June this year noted that the APC was right to substitute its candidate due to force majeur as the November 21 election was declared inconclusive.
It further held that the constitution does not recognise independent candidates as political parties are the ones vested with the power to nominate and sponsor a candidate for any election.
According to the tribunal, it is the political parties that win and lose an election and APC was duly invited by INEC to present a new candidate following the death of Prince Audu Abubakar.
The tribunal stated further that there is valid material before it confirming the sponsorship of Yahaya Bello and having contested the primaries against Prince Audu, he was the best person to step into the shoes of the late Audu.
The tribunal however dismissed Faleke’s claims that the 240,687 votes of November 21 was transferred to Bello because it held that the votes belong to the APC and not Prince Audu.
Court of Appeal
Dissatisfied with the judgment, Faleke headed to the appellate court, which also threw out his appeal.
The appellate court in its ruling on 4th August, 2016, upheld the election of Yahaya Bello as the duly elected governor of Kogi State.
A five-man panel of the Court of Appeal, in dismissing the appeal resolved all the six issues raised by him against him. The court held that the tribunal was right to have dismissed Faleke’s petition.
Presiding Justice of the panel, Justice Jummai Sankey, noted that according to Section 221 of the Nigerian constitution, only the party, not an individual, could canvass for votes. Justice Sankey in her ruling, stated that the Nigerian constitution does not recognise independent candidature and so Faleke cannot lay claim to the number of votes polled before the demise of Audu and after the election was concluded.
Justice Sankey added that Faleke was only paired with Audu after the primaries had been concluded but Bello participated in the primary election that produced Audu as the party’s flag bearer.
The appeal court held that contrary to Faleke’s petition, he could not by virtue of sections 181(1) and 179 (2) step in as the governorship candidate of the party following the death of Audu.
The court also held that Faleke could not have been declared winner of the poll on the strength of the votes of the joint ticket with the late Audu in the November 21 poll.
Though the court held that contrary to the tribunal’s conclusion, Faleke had the locus standi to challenge the outcome of the election having contested the November 21 on a joint ticket with Audu, it however held that he lacked the right to question the substitution of the governorship candidate done by the party.
The Court also dismissed Wada’s case against Yahaya Bello’s election on a four-to-one split decision.
Nevertheless, the decision of the apex court today will put an end to the legal tussle.