•Faleke says no regrets challenging poll’s outcome •PDP rejects verdict
Tobi Soniyi in Abuja and Yekini Jimoh in Lokoja
It was jubilation galore across Kogi State on Tuesday following the victory of the state Governor, Alhaji Yahaya Bello of the All Progressives Congress (APC) at the Supreme Court.
Prior to the judgment, there was tension in the state over where the pendulum would swing, but immediately the news on the Supreme Court ruling upholding the election of the governor filtered into the state capital, Lokoja, from Abuja, people trooped out to the streets in excitement and started making calls congratulating one another.
Meanwhile, the victorious governor said yesterday that his victory at the Supreme Court showed that Nigeria has honoured democracy.
The governor who spoke through his Chief Press Secretary, Mr. Kingsley Fanwo, after the judgment, said his victory at the Supreme Court was a “big honour to democracy.”
“The landmark judgment of the Supreme Court today, which affirmed my election is a watershed in the annals of electoral jurisprudence and constitutional law in the country. It was a long walk to victory which will reshape the constitution of the nation.
“I remain humble and magnanimous in victory and I therefore called on those who contested with me to join me in building a greater Kogi State.
“The victory belongs to all Kogi people who believe in transforming the state from a potentially great state to a really great state.
“I am committed to serving the people and making the state the centre of excellence and the cynosure of all eyes,” he said.
The governor warned supporters against “unbridled celebration,” saying the moment was a challenge to all residents of the state to reflect on how to make it great.
The governor said he would continue to pursue his cardinal goals of improving education, reinventing healthcare, boosting infrastructure development, as well as raising the capacity of citizens to reinvigorate the economy.
He also thanked the judiciary for rising to the occasion by standing firm with what was “true and just”.
In his reaction, the immediate past governor of the state, Captain Idris Wada, said he was yet to study the judgment.
The former governor who spoke through his Special Adviser on Media and Strategy, Mr. Jacob, said he cannot react now until he was availed a copy of the Supreme Court judgment.
Also, the Association of Local Governments of Nigeria, (ALGON), Kogi State chapter, commended the justices at the Supreme Court on their judgment re-affirming Bello’s election, describing it as confirmation of the previous judgment.
The state Chairman of ALGON, Alhaji Taufiq Isa, described the judgment as a welcome development and a victory for the rule of law.
Taufiq who congratulated the governor, added that the Supreme Court had put to rest those laying claims to the coveted seat of governor.
Also speaking, the former acting governor of the state, Chief Clarence Olafemi, described the judgment as a welcome development.
According to the APC chieftain in the state, the judgment had brought to rest the litigation over the governorship poll, adding that the governor will now be focused to develop the state for the benefit of people.
In his reaction, the former deputy governorship candidate in the November 21, 2015, governorship election in the state, Hon James Faleke, who had challenged Bello’s election as governor said he had no regrets challenging the decision to declare the election inconclusive as the step was taken in good faith to protect the interest of the over 240,000 electorate voted for the Audu/Faleke ticket in that election.
Faleke had contested the election as running mate to the late Abubakar Audu who was leading in the results announced by the Independent National Election Commission (INEC) but died before the election was concluded last year.
However, the APC elected to field Bello in the inconclusive re-run poll, thus setting up the election challenge by Falake and former Governor, Wada, who came second in the poll.
A statement issued by the spokesperson of the Audu/Faleke Group, Hon. Duro Meseko, quoted Faleke as saying that it would have amounted to a “betrayal of the sacred trust of the people who reposed implicit confidence in the Audu/Faleke ticket not to have defended the sanctity of their vote up to the Supreme Court level.”
“We have heard the judgment handed down by the Supreme Court jurists upholding Bello as governor. We shall wait for the full text of the judgment to know why they came to that conclusion.
“But let it be stated here that we have no regrets challenging the declaration of our election as inconclusive by the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC).
“What we did was to defend the votes cast for the Audu/Faleke by the over 240,000 electorate on November 21, 2015. The people voted for us as candidates, not APC because they believed in the kind of leadership we offered to provide for them during our campaigns.
“It would therefore have amounted to a crass betrayal of the trust of the electorate not to have defended their votes till the end,” he said.
Faleke said as a lawmaker, he would be glad to read the details of the judgment so as to “know which areas of our nation’s jurisprudence requires urgent review”.
He urged all his supporters to remain calm, peaceful and law abiding, while thanking them for their support and perseverance all through the court proceedings.
Earlier yesterday, the Supreme Court had affirmed the election of Bello as the elected governor of Kogi State.
In a unanimous judgment on the four separate appeals, the court held that Bello was properly substituted to replace the late Audu as the candidate of the APC during the 2015 governorship election in the state.
In the first appeal filed by Faleke, the court held that his appeal was un-meritorious and it was subsequently dismissed on these grounds.
In the judgment delivered by Justice Kudirat Kekere-Ekun, the Supreme Court rejected the arguments of the counsel to Faleke, Chief Wole Olanipekun (SAN).
The second appeal filed by the immediate-past governor of the state was also dismissed.
Justice Nwali Sylvester Ngwuta who delivered the judgment of the court in that appeal held that the appeal lacked merit.
The court refused to order a fresh governorship election in the state as prayed by the appellant.
The Supreme Court said that Section 141 of the Electoral Act 2010 relied upon by the former governor to pray for the fresh conduct of the election was no longer a law in Nigeria, having been set aside in 2011 by a Federal High Court in a matter between the Labour Party, the Attorney General of the Federation and INEC.
In two other appeals filed by African Democratic Congress (ADC) and the Labour Party (LP), the court in a similar way dismissed them for lacking in merit.
Justice John Iyang Okoro who gave judgment in the appeal by ADC held that the appeal was devoid of merit.
In the matter of the Labour Party, Justice Musa Dattijo Mohammed upheld the preliminary objection of Governor Bello against the appeal and struck out the appeal for being incompetent.
The Supreme Court upheld the concurrent findings of the Court of Appeal delivered on August 4, 2016 and that of the state governorship election tribunal delivered on June 6, 2016.
The Supreme Court, however, did not give a detailed explanations for its rulings on the four appeals, but fixed Friday, September 30, 2016 to give reasons for its decisions.
Earlier, Olanipekun who stood for Faleke had urged the court to invoke Section 187 of the Constitution to declare his client winner of the election on the combined effect of his joint ticket with the late Audu and that the election had technically been concluded at the time Audu died.
Wada, in his submission by Chris Uche (SAN), had urged the court to invoke Section 141 of the Electoral Act against Governor Bello on the grounds that he (Bello) did not participate in the stages of the election.
However, the PDP has rejected the judgement of the apex court, saying it will nonetheless abide by it.
The PDP statement issued by its spokesman, Dayo Adeyeye, read: “The Supreme Court has today upheld the decision of the Court of Appeal and the Kogi State Election Petition Tribunal validating the election of Bello as Governor of Kogi State.
“Although we disagree with the judgment of the Supreme Court, we have no choice but to accept and respect it.
“The Supreme Court is the final arbiter on legal issues in Nigeria and as such we are obligated to accept and abide by this decision. Like the late revered Justice of the Supreme Court – Justice Chukwudifu Akunne Oputa – once said: ‘the Supreme Court is not final because it is infallible. It is infallible because it is final.’ As such we are bound to respect this decision.
“We call on our teeming members and supporters in Kogi State to accept this judgment with equanimity. We urge them to be law abiding in all their activities.
“We will soon begin planning programmes and creating an awareness campaign to ensure that the administration of Alhaji Yahaya Bello, which is known for frittering away the scarce resources of the Kogi people, will not stay a day longer than the period stipulated for its tenure by the constitution.”