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The Kaduna State Governorship Election Appeal, The Supreme Court and The Image of The Judiciary

By Edward John Auta

As the Supreme Court throws Nigerians into jubilation mode and sets the judiciary on the path of redemption, it is imperative to note that it is not yet uhuru. The people of Kaduna, Nassarawa and Ogun states, whose mandates were allegedly stolen in brazen manner, and which the justices of the Court of Appeal have technically endorsed, are looking up to the Supreme Court to help reclaim them. The sanctity of the wishes and aspirations of voters expressed through the ballot should be the primary concern of the courts and the court, therefore, should be interested in doing justice to the masses no matter the administrative or technical errors by lawyers associated with an election petition. The recent judgments in respect of Kano, Zamfara, and Plateau States’ governorship elections, and specific comments by the Hon. Justice Paul Agim, JSC, in respect of the Plateau and Kano states governorship election petition, that “The legal profession should wake up or it will render itself irrelevant in the eyes of the people with this type of judgement from the Appeal Court,” which was reinforced by the Hon. Justice, Inyang Okoro, wherein he also said, “Judges should be more meticulous in doing their job, no matter the pressure, this is to avoid the mess that happened at the court below,” “My only worry is that a lot of people have suffered as a result of the Court of Appeal’s decision,” the Supreme Court is leaving no one in doubt that the remaining governorship election appeals before it would be considered strictly on the merit and substance of the cases and not legal technicalities; and until the court is able to do so, the journey towards the total cleansing and redemption of the judiciary would have been, still, far from started.

Democracy anywhere in the world can only thrive when the votes of the electorates can count or are counted. Election outcomes, therefore, or outcomes of litigations over same must reflect this simple reality. Failure by the courts to do justice to the electorates when the electoral umpire conspires with politicians to compromise the process would not only be cruel but a recipe for disaster because as the French philosopher and jurist, Baron De Montesquieu, puts it, “there is no greater tyranny than that which is perpetrated under the shield of the law and in the name of justice.” The people of Kaduna State desire justice, the type that will restore the mandate of the PDP and throw the state into wild jubilations as was seen recently across Nigeria following the recent pronouncements of the court in respect of Kano, Zamfara, and Plateau states.

Across the length and breadth of Kaduna state, the recent Supreme Court judgments have rekindled hope, with prayers and fasting sessions organised for God’s intervention and also for the courage by their Lordships to sustain the tempo at the Supreme Court.

From Birnin Gwari to Kaduna South, Giwa to Kagarko, Lere to Sanga, among others, there abound a plethora of evidences submitted to the tribunal to prove the PDP’s case against INEC and the APC, but all of which the Court of Appeal dismissed without the slightest compunction. For instance, the entire results of election in Kukui ward in Kagarko local government area with six thousand and eighty-four (6084) registered voters and all permanent voter cards (PVCs) collected were cancelled at the ward collation centre on the ground of violence at the collation centre and not the polling units; while ward collation centres in Kaduna South, Igabi, Birnin Gwari, Zaria, Lere LGAs became cancellation centres, especially in the PDP strongholds with a view to suppressing their votes.

In the case of the Kukui Ward mentioned above, elections were peacefully conducted in all the polling units, and results were announced and posted to the IREV portal. However, it was reported by the INEC that due to violence at the ward collation center, the entire results of the ward were cancelled, which is contrary to the provisions of the Electoral Act, 2022 and INEC guidelines. Under the electoral guidelines, since INEC had announced the result at the polling units and issued duplicate original copies of form EC8A to all party agents, INEC should have gone ahead to arrange for another collation (as was the case for Kudan LGA), since voting and results were not affected by the said violence, and not an outright cancellation of the entire ward results which affected over 3,000 valid votes cast.

Similarly, a cursory look at the certified true copies of the election results reveal wrongful cancellation of polling unit results totalling over 3,900 votes in Ung. Barwa/K/G Barwa, Marke/L.E.A Marke, Unguwan Yantirame Layin Alh. Tela, Kujir/Ung. Madaki/Kujur Ung. Madaki, Fadanruruma L.E.A. Pry School, Ung. Madaki, Gangara (Gulbala)/L.E.A Primary School, Iddoh/K/gidan Sarki, Fadanruruma L.E.A. Pry School, T.V. Centre I, Ung. S/Buwayi, Ung Tiyaye ii, Rikochi Tsohuwa/ Pri. Sch., Ang/Gaiya/ L.E.A. Pry.Sch., Barin Bako I, II & Barin Rimi/ Barin Bako Village, L.E.A Kakuri Gwari 1, Godo, Matari/ Jaba Road S/tasha, Ung Rumbu, Ung. Sunday IV/ Isah K/Shadow Street across over 16 wards namely; Rimau, Kushe, Galadimawa, Aribi, Kwassam, Gangara, Bishini, Kuyelo, Saminaka, Mah, Badurum Sama, Kakangi, Kakuri Gwari, Ninzam West, Sabon Tasha, and Aboro, respectively.

INEC cancelled the above polling unit results purportedly on the grounds of over-voting. But a scrutiny of the BVAS report, the voter accreditation register, the votes scored by each party, and the number of rejected votes show that there was not a case of over-voting In effect, the people of the affected areas are looking up to the Supreme Court for the restoration of the votes freely given to the respective political parties that participated in the election.

In the case of Makera Ward, the result announced by INEC recorded 9,241 votes for the APC against PDP’s 1,824. These figures, however, are bogus going by the figures on the certified true copies of the results obtained from INEC and duplicate copies of Form EC8A issued to party agents. According to the records, the actual scores for the two parties should have been APC -5542 and PDP – 3159. This implies that INEC unduly awarded 5,034 votes to the APC and its candidate – an infraction both the tribunal and the court of appeal ought to have corrected by deducting same from the announced result of Makera which obviously did not emanate from authentic INEC documents as submitted to the tribunal.

In summary, from the documents submitted to the tribunal, the PDP and its governorship candidate suffered a loss of about 13,305 votes through the various malfeasance by the INEC and its agents, an injustice that the party and the people of the state had hoped that both the tribunal and the court of appeal would upturn, but which they sacrificed on the altar of legal technicalities. But Justice John Tsoho, Chief Judge of the Federal High Court, noted during a retreat to mark the 50 years anniversary of the court, that “recent court pronouncements, especially on election-related cases, have placed the Judiciary on trial.” In his words: “I must say that we are not unmindful of the difficult times that we face as the judiciary. It is not in doubt that the judiciary is on trial.” He, therefore, admonished judges to rise up and ensure the independence and sacredness of the judiciary by dispensing justice with integrity and without bias.” It is heartwarming that the Supreme Court has started setting a leading example in this regard, and it owes the nation – and the judiciary in particular – a duty to continue with this image laundering process until all negative perceptions about the judiciary which unfair judgments engender are erased COMPLETELY and public trust in the judiciary as the last hope of the common man is restored. The Kaduna State governorship election appeal and others like it offer a very profound opportunity for the apex court to put the icing on the cake and purge the Nigerian judiciary of the many mistakes of the lower courts which have continued to batter its image and make it a laughing stock in the comity of nations. The judiciary can not exist without the trust and confidence of the people.

Election thieves and the INEC must never be allowed to get away with the mandate of the people, and this simple fact should be at the centre of every election litigation. The PDP, having won the presidential election in Kaduna State, all three senatorial seats, and 10 out of the 16 House of Representatives seats in the February 28, 2023 elections, demonstrated clearly that the people had shown their preference ahead of the March 18, 2023 governorship election. This was the reason behind the volcanic celebrations that erupted all over the state after the rumoured victory of the PDP candidate, Isa Ashiru, on 20th March 2023 before INEC announced the other election result that crashed the hopes and aspirations of the people.

The struggle for a better Nigeria is a task that must be done. It is a task that must be anchored on building very strong electoral and judicial institutions; where the sanctity of the ballot can be guaranteed, and the collective will of the people is respected. It is on this premise that every patriotic citizen should join in the struggle for the reclamation of the mandate of the people of Kaduna state from the APC. Yes, as Haile Selassie once remarked, “throughout history, it has been the inaction of those who could have acted; the indifference of those who should have known better; the silence of the voice of justice when it mattered most; that has made it possible for evil to triumph.” Nigerians from all walks of life, therefore, cannot afford to look the other way at this critical time in our history, but join in the call for justice for the people of Kaduna State by the Supreme Court. It is now or never!

~Edward John Auta writes from Kaduna, Nigeria.

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