Play by the Rules or Risk Judicial Hammer


Politicians’ inability to abide by the law‎, especially their own parties’ constitutions, is giving the judiciary more say in parties’ internal affairs, something judges hate to do, writes Davidson Iriekpen

As a warning to political parties in the country, the Supreme Court penultimate week sacked two lawmakers from the National Assembly. While Sani Danlandi of the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) was sacked from the Senate, Herman Hembe of the All Progressives Congress (APC) was asked to leave the House of Representatives.

The court warned political parties to always comply with the provisions of the laws of the land and their own rules while nominating candidates for elections. It also insisted that political parties that failed to play by the rules have “a hard and very bitter lesson” to learn.

The apex court in the lead judgment read by Justice Amina Augie, removed Danladi who represented Taraba North senatorial district over his party’s failure to comply with the laws and the rules in presenting him for election in 2015. She held: “This is a hard and very bitter lesson for political parties to learn. They may have chosen candidates or eminent personalities they want to present as candidates to the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC), but they have to play by the rules. The chosen candidates must comply with requirements of the law; they 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.”

The Chief Justice of Nigeria, Justice Walter Onnoghen, who headed the delivered the lead judgment that sacked Hembe as member representing the Vandeikya/Konshisha Federal Constituency of Benue State in the House of Representatives, stated: “The truth must be told, that the first and second defendants (Hembe and APC respectively) did not respect the provisions of the Electoral Act and the Constitution of the second defendant (the APC) in the conduct of the primaries.

“This court (the Supreme Court) has decided in quite a number of cases that political parties must obey their own constitutions as the court will not allow them to act arbitrarily or as they like. From all I have endeavoured to say above, it is crystal clear that the primaries, which produced the first defendant (Hembe), was fraught with manifold irregularities aside from the fact that he was not even qualified to contest same.”

Expressing its anger further, the court in the two separate judgments, ordered Danladi and Hembe to refund all the salaries and or emoluments which they had collected while occupying their respective seats in the National Assembly. It also ordered INEC to withdraw the certificates of return issued to them. It further ordered INEC to issue fresh certificate of return to Isah Lau to replace Umar as the Taraba North senator.

The court ordered INEC to issue a fresh certificate of return to Mrs. Dorothy Mato to replace Hembe as the lawmaker representing Vandeikya/Konshisha Federal Constituency. It also ordered the Senate President to swear in Shuaibu Lau as Danladi’s replacement, and that the Speaker or Clerk of the House of Representatives should do same to Mato as a replacement for Hembe.

The apex court held that both Danladi and Hembe were not the proper candidates of their parties for the last legislative elections.

For Lau, it was a long road to victory.

In October 2015, the election petition tribunal in Jalingo, the Taraba State capital, had nullified Danladi’s election and pronounced him (Lau) as the winner of the primary. Lau had claimed that he was wrongfully substituted by the PDP. The tribunal declared the primary “inconclusive,” saying it was in violation of the Electoral Act 2010. It said there were irregularities in 48 polling units which disfranchised more than 36,000 eligible voters from participating in the poll. It ordered fresh election in the 48 polling units spread across 13 wards in three local government areas in the senatorial district.

Dissatisfied with the judgement, Danladi challenged the decision of the lower court at the Court of Appeal. In its judgment, the Appeal Court

held that nomination, sponsorship and substitution of candidate for election was a domestic affairs of a political party and it is outside the jurisdiction of any court to impose candidate on a party. But the apex court held that the appellant who contested the primary in 2014 has the legal right to challenge the decision of the PDP particularly as Danladi did not participate in the primary.

Danladi’s case was an interesting one. In 2014, the Supreme Court had restored him as the deputy governor of Taraba State after a legal battle that lasted for about two years following his impeachment from office in October 2012 over allegations of gross misconduct against him. He was also accused among others of diverting projects to places he had personal interest, including his school.

“By virtue of your being the deputy governor of Taraba State, you had easy access to the office of the federal government/World Bank’s Millennium Development Goals projects in the state and other state agencies. And in that capacity, therefore, you used your office and influence and caused to be diverted MDGs facilities and street light projects to Yaggai Academy, a private school owned and operated by Yaggai Academy Limited, with you as the alter ego of the company and thereby denying the underprivileged members of the state access to and use of such facilities, and doing so contravenes the oath of office you sworn to,” the document containing the allegations read.

Despite challenging the integrity of its members by Danladi, the judicial panel constituted to investigate the allegations against the former deputy governor continued with its assignment and recommended his removal from office by impeachment.

Subsequently, 20 out the 24 members of state House of Assembly found him guilty of the allegations. Three of the lawmakers were absent from the sitting while the remaining one abstained from voting. The then governor, Danbaba Suntai, soon replaced Danladi with Garba Umar. That was shortly before Suntai was involved in a fatal plane crash that almost rendered him incapacitated.

Dissatisfied with the manner he was removed, Danladi proceeded to court to challenge his removal. After about two years, he was reinstated by the Supreme Court.

The appeal panel of the court whose unanimous decision was read by Justice Sylvester Ngwuta, had the current Chief Justice of Nigeria, Samuel Onnoghen, Bode Rhodes-Vivour, Kumayi Aka’ahs, Kudirat Kekere-Ekun and John Okoro as members.

“In effect, at all material times, the appellant, Alhaji Sani Abubakar Danladi, remained and still remains the deputy governor of Taraba State and he is to resume his interrupted duties of his office,” the Supreme Court said on November 21, 2104.

“Impeachment of elected politicians is a very serious matter and should not be conducted as a matter of course it has implications for the impeached and the electorate, who bestowed the mandate on him.

“Whether it takes one day or the three months prescribed by law, the rules of due process must be strictly followed. If the matter is left at the whims and caprices of politicians and their panels, a state or even the entire country could be reduced to a status of banana republic.”

Following the judgement, Danladi was to act as governor until 2015 when Suntai’s second term as governor ended. By the time he resumed office, there was no doubt that everything about primary elections in the PDP was almost concluded but as governor, Danladi thought he could use his influence to turn back the hands of the clock. He was eventually elected into the Senate on March 28, 2015. As his tenure ended on May 29, 2015, he resumed in the Senate in June 2015 until he was sacked.

Since the judgments were delivered, political analysts have been commending the Supreme Court. They see the judgments as what could help to tame or reduce impunity in political parties. In almost all the political parties, impunity has become the order of the day. Not only have moneybags hijacked the parties, they now dictate their activities, processes and those who should run for elective offices to the detriment of others. Observes believe that if the courts continue to stand up to the parties which do not follow due process just as the Supreme Court has done, it would help in putting sanity and transparency in their activities. They also warned the courts to not always be carried away by the argument that nomination, sponsorship and substitution of candidate for election is a domestic affairs of political parties and such, it is outside the jurisdiction of any court to allow the parties to continue perpetrate injustice and impunity.

Be that as it may, analysts however expressed reservation over the decision of the apex court allowing candidates who did not contest election to be foisted on the Senate and the House of Representatives to represent the respective senatorial district and federal constituency despite the fact that their names were not on the ballot. Many observers also believe that it is because of some of the injustices usually meted out to aspirants by political parties that sometimes fuel defection and political prostitution presently being experienced in the country.

After the Supreme Court’s decision in the Chibuike Rotimi Amaechi’s case, the laws of the country were amended to correct what many had thought was an anomaly when Amaechi who did not contest election, was declared the governor by the Supreme Court in 2007. The amendment which was made to correct the ‘anomaly’ is to the effect that no individual shall be deemed to have won an election if he did not stand for election into that particular office in Nigeria.

Unfortunately again, the Supreme Court with the instant cases, has ignored the law by ordering the leaderships of the National Assembly to swear in Lau and Mato into both chambers with immediate effect without recourse to the candidates of other political parties who contested the elections with Danladi and Hembe.