Anytime from now, the Supreme Court would pronounce judgement on the governorship tussle in Plateau and as well as Kano State. For Kano, it is either the apex court rules that Governor Abba Yusuf should continue to be governor on the merit of his appeal or he is asked to pack and go and allow his All Progressives Congress opponent in the 2023 polls, Nasir Gawuna, who had been the deputy to the erstwhile governor, Abdullahi Ganduje, to be sworn in.
Either way the pendulum swings, the city, known as the commercial nerve centre of the North, should not burn.
In Kano, utmost caution must be the watchword because the atmosphere in the Northern state could be charged up in a twinkle of an eye.. For Governor Yusuf, he has quite a mass followership, backers and the instrumentality of statehood as the chief executive. There is enormous influence he could pull.
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For Plateau State at the moment, there is enough on their plates and they can ill afford to accommodate anything extra or else the plateau collapses completely. Of course, Caleb Mutfwang, the governor, has quite a large following. Since his election and swearing in, he has continued to be seen as the leader of his people.
Ahead of the Supreme Court ruling, the Nigerian ruling party at the centre and in most states of the federation, the APC, is reported to be so hopeful of victory that its local chapters have started distributing celebration dresses to members in Kano. Their expectation may not be unfounded: Governor Yusuf has been dismissed twice at both the Kano State Elections Petitions Tribunal and Court of Appeal.
Among the reasons given by the tribunal for sacking Yusuf were that his name was not in the register of the New Nigeria Peoples Party submitted to the Independent National Electoral Commission and over-voting.
The APC lawyer, Sanusi Musa (SAN), said his team complained about three issues concerning the election, Musa said: “That there was substantial noncompliance concerning refusal of INEC to apply the principle of margin of lead. Then the second thing is that we have clearly said Mr Abba Kabir Yusuf was not qualified to contest the election, because by the constitutional provision, Section 177 said that for somebody to participate in an election, he must be a member of a political party and must be somebody sponsored by that political party. The third one is the issue of majority lawful votes cast, which we have successfully shown to the court that there was inflation of votes.”
The INEC had announced Yusuf winner of the governorship election with total votes of 1,019,602 to defeat Gawuna, his closest rival, who polled 890,705 votes.
During the trial, Yusuf lost a substantial number of votes when APC’s argument of illegal vote was sustained. The court deducted 165,663 votes from Yusuf’s total as invalid votes, stating that the affected ballot papers were not stamped or signed and therefore declared invalid.
Kano, the most populous state in northern Nigeria, is a predominantly Muslim state and the APC and NNPC have been at loggerheads to govern the state. The NNPP candidate was declared the winner of the March 2023 governorship election in the state, but the APC challenged the declaration and secured victory at the tribunal and the Court of Appeal. The Supreme Court, Nigeria’s highest court, has fixed Friday this week to give a final ruling on the matter this week.
So in anticipation of victory at the Supreme Court, the APC is reported to have started planning their party in earnest. Local chapters of the APC in Kano State are said to have distributed new party dresses to members for a planned swearing-in of Gawuna.
The development, according to reports, followed fasting and animal sacrifices observed over the week by members of the APC and those of the ruling NNPP. The two parties had asked their members to pray for a favourable Supreme Court judgement.
In Plateau, the appellate court, in a unanimous decision by a three-member panel of Justices, held that Mutfwang was not validly nominated and sponsored by the Peoples Democratic Party to participate in the gubernatorial contest that held on March 18. It held that all the votes that were credited to him and the PDP after the election amounted to wasted votes.
Consequently, the appellate court panel, led by Justice Elfrieda Williams-Dawodu, ordered the INEC to withdraw the Certificate of Return that it earlier issued to Mutfwang as the winner of the governorship poll. It ordered that the candidate that got the second majority lawful votes at the election should be sworn in as governor of the state.
The judgement followed an appeal that was lodged against Governor Muftwang’s election by the governorship candidate of the APC, in the state, Nentawe Goshwe. INEC had declared that Mutfwang of the PDP won the gubernatorial contest with a total of 525,299 votes, ahead of APC’s Goshwe, who polled 481,370 votes.
Dissatisfied with the outcome of the election, Goshwe went before the Plateau State Elections Petitions Tribunal to challenge it. He, among other things, contended that the PDP lacked a political structure in the states and was therefore incapable of validly nominating or sponsoring any candidate for the governorship poll. Besides, he argued that the election of Mutfwang was not conducted in compliance with the Electoral Act, insisting that he did not win the majority of lawful votes cast during the election.
Meanwhile, a three-member panel of the tribunal headed by Justice R. Irele-Ifijeh, in a unanimous decision, dismissed Goshwe’s petition as lacking in merit. Not happy with the judgement of the tribunal, Goshwe brought the case before the appellate court, maintaining his ground that Muftwang lacked the platform and legal qualification to contest the election. He further alleged that the election was marred by over-voting and non-compliance with key provisions of the 2022 Electoral Act.
While adopting his final brief of argument, Goshwe, through his team of lawyers led by Prof. Fakunle Olagoke (SAN), told the court that Mutfwang was not qualified to contest the election by virtue of a lack of valid sponsorship by a political party, contrary to section 177 (C) of the 1999 Constitution, as amended.
However, the governor, through his counsel, Chief Kanu Agabi (SAN), urged the court to dismiss the appeal and uphold the earlier verdict of the tribunal. Agabi argued that the issue of nomination and sponsorship of a candidate for an election was purely an internal affair of a political party, which no court had the jurisdiction to wade into. More so, he contended that the Appellant lacked the locus standi to query a nomination and sponsorship of the candidate of another political party.
Likewise, the counsel for the PDP, Emeka Etiaba (SAN), urged the court to strike out grounds 1 and 8 of the Appellant’s grounds of appeal, adding that they lacked competence. Etiaba argued that Governor Mutfwang emerged as governorship flag-bearer of the PDP through a validly conducted primary election he said was duly monitored by INEC.
Delivering its judgement in the matter, the appellate court upheld the appeal and nullified the election of Governor Mutfwang. Other Justices on the panel were Muhammed Mustapha and Okon Abang.
It will be recalled that the same panel of the appellate court had on November 7, 2023 also sacked a Senator and three members of the House of Representatives in the state that won their respective elections on the platform of the PDP. The panel based its decision on failure of the PDP to fully comply with a court order that was made in 2022, which it said directed the party to conduct congress in the 17 Local Government Areas in the state. It held that evidence the PDP produced to prove that it complied with the order showed that 12 LGAs were excluded in a purported congress it held to select its candidates for the 2023 general elections.
The appellate court, therefore, held that though the lawmakers won their respective seats during the National Assembly election that held on February 25, all the scores that were credited them amounted to wasted votes as they were not valid candidates.
That was the stage before the governor approached the Supreme Court and just two days ago, the apex court reserved judgment, which must be delivered before January 16. Recall that massive protests have been staged against most of the court rulings which mostly affected candidates of the PDP in the state.
As things are now, the political situations in Kano and Plateau States call for concern. Both parties are expectant and based on the arguments they canvassed, they expect victory. Political leaders and gladiators in these states are urged to rein in their supporters against any irrational act as a result of the Supreme Court ruling.
In Kano, Ganduje, the erstwhile governor and now Chairman of the ruling party, should appreciate the enormous influence he wields over a large following in the state he bestrode for eight years as deputy governor and another eight years as governor. Now that he has become the chairman of one of the largest parties in Nigeria, he should consider himself as a national figure, far beyond the state. He cannot afford to be over partisan in the face of whatever way the pendulum swings.
Of course, if it happens that his party is favoured, he should make sure that his party men do not become too excited to provoke the other party into needless violence. He should be able to rise above partisan politics and stand before Kano people as their leader and father. He should not be carried away by the sweetness of any victory and forget the enormity of what such fleeting excitement can cause for the largest state up north.
As Ganduje is expected to rise above partisanship, Alhaji Rabiu Kwankwanso, the leader of the NNPP, should also see himself as another father figure in the state. The leader of the Kwankwasiyya Movement should rise above partisan politics and think about the state first in case his protégé, Governor Yusuf, is asked to pack his baggage and leave the Government House. As said earlier on, the pendulum of justice can swing either way. What is important is how peace can be maintained in the face of any eventuality.
In Plateau State, all the leaders in both the APC and the PDP should look beyond the outcome of the Supreme Court ruling. The Plateau case is interesting. Banditry that has really dealt a death blow on the once peaceful plateau is another kettle of fish entirely. In fact, the recent conflagration has exposed what any mismanaged political crisis can cause. They should not just play into the hands of the devil. By now, every citizen of the once peaceful plateau should be bothered that they should prevent whatever may make them play into the hands of terrorists and bandits who have infiltrated the state.
Gunmen attacked remote villages on Christmas eve in the north-central state, killing at least 195 people. The latest case of such mass killings was blamed on the farmer-herder crisis. The assailants targeted 17 communities in “senseless and unprovoked” attacks, burning down most houses in the area.
Some of the locals said that it took more than 12 hours before security agencies responded to their calls for help. The claim echoes past concerns about slow interventions in Nigeria’s deadly security crisis, which has killed hundreds in Plateau State.
No group took responsibility for the attacks, although blame fell on herders from the Fulani tribe, who have been accused of carrying out such mass killings across the northwest and central regions where the decades-long conflict over access to land and water has further worsened the sectarian division between Christians and Muslims in Africa’s most populous nation. Up till this moment, the entire landscape is still littered by corpses of victims of attacks carried out by these undesirable elements in an unprecedented fashion that left hundreds slaughtered.
The former governor of the state and now senator, Simon Lalong, should see himself as a father and leader of the state and consider its interest first before any other consideration. The likes of Jonah Jang, Joshua Dariye and a host of others should rise up and rein in their supporters, make them realise that peace is by far cheaper to maintain than war. If just because of the governorship seat, the leaders are carried away, they should not forget that it is when there is peace that one can be a governor and be a success.