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Supreme Court blames politicians for unsettled polity

Walter-Onnoghen

The Supreme Court has blamed politicians for the unsettled political climate in the country.

It said politicians’ unwillingness to play by the rules and abide by the dictate of the law account for why the nation’s polity is riddled with crises.

This forms part of the substance of two judgments delivered on Friday by a five-man panel of the apex court, led by the Chief Justice of Nigeria (CJN), Justice Walter Onnoghen.

Justices Musa Dattijo Muhammad, Kudirat Kekere-Ekun, Amina Adamu Augie and Ejembi Eko were also on the panel.

Both judgments were in appeals marked: SC/ 583/2016 filed by Isah Shuaibu Lau (relating to Taraba North Senatorial District) and SC/733/2016 by Mrs. Dorothy Mato (relating to Vandeikya/Konshisha Federal Constituency, Benue State).

The court found that both the People’s Democratic Party (PDP), in Lau’s case; and All Progressives Congress (APC), in Mato’s case, blatantly ignored the Electoral Act and parties’ guidelines, in the conduct of primaries, to impose unqualified candidates.

The court noted that while the PDP in Taraba knew that former Acting Governor, Sani Abubakar Danladi was not qualified for its primary, it chose him over Lau, who was more qualified.

In the Benue case, the court noted that the APC went further to breach its existing principle of rotation in Vandeikya and Konshisha Local Government Areas and handed both the Senate and House of Representatives seats to Barnabas Andyar Gemade and Iorwase Herman Hember (both from Konshisha Local Government Area).

Justice Onnoghen, in the lead judgment in the Mrs. Mato appeal, wondered why politicians think of self alone.

In deciding the appeal in favour of Mrs. Mato, Onnoghen said: “I am satisfied and hold that the plaintiff has proved that the 1st defendant/respondent (Hember) was not a member of the APC as at December 10, 2014 when the primary election was held. Accordingly, he was not qualified to contest the said primary election as he was still a member of the PDP.”

Relying on a report dated December 16, 2014, issued by APC’s National Assembly Primaries Appeal Committee on the primary that produced Hember, and INEC’s report, dated December 11, also on the primary, Justice Onnoghen concluded that it was wrong for Hember to have been made APC’s candidate.

He said: “From all I have endeavoured to say above, it is crystal clear that the primaries, which produced the 1st defendant/respondent (Hember) was frought with manifold irregularities aside the fact that he was not even qualified to contest same.

“Thus, since only the plaintiff and the 1st defendant were the contestants, the 2nd defendant (APC) ought to have given effect to the recommendations of its Primary Election Appeal Panel, which recommended that appellant’s name be submitted to the 3rd respondent (INEC).

“There is nothing on record to contradict the principle of rotation as contained in the said report.

The principle of justice, equity and fair play demanded that, since Konshisha Local Government Area had taken the office of Senate, through Gemade, the other Local Government Area, that is, Vandeikya, where the plaintiff belongs, ought to produce a member of the House of Representatives.

“I do not know how politicians think, but for me, it was unfair to give both the Senate and House of Representatives seats to Konshisha Local Government, while Vandeikya had nothing to show for it.”

“In view of the above provision and the fact that only the plaintiff/appellant and Herman Hember were the candidates, who contested the primaries for Vandeikya/Konshisha Federal Constituency seat in the House of Representatives, I enter judgment for the plaintiff/appellant.

Justice Augie, in the lead judgment in Lau’s appeal wondered why politicians and political parties find it impossible to play by the rules.

She noted how Danlandi, who was not qualified, was imposed as candidate in disregard of due process.

Justice Augie said: “The 3rd respondent (Garba Umar) basically admitted that he was screened and cleared as a gubernatorial candidate, but was allowed to participate in the primaries for National Assembly after he was removed by this court as Acting Governor of the state.

“To make it very clear, the 3rd respondent admitted that he was not an aspirant for the said Senatorial seat; that as at the time he submitted his expression of interest form and nomination form for the gubernatorial office of Taraba State, the time for the submission of similar forms for the National Assembly had expired.

“And that, although he did not obtain similar forms for the National Assembly election and was never screened nor cleared for the seat, the 1st respondent (PDP) declared him the winner of the primary election doe the Senatorial seat and sent his name to the 2nd respondent (INEC),” she said.

Justice Augie noted that to drive its impunity home, the PDP, despite knowing that Lau was qualified to participate in the primary, preferred Danladi, who was not qualified.

She said: “So, it (PDP) brings in the former Acting Governor of the state (Danladi), who did not do any such thing – satisfy conditions and fulfil all requirements. And after he had won the primaries, it submitted his name to INEC.

“The appellant complained, then filed an action challenging the eligibility of the 3rd respondent (Umar) to participate at the said primaries.

“While the matter is pending, the 3rd respondent withdrew his candidature, and the 1st respondent (PDP) did the same thing again.

“This time, it brought the current Acting Governor (Danladi) to replace the 3rd respondent in total disregard for the action pending in court, that is, the action questioning the said primary that produced the 3rd respondent as its (PDP’s) candidate in the first place.

“And it (PDP) thereby took it upon itself to determine the appellant”s right and obligations with regard to his complaint against the said primaries,” she said.

Justice Augie, while ordering Danladi’s replacement with Lau, said “This is a hard and very better lesson for political parties to learn.

“They may have chosen candidates or eminent personalities they want to present as candidates to INEC, but they have to play by the rules.

“The chosen candidate must abide by the provisions of the Electoral Act, which creates a level playing field for all aspirants, who seek to contest elections. So, the political parties and their candidates must obey the rules,” Justice Augie said.

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