Faleke...in search of justice and Bello...the storm isn't over yet

With bated breath, supporters of both Governor Yahya Bello of Kogi State and Hon. James Faleke, are waiting earnestly on the Supreme Court as it gives a final judgment on the governorship crisis in the state, writes Shola Oyeyipo

“We strongly condemn the judgment and believe that the Supreme Court, that is the custodian of Nigeria’s Constitution and the court of the people, will do justice to our case”. Those were the words of Hon. James Faleke, the running mate to the late governorship candidate of the All Progressives Congress (APC) in Kogi State in the 2015 elections, Alhaji Abubakar Audu, who died in the course of the election.

Faleke has taken the option to challenge the process that led to the emergence of Governor Bello as replacement for Audu, claiming that it was illegal on the grounds that he, and not Bello, should benefit from his principal’s sudden exit from the race, when he died of heart attack at a time he was believed to have literally won the election.

While the Justice Jummai Hannatu-Sankey-led five-man panel of the appellate court dismissed the appeals by a former governor of the state, Alhaji Idris Wada of the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) and Faleke, the latter is banking on the possibility that such a dissenting position by a member of the panel, Justice Ita George Mbaba would be espoused by the apex court in declaring that the governor should not be there, which would then pave the way to decide, who actually should have been the candidate of the APC.

Upholding Wada’s appeal, Mbaba voided the Certificate of Return that was issued to Governor Bello by the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) and disagreed with the declaration of Bello as the duly elected governor, saying there was no evidence that he participated in all stages of the gubernatorial election that held in the state last year.

The judge took the position that INEC acted in breach of section 141 of the Electoral Act by declaring Bello, who only participated in the December 6, 2015, supplementary poll, as duly elected governor of the state. His position, however, runs contrary to the other four members of the panel, who upheld the judgment of the Kogi State Governorship Election Petition Tribunal that previously affirmed Bello’s election. They dismissed the appeals for want of merit.

What Faleke is taking to the apex court as contained in his brief of argument presented to the Supreme Court in appeal no: CA/A/EPT/357/ 2016 by Chief Wole Olanipekun, who is leading 13 other lawyers including eight Senior Advocates of Nigeria (SANs), is that Faleke and Audu garnered the majority of votes cast among all the candidates in the November 21, 2015 governorship election in Kogi State and score over one-quarter of all votes cast in all the local government areas in the state. Governor Bello and INEC were joined in the suit.

They are contending with the Court of Appeal verdict which affirm the election of Governor Yahaya Bello on the basis that Bello did not allegedly participate in the November 21 election either as a voter or a candidate of any party; the he (Bello) was allegedly not registered to vote in the Kogi State 2015 election either as a voter or candidate of any political party and that even at the December 5 supplementary election, Bello only polled 6, 885 votes whereas his victory was predicated on the 240, 867 votes cast for the Audu/Faleke ticket.

They are asking the apex court to determine that in the view of the issues on the ground and consideration of the provisions of sections 179 (2) and 181 (1) of the constitution and relevant sections of the Electoral Act, whether the Appeal Court acted rightly in its decision to dismiss Faleke’s claim to the 240, 867 votes that Bello benefited from, which were actually in favour of the Audu/Faleke ticket.

According to the Faleke legal team, the Appeal Court fell into “serious error by relying on an isolated provision of INEC’s Manual of Election Officers (updated), to affirm the tribunal judgment. So, they want the Supreme Court to either support or disagree with the Appeal Court position that Bello could “appropriate” the votes cast for Audu/Faleke, having regards for the provisions of sections 179, 182 and 187 of the Nigerian constitution.

Faleke had appealed the Election Petition Tribunal’s verdict that affirmed Bello as governor. His lead counsel, Olanipekun, challenged the tribunal’s decision, except the part of the preliminary objection resolved in his favour – he protested that the tribunal erred in law by refusing to grant his client’s reliefs, particularly an order directing him to be sworn-in as governor for the reason that there was no declaration made after the election.

“One of the major reasons why the appellant instituted the petition at the lower tribunal was the failure of the first respondent (Independent National Electoral Commission) to make a declaration and return from the election of November 21, 2015. The lower tribunal failed to consider whether there was any constitutional justification for the failure of the first respondent to make a return from the election. It failed to consider whether there was any constitutional basis for the declaration of the November 21, 2015 election as inconclusive”.
Among other arguments, Faleke, who is the member representing Ikeja Federal Constituency of Lagos State in the House of Representatives, has persistently argued that the reason given by INEC for declaring the election as inconclusive on November 22, 2015 was baseless because the margin of win between the joint ticket of Audu and appellant and the Wada/Awoniyi ticket, which was 41,353 votes, was less than the total number of registered voters in the 91 polling units, where the electoral umpire decreed a supplementary election to hold.

It is, however, important to note that the handlers of the issues must not be oblivious of the fact that with the ongoing legal tussle, the existing mutual distrust among the three senatorial districts would only further fester.

The people of the Central senatorial district, where the incumbent governor comes from consider Faleke’s actions as an attempt to take away an opportunity that had eluded them for many years as well as the West, where Faleke comes from. It is the more reason the Supreme Court must not only ensure justice in the case but also set a precedent.

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According to the Faleke legal team, the Appeal Court fell into “serious error by relying on an isolated provision of INEC’s Manual of Election Officers (updated), to affirm the tribunal judgment. So, they want the Supreme Court to either support or disagree with the Appeal Court position that Bello could “appropriate” the votes cast for Audu/Faleke, having regards for the provisions of sections 179, 182 and 187 of the Nigerian constitution