Kano Governorship Election Tribunal: Why the Verdict Can’t Stand – Kperogi

By Farooq A. Kperogi

I detest political cultism, which the Kwankwasiyya movement represents, and also resent Governor Abba Yusuf’s incipient governance by destructive vengeance, which saw him remorselessly destroying multimillion-naira buildings belonging to political opponents in his first few weeks in power, but the verdict that overturned his victory strikes me as deficient in both legal and logical merit.

APC appears intent to get back through judicial manipulation what it lost through the ballot box. It’s a higher-order, more sophisticated, and less primitive version of the broad-day electoral heist they perpetrated in 2019 after former Governor Abdullahi “Gandollar” Ganduje lost to the same Abba Yusuf. INEC was manipulated to declare the election as “inconclusive,” even though APC unambiguously lost it. It bears no recounting what happened thereafter.

The single-minded, concentrated, unstoppable political steamroller that Rabiu Musa Kwankwaso unleashed in this year’s governorship election in Kano was simply too overpowering for Ganduje and Nasir Gawuna to withstand.

As I argued in my April 01, 2023, column titled “Between Obi and Kwankwaso, Who’s the ‘Local Champion’ Now?” Kwankwaso didn’t run for president to win it. He did so to “leverage his presidential run to help his son-in-law get elected as governor of Kano State. And he achieved his goal.” He obviously learned from 2019 and was prepared for 2023.

It is significant that APC didn’t even claim to have won the majority or plurality of the votes cast during the governorship election in Kano this year. It merely invoked a welter of issues that are extraneous to the vote, which are balanced on a dubiously slender thread of legal evidence, to ask for the reversal of NNPP’s victory.

Three points constitute the nucleus of APC’s judicial challenge to the NNPP’s victory at the tribunal: that NNPP’s Abba Yusuf wasn’t a registered member of the party on whose platform he ran; that the Electoral Act was violated through “over-voting,” violence, and disenfranchisement; and that 165,663 votes for NNPP in Tarauni, a Kano local government, were invalid because they lacked INEC’s markers of authenticity, i.e., stamps, signatures, and dates.

Invalidating 165,663 votes out of NNPP’s 1,019,602 votes while leaving APC’s 890,705 votes untouched handed a dubious victory to APC by default.

It’s easy to see how APC’s victory at the tribunal will crumble like a paper bag upon appeal. First, membership of a political party is an internal matter that non-party members have no legal right to be concerned about.

In its response to APC’s challenge of Peter Obi’s qualification to run for president on the platform of Labour Party because he was not a registered member of the party as of April 30, 2022, when the party turned in its membership register to INEC, the Presidential Elections Petitions Tribunal ruled that, “The issue of membership of a political party is an internal party affair.” It dismissed APC’s challenge on the basis of this.

A May 26 Supreme Court ruling also says rival parties have no right to question the validity of the internal decisions made by other parties unless they can prove that they suffered demonstrable harm as a result of the internal decisions another party took. So, the Kano governorship election tribunal’s verdict on this issue will be as dead as a dodo upon appeal.

The tribunal disproportionately placed the burden of the violation of the Electoral Act, evidenced in “over-voting,” violence, disenfranchisement, etc. on the NNPP even though, as we all know, both parties were guilty of it. APC deployed its power of incumbency during the election to intimidate and overawe opponents, and to visit violence on people who resisted them. NNPP wasn’t innocent, of course. Kwankwasiyya mobs, wherever they were dominant, also put the screws on opponents.

There was no innocent party when it came to the violation of the Electoral Act. In fact, if the standard established by the Kano Governorship Election Tribunal were to be applied to all elections in the country there would be no valid election anywhere. Enduring systemic dysfunctions and our all-too-familiar disposition to game or attempt to game the system will always result in violations of well-intentioned laws by all parties. So, that judgement was neither here nor there, in my opinion.

Perhaps the stickiest, most indefensible, and least logical of the tribunal’s verdict was its arbitrary nullification of NNPP’s 165,663 votes on account of ballot papers lacking symbolic indicators of legitimacy from INEC.

First, why is NNPP the only party whose votes were overturned on this account when it’s obvious that all parties that partook in the election, including APC, also had votes that weren’t stamped or signed? The blame for this partly goes to NNPP, which was so overconfident of its triumph that it didn’t prepare a robust rebuttal. I heard it presented only one witness and didn’t expend any efforts to expose APC’s own manipulations.

Second, as Bello Galadi, a past Chairman of the Nigerian Bar Association in Zamfara State, pointed out, Section 63(2) of the Electoral Act doesn’t support the tribunal’s ruling. “If the Returning Officer is satisfied that a ballot paper which does not bear the official mark was from a book of ballot papers which was furnished to the Presiding Officer of the Polling Unit in which the vote was cast for use at the election in question, he or she shall, notwithstanding the absence of the official mark, count that ballot paper,” the Electoral Act says.

In other words, INEC signatures and stamps are merely symbolic; they are not mandatory stamps of validity. If all the parties involved in an electoral contest are united in affirming the genuineness of ballot papers in spite of the ballot papers lacking INEC’s symbols of validity, they are lawful. Apparently, on election day, neither APC nor its agents questioned the validity of the votes the tribunal has overturned. So why whine after the fact?

“Where were the APC’s Polling Agents when the ballot papers were being sorted?” Galadi asks. “How did they allow unauthenticated ballot papers to be counted in the first place? Where were… INEC’s officers when the unauthenticated ballot papers were allegedly being smuggled into the boxes?”

Galadi also argued that the number of votes the tribunal nullified is greater than the number of votes by which NNPP defeated APC, which by law requires the tribunal to at worst declare the election “inconclusive” and order a re-run.

I think predicting the collapse of APC’s governorship tribunal victory upon appeal is a slam dunk because it can’t survive the crucible of serious legal challenge. It seems like a politically motivated verdict, such as the verdict that overturned Adeleke’s election, that has zero chance of surviving an appeal.

No one can predict the Court of Appeals or the Supreme Court, especially this Supreme Court, but if justice and fair play still matter, I have no doubt that NNPP’s victory will be affirmed. Of course, the party has to shake off its smug, unjustified overconfidence and not only defend its mandate but also show that APC received hundreds of thousands of votes that are similar to the NNPP votes that the tribunal canceled.

After its expected victory, though, NNPP’s Abba Yusuf and his benefactor Rabiu Kwankwaso need to rule with grace and maturity, not vengeance and infantilism. Destroying buildings is no governance. Plotting the dethronement of monarchs that didn’t support you is a page from Ganduje’s sordid playbook. They need to be different. Success, they say, is the best revenge.

Re: PEPT’s Verdict and the Task Before the Supreme Court
My name is Aikhunegbe Anthony Malik. I am a Senior Advocate of Nigeria. I always enjoy and indeed look forward to reading your interventions. Well done, sir.

Typical of your write-ups, this one on the PEPT’s verdict is very incisive. May your pen never run dry, sir.

Permit me, however, to observe that the Federal High Court [Port Harcourt Division] decision concerning the eligibility of Tonye Cole to contest the Rivers governorship election [on account of his dual citizenship] was upturned or set aside, rightly so, by the Court of Appeal in Appeal No. CA/PH/584/2022; Tonye Patrick Cole vs. Peoples Democratic Party & Ors.], per Ikyegh, JCA, in a judgment delivered on January 20, 2023.
Aikhunegbe Anthony Malik, SAN.

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