Yekini Jimoh in Lokoja.

Yekini Jimoh writes that a recent court order may have ended a long drawn tussle over the rightful occupant of the office of Senator representing Kogi East.

The drama over the rightful of the senatorial seat for Kogi East which has been going for sometime now reached a climax as a Federal High Court in Abuja ordered the immediate sack of a Senator Atai Aidoko, representing Kogi East. The court presided by Justice Gabriel Kolawole ruled that Mr. Aidoko was wrongly presented as the flag bearer of the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) in the December 2014 primaries of the party. The frequently told story is Mr. Isaac Alfa was already coasting home to victory as the result of that PDP primary, which was conducted in Idah started coming in. Not willing to play by the rules, Senator Aidoko allegedly led thugs to the venue and truncated the process.

However, his contemptible antics were not enough to dissuade the Returning Officer, Mr. Seidu Odoma from doing the right thing. To Aidokos great consternation, Odoma went ahead to declare Isaac Alfa the winner of the primary. Alfa was greatly relieved, but it was for a short while. In an awkward twist of fate, the electoral panel from the national secretariat of the party presented Aidoko as its candidate in the 2015 Senatorial election for Kogi East. Dismayed but unbowed at the turn of events, Alfa ran to the courts. The stage was set for a long drawn legal tussle between Aidoko and Alfa.

Following the presentation of Aidoko as the party’s flag bearer, Alfa began a legal battle for the nullification of Aidoko’s election. The legal battle was taken to a Federal High Court sitting in Abuja where Isaac Alfa won. Not pleased with the judgment, Aidoko proceeded to Appeal Court where he won the case. Alfa also head for the Supreme Court which referred the case back to Federal High Court for re-trial to allow it determine the rightful owner of the office, thus rendering the seat vacant.

However, Mr Aidoko refused to vacate the office and continued to appear repeatedly at Senate plenaries. The legal tussle to determine the right person to occupy the senatorial seat started in 2015, shortly after INEC withdrew the certificate of return from the first wrongful occupant , Senator Abdulrahman Abubakar of the All Progressives Congress (APC ) as he was dismissed, when the National and State Houses of Assembly Election Petition Tribunal, sitting in Lokoja, ruled that he was not qualified to contest the election. This ruling, however, created room for a re- run election in which Abubakar and his party , APC, were barred from participating. Isaac Alfa of PDP emerged winner of the re- run, but an Appeal Court discharged him in 2016, while Senator Atai Aidoko was sworn-in in his stead.

On December 18, 2017, a Court of Appeal sitting in Abuja pronounced the Kogi East Senatorial seat vacant. The declaration was to enable Aidoko and Alfa return to court in order to determine the authentic occupant on the grounds that it was pre- election matter.

The judgment last week has finally pronounced the legitimate occupant of the senatorial seat in Kogi East. In his judgment, Justice Kolawole held that Aidoko was not validly nominated by the PDP for the March 2015 National Assembly election, even as he also ordered the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC ) to immediately withdraw the certificate of return issued to Aidoko in 2015. While the court tasked INEC to issue a fresh certificate of return to Alfa, the authentic winner of the December 7, 2014 primary of the party, it ordered the Clerk of the National Assembly to withdraw all privileges accorded to Aidoko . Justice Kolawole condemned the way the PDP subverted the result of its primary, stressing that the documents presented by the defendants were of no probate value for any court of law to rely on.

He asserted that Aidoko’s purported nomination was an exercise in futility designed to rob the plaintiff of his victory at the primary, pointing out that it was obvious from the “totality of the evidence that Seidu Odoma was the Returning Officer for the senatorial election, and not Umar Sanusi.” The presiding judge added that key witnesses, in their statements on oath, corroborated the position, stressing the fact that the sacked senator refused to call his agent at the primary, Farouk Adejo, left a credibility gap on his path. The jurist had earlier dismissed the preliminary objection raised by Aidoko. He maintained that challenging the court’s jurisdiction was an abuse of court process, since the issue of jurisdiction had earlier been resolved at the Appeal and Apex courts against the deposed senator. All evidence tendered by Alfa showed that he actually scored 129 votes against Aidoko’s 101 to emerge winner of the primary, but while submitting the list of candidates to INEC, PDP curiously substituted Alfa with Senator Aidoko.

The court subsequently awarded N750, 000 cost against Aidoko and the PDP. However some legal luminaries who spoke their mind on the judgment praised the courage of the judge.

Barrister Joel Usman commended the judgment, saying it would encourage internal democracy, while expressing fears that Alfa may not resume sitting in the Senate in view of the slow nature of Nigeria judicial system. Usman disclosed that the sacked Senator may explore all available opportunities to delay the conclusion of the matter, since he has indicated the desire to challenge the judgment at the Court of Appeal.

Barrister William Aliwo, anchored his opinion on the background of defining judgment. He said, “A definite order of the court that somebody should vacate and another person should be sworn is immediate. When the judgment gets to the Senate they would have no choice than to obey.”

A group, under the aegis of Kogi East Agenda, described the Appeal Court judgment as a distraction to the zone. According to the group, Aidoko had no political relevance in the region, noting that he was just a political liability in the senatorial district and not good enough to speak for its people. In a statement by its general secretary, Alhaji Ibrahim Sani Omale, the group urged the Supreme Court to pass a verdict that will tally with the aspiration and desire of the people of the state, as democratically expressed in the PDP primary that produced Senator Isaac Alfa as the party’s candidate.