The Supreme Court yesterday declared that the All Progressives Congress (APC) had no candidates in the 2019 general elections, and therefore could not claim to have won. The five-member panel of justices, presided by the Acting Chief Justice of Nigeria, Justice Tanko Muhammad, unanimously held that the party in the state failed to conduct primaries in accordance with party rules.
The APC had won the governorship, national, and state assembly elections in Zamfara, leaving nothing for opposition parties. APC candidate Mukhtar Shehu Idris was declared governor by the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) while Dr. Bello Muhammad Mutawalle of the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) came second.
The returning officer for the governorship election in the state, Prof. Kabiru Bala, said Mukhtar Idris (APC) got 534,541 while his opponent, Dr. Mutawalle (PDP), polled 189,452. The candidate for the National Rescue Movement (NRM), Senator Saidu Dansadau scored 15,177 while Dr. Abdullahi Shinkafi (APGA) garnered 3,865.
In the lead judgment by Justice Paul Adamu Galinji, the apex court held that all votes cast for the APC are “wasted”, and declared that the party with the second highest votes and the required spread in the elections, are elected to the various positions.
The panel also awarded cost of N10m against APC in favour of Senator Kabiru Marafa, leading 140 members of his faction of the APC in the appeal.
The APC and Governor Abdulazeez Yari faction of the APC, had filed the appeal challenging the decision of the Court of Appeal in Sokoto.
The apex court ordered that the runner-up candidate for the gubernatorial election be sworn in if he fulfils the constitutional requirement of getting one quarter of the total votes cast in at least two-third of the LGAs.
But analysts have started expressing doubts as to whether the PDP candidate met the requirements to be declared winner. According to them, the total votes cast in the governorship election stand at 810,782. APC’s Mukhtar Idris scored 534,541 votes while PDP’s Mutawalle trailed behind with 189,452 votes. They said PDP must get 202,696 to clinch the governorship, an argument other lawyers say does not hold water.
“The Supreme Court said APC did not participate in the elections, so all the votes it got amounted to nothing,” said Barr. Aminu Auwal, a legal practitioner. “What would be looked at now is whether PDP met the legal requirements, that’s all. Anyone talking about APC’s votes is just wasting his time,” he said.
The verdict even sparked jubilation in Gusau, the state capital, Daily Trust Saturday reports. The motorbike riding celebrants cruised the streets, brandishing Maradun’s posters.
Residents expressed divergent opinions on the verdict, with many of them expressing hope for a better administration ahead.
Officials of APC could not be reached for comment at the time of filing this report.
Arguments of lawyers at the S/Court
Earlier, at the Supreme Court, lead counsel to the Yari faction, Lateef Fagbemi (SAN) Damian Dodo (SAN) asked the apex court to quash the judgment of the Court of Appeal in Sokoto and recognize that of the High Court in Gusau, Zamfara State, over the candidates of the party.
But counsel to Marafa’s faction, Mike Ozekhome (SAN), in a preliminary objection, asked the apex court to dismiss the appeal by the Yari faction on grounds that the matter borders on mixed law and facts which ought to be brought through the leave of court.
The apex court, however, dismissed the objection on the grounds that pre- and post-election appeals are special in nature and does not require leave of court to make.
The Supreme Court judgment has increased the weight of PDP in the nation’s power struggle especially between the APC and PDP. As from May 29, if PDP’s lead stands, it will have 16 governors, with APC having 19.
Yarima’s dynasty crumbled
Eight years after, the PDP which held sway in Zamfara between 2007 and 2011 with Alhaji Mahmud Aliyu Shinkafi as governor, set for a comeback.
Shinkafi who rounded up his first term in 2011, failed in his re-election bid when he was defeated by now-outgoing Governor Yari, who was anointed by Senator Ahmad Sani Yarima. Yarima was Zamfara governor between 1999 and 2007, and he was instrumental to the election of Shinkafi, before they fell apart.
Yarima is therefore seen as father of Zamfara politics, with a bona fide dynasty. The move was, however, checkmated by Yari, who in the build-up to the 2019 elections anointed Mukhtar Idris as his successor, at a time when Yarima allegedly wanted to have a former deputy governor of the state, Ibrahim Wakkala Mohammed, as next governor.
Yari would have also replaced Yarima in the Senate, if not for yesterday’s Supreme Court judgement.
Conversely, Senator Marafa, and all members of his camp who were reportedly short-changed during the APC primaries, have also lost out in the intra-party wrangling, a development that favoured the PDP in all the contests in Zamfara, with the exception of the presidential one, which remains unaffected.
Beneficiaries of APC’s wrangling
While the infighting in Zamfara APC was raging, leaders and aspirants for various offices in the leading opposition PDP surreptitiously put their acts together and produced candidates. The greatest beneficiary is Dr. Mutawalle, who came second in the governorship election and would most likely receive his Certificate of Return from INEC ahead of May 29.
The Zamfara State chapter of the PDP, and the office of the governor-elect have congratulated the people of the state. In a statement signed by his media aide, Alhaji Umar Maradun, Mutawalle described the court verdict as the triumph of truth. He thanked those who supported him, and appealed to all to be law-abiding as they celebrate.
APC’s long internal legal tussles
The long legal battle began for the APC Zamfara chapter primary election purportedly conducted on October 3, 2018, which was challenged by the Kabiru Marafa faction for being in contravention of the APC constitution and guidelines.
Both the Adams Oshiomhole-led national headquarters of the party and the INEC said there was no primary election. Later, while the national APC accepted the outcome of the primary, INEC refused to recognise the candidates’ list.
On January 25, a Zamfara State High Court in Gusau pronounced that a valid primary was conducted, but a Federal High Court held that INEC was right not to recognise the list.
More legal jousting followed, but Marafa through his counsel, Mike Ozekhome (SAN) filed a fresh appeal at the Court of Appeal in Sokoto still challenging the judgment of the High Court in Gusau.
Meanwhile, the APC national headquarters filed an appeal at the Court of Appeal in Abuja challenging the judgment of the Abuja Federal High Court which upheld INEC’s decision to refuse APC candidates in Zamfara. Governor Yari’s faction also cross-appealed to demand the right to participate in the general elections.
On February 21, the Court of Appeal in Abuja presided by Justice Abdu Aboki set aside the judgment of the Federal High Court in Abuja upholding INEC’s decision on the grounds that the court ought not to have entertained the suit at all, having been brought outside the 14 days provided under the Fourth Alteration to the Constitution on pre-election matters.
However, on March 25 a three-member panel of justices of the Court of Appeal in Sokoto presided by Justice Tom Shuaibu Yakubu ruled on the appeal by Marafa, that the High Court in Gusau did not properly evaluate and assess all the evidence put before it before making its judgement.
According to him, after re-evaluation and reassessment of the evidence, it was discovered that the party didn’t follow provisions of the Electoral Act and the guidelines provided by the party in selecting candidates.
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