TRACKING>>The Supreme Court’s decision nullifying the election of the All Progressives Congress’ candidates in Zamfara State is a bitter lesson to the party that acting with impunity has its consequences, writes Tobi Soniyi
Hardly had the countdown to the 2019 general election commenced than the ruling party, the All Progressives Congress began to behave like an unruly horse. The party’s wards and states’ congresses were held in sheer disregard to its constitution, due process as well as law and order.
In many states, two separate executives emerged. Impunity held sway.
The confusion at the congresses was bound to manifest in the conduct of primaries for elective offices. Unfortunately, the cracks which emerged during the congresses were allowed to fester by an inept leadership of the party preoccupied with its own agenda. The party’s national convention was also marred by disunity among members.
At the end of the exercise, parallel congresses emerged in 24 states namely: Abia, Adamawa, Bauchi, Bayelsa, Benue, Borno, Cross River, Delta, Enugu, Imo, Jigawa, Kaduna, Kano, Katsina, Kebbi, Kogi, Kwara, Lagos, Niger, Ondo, Oyo, Rivers, Sokoto and Zamfara. However, these and other early warning signals were ignored by the party as each powerful member strove to carve an empire for himself.
APC’s inability to rein in its members has already cost the party the governorship in Oyo, Rivers and Imo States. It almost did in Ogun State. And now, it’s has taken its devastating toll on Zamfara State.
Last Friday, the Supreme Court held that the APC did not conduct valid primaries in the build-up to the 2019 general election in Zamfara. The apex therefore court upheld the judgment of the Court of Appeal, Sokoto Division, which had earlier held that no valid primaries were conducted by the party in the state.
The court, in a unanimous judgment by a five-member panel, held that a party that had no valid candidate could not be said to have emerged winner of the recently conducted general election. The court held that the party failed to conduct primaries in accordance with the party rules and the Electoral Act.
In the lead judgment by Justice Paul Adamu Galinji, the apex court held that all votes cast for the APC were “wasted votes” and declared that all political parties with the second highest votes in the elections and the required spread, are elected to the various offices.
In an appeal brought by the APC, the apex court found against the appellant and ordered a fine of N10 million against the party.
The court noted emphatically: “Candidate other than the first appellant with the highest vote stand elected. A cost of N10 million is awarded against the appellant.”
The candidate of the APC, Mukhtar Idris, had been declared winner of the elections after he polled 534,541 votes despite controversies trailing his candidacy. The PDP came second in the election and could now be declared winner of the election subject to meeting other constitutional requirements.
Unfortunately, the ruling also affected all APC candidates, who won elections into the National Assembly and Zamfara State House of Assembly.
Interesting, the PDP which is now the beneficiary of the judgment was not a party to the case. A similar scenario had manifested in Rivers State, where APC litigated itself out of the state governorship election.
The dispute in Zamfara, like others, was avoidable had the party enforced discipline among its members. But rather than be on the side of justice, the leadership became partisan and allowed the state governor, Abdulaziz Yari to run amok. The result is a disaster for the party.
Section 87(1) of the Electoral Act 2010 (as amended) is instructive, clear and unambiguous. It provides thus: “A political party seeking to nominate candidates for election under this Act shall hold primaries for aspirants to all elective positions.”
The Supreme Court has been consistent in its pronouncements on the importance of internal democracy and the need for political parties to obey its own constitution as well as the jurisdiction of the courts to intervene in this regard.
In the case of Shinkafi v. Yari (2016) 1 SC (Part II) 1 at 31, line 13 to line 23, the Supreme Court held thus: “… It is now trite that where a political party conducts its primary and a dissatisfied contestant at the primary election complains about its conduct of the primary, the courts have jurisdiction by virtue of the provision of Section 87(9) of the Electoral Act 2010 (as amended) to examine if the conduct of the primary was in accordance with the party’s Constitution and Guidelines. The reason is that in the conduct of its primaries, the courts will never allow a political party to act arbitrarily or as it likes. A political party must obey its Constitution.”
But times without number, APC had shown that it is a party that doesn’t believe in the concept of rule of law. The government formed by it has shown so much disdain for due process and rule of law. The party has disregarded its own rules as stated in its constitution, the Electoral Act and the 1999 Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria.
The APC came to power with a promise to do things differently from the party it replaced. But four years in the saddle, it has proved to be inept, disorganised and incapable of doing things differently.
If there is anyone, who should know, it is the outgoing Governor of Imo State, Rochas Okorocha. Recently, he lamented that he had been afflicted with more evils in the ruling APC than he would have suffered if he had been a member of the Peoples Democratic Party.
Apart from Zamfara, there are many other states where the APC acted with reckless abandon. One can only hope that the judiciary will remain steadfast and continue to deliver judgment in line with established judicial precedent and without fear or favour. This will further strengthen the nation’s democracy.