Umahi’s Misadventures, Matawalle’s Escape and the Law Being a Prancing Ass

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By Abubakar Adam Ibrahim

Sometimes, I imagine Justice Inyang Ekwo of the Abuja Federal High Court peering down from his high bench, draped in black gown, head swaddled in a fluffy wig, and wire-framed spectacles sitting on the bridge of his nose as he banged his gavel and effectively sacked Ebonyi State Governor David Umahi, his deputy and the state’s 15 lawmakers.

“Having defected to another party, they cannot hold onto the votes of the plaintiff (PDP) to remain in office,” he said.

Effectively, by his ruling, Justice Ekwo demonstrated that Umahi’s November defection to the ruling APC whispered to be with the design of snapping that party’s presidential ticket should it be zoned to the South East region, might have backfired. The order has been given for the PDP, on whose platform Umahi won his election to be governor, to present another candidate to be sworn in as governor. But that will not be the end of the story. Naturally, Umahi is going to appeal to an appellate court and that court would most likely order the status quo to be maintained pending its ruling on the appeal.

Regardless, it is a fascinating development. Especially considering that only last month, Justice Aminu Bappah Aliyu of the Federal High Court in Gusau, not only dismissed a similar suit against Governor Bello Matawalle of Zamfara and four others but compensated each with a million naira. They too, just like Umahi, had defected from the same PDP to the ruling APC. This brings to mind the popular Hausa saying that where one person dances and is tipped, another might dance and be caned, more or less.

While Justice Ekwo said “the constitution does not treat the issue of defection lightly,” Justice Aliyu declared that his court did not have the jurisdiction, that the suit against Matawalle lacked merit and that no court, outside of an electoral tribunal or INEC, or the legislature could sack a sitting governor.

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Here, of course, lawyers will have a field day spewing legalese to explain these contradictions. And if there is one major failing of the newly signed Electoral Act, it is its silence on these defections, which has scooped the innards of Nigeria’s democracy, leaving it a bloated, intimidating thing with a hollow inside. I will explain why, eventually.

At this point, the fundamental question is: to who does the votes or mandate belong, the candidate or the party? Justice Ekwo at least is categorical about this.

“The votes in any election in Nigeria are to political parties, and not candidates,” he had said in his judgment in the Umahi case.

In 2015, a most bizarre decision was taken when, on the eve of what would have been his triumphant return to Lugard House, Abubakar Audu, former governor of Kogi State — and still the best governor that state ever had (tragic only because even after these years, his achievements are yet to be equalled or surpassed) passed away and created a conundrum. He had in fact won the election but as he died even before the results were declared, someone had to take the job.

Logically, one would think that his running mate, James Faleke, would have stepped up to the plate but apparently, the law is an ass. At that point, it was decided that the ticket belonged to the party, not the individuals (conveniently perhaps since Audu was dead) and so despite running on the same winning ticket with Audu, Faleke was discarded and Yahya Bello, who lost out in the primaries to Audu, who didn’t campaign for governorship and at best was expecting to be compensated with a commissioner appointment, if anything, found himself dragged from the luxury of his affluence to govern that long-suffering state.

Yet, despite that stance, and the interpretation of the mandate, we have seen public office holders, elected on the platform of one political party, swapping one bed for another like lamppost courtesans.

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Even more bizarre is the aforementioned Zamfara case. Here is a man who was awarded (and I use this word after due consideration) election victory on the platform of the PDP because the APC, which won majority votes, was deemed ineligible to field a candidate. The reason? They did not nominate a candidate before INEC’s deadline as they spent time playing tinkolo-tinkolo and trying to outsmart themselves, as is the nature of politicians. In the end, they lost out, and Matawalle and his running mate were invited to occupy the governor’s office.

Interestingly, a few years down the line, Matawalle did what Nigerian politicians are fond of doing. He abandoned the party whose votes secured the mandate for him and hopped over to the APC so he could draw closer and whisper into the president’s ears, to be closer to the fountain of power, which seems to be the end, not a means to an end—say maybe good governance and service delivery to the people—for politicians.

But unlike the unfortunate politicians in Ebonyi who it would seem followed a corpse to the grave, (at least pending the decision of the appellate court, which some lawyers are confident will overturn the ruling) deputy governor Mahdi Aliyu Gusau stayed his cause, refused to defect to the APC and for that reason, suffered the most brutally efficient impeachment in history and replaced within hours as if it was a speed dating contest.

Don’t they say the law is an ass? Well, Nigeria’s law is a wild bucking ass.

But that is me just musing. The fundamental issue here is why all these defections?

It boils down to the ideological famine in the country’s political sphere. What exactly does the PDP stand for? What makes the APC different from the PDP?

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What seems to be the dominant preoccupation of both parties and on this, they all unite, is an insatiable quest for power. The PDP’s motto of “power to people” transformed with the speed of scurrying rodents to just “Power! Power! Power!” once the party won elections in 1999.

The APC’s campaign mantra of 2015 was just “Change,” which, when considered critically, simply means changing the hand that holds the power, not necessarily how this power is exercised and put to the service of the people.

This ideological poverty has created a slimy, muddy slope on which politicians belly flop and slide to any party that seems sure to give them access to power.

Justice Ekwo’s ruling might in the end be set aside at the appellate court, but it should start a conversation about clearly setting this law right.

If a candidate wins an election on the platform of a party, then he or she should seat there, biting ants and charging tiger and all, and see out his tenure in the party.

Perhaps that way, we would see politicians staying long enough in a party to start building some kind of ideological framework, and identify with a recognizable manifesto to pin their electoral ambitions on and structure and drive the growth Nigeria needs.

At the moment, parties are treated as just vehicles to access power like the “along” taxi one hops into at AYA to get to Bulet Junction in hopes of catching a whiff of the power oozing from Aso Rock.

Only a foolish passenger or an incredibly generous one would spend time and resources decorating a car that does not belong to him. Most of our politicians are neither. And if no one is taking sustained ownership of the vehicle, how then do you imagine this unremarkable, shuddering wreck of a car driving a country to any meaningful destination?

Daily Trust

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