Adedayo Akinwale and Alex Enumah in Abuja
Following yesterday’s Supreme Court judgement that voided all votes cast for the All Progressives Congress (APC) in the 2019 elections in Zamfara State, Dr. Bello Mutawalle of the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) who got 189,452 votes in the March 9 governorship election in the state looks good to be declared governor-elect by the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC), on Monday.
All other candidates of the PDP in the state House of Assembly and the National Assembly elections conducted on February 23 and March 11, 2019 respectively are also to be declared winners on Monday by INEC.
Justice Paul Adamu Galinji, who read the lead judgement, declared all votes cast for the APC as “wasted votes” and announced that all political parties with the second highest votes in the elections and the required spread, were elected to the various offices.
“Only the votes of the PDP candidates and other qualified candidates will be tallied to determine total votes cast and work out spread. In this case, INEC has no option but to declare Mutawalle governor-elect, and other PDP candidates winners on Monday because they have met all the requirements. The other qualified candidates scored few votes,” said a source at an emergency meeting summoned by INEC immediately the Supreme Court verdict was delivered.
The source added: “For example, it implies that in the governorship election, the 534,541 scored by Mukhtar Shehu of the APC will be deleted in determining the total votes cast and the new figure used to compute spread for the governorship poll.
Analysts argued further that the judicial proclamation of the Supreme Court was watertight and left the APC and INEC with no room for mischief.
Without much ado, all the odds are in favour of the PDP which has succeeded in adding another state to the ones it already had.
At the end of the governorship polls on March 9, the APC won 15 states out of the 29 competed for, while the PDP won 14.
But with the Zamfara verdict, the PDP now has 15 of the 29 states, while APC is now second with 14 states.
PDP’s 15 states from the 2019 elections are now Enugu, Ebonyi, Abia, Oyo, Akwa Ibom, Cross River, Delta, Imo, Taraba, Rivers, Benue, Sokoto, Bauchi, Adamawa and Zamfara.
APC 14 states from the same elections are Gombe, Jigawa, Katsina, Kebbi, Kwara, Nasarawa, Niger, Yobe, Lagos, Ogun, Borno, Kaduna, Kano and Plateau.
INEC National Commissioner and Chairman Information and Voter Education Committee, Mr. Festus Okoye, in a statement yesterday said that the commission would make its final decision on the judgement known on Monday.
Okoye added: “The Commission will meet again tomorrow, Saturday 25th May 2019 to further deliberate on the issues arising from the said judgment.”
In a unanimous judgment by the five-member panel of Justices, the Supreme Court held that the APC failed to conduct primaries in accordance with the rules guiding political parties.
The decision voided the victory of Alhaji Mukhtar Shehu of the APC, who polled 534,541 to defeat Mutawalle. It also voided the victories of all the candidates of the APC in the Zamfara State and National Assembly elections.
Since PDP candidates came second in all the positions contested, its votes automatically form the bulk of the valid votes, going by the judgement of the Supreme Court, which described the votes recorded for APC as ‘wasted votes’.
It also implies that the PDP candidates have the required legal spread, considering the fact that the battle is now between them and other candidates with very low votes.
For example, in the governorship election, the PDP came second and its share of the total votes, less APC’s wasted votes, is over 60 per cent of the new valid votes cast, across the 14 LGAs of Zamfara State.
Reacting to the verdict, counsel to the respondent, Kabiru Marafa, Chief Mike Ozekhome, SAN, said the decision would deepen, widen and strengthen the country’s democracy.
Ozekhome added that one lesson that should be learnt from the judgment was that parties must maintain internal democracy and cannot whimsically, capriciously and arbitrarily operate outside their constitution, guidelines, the Electoral Act and the Constitution.
“The Supreme Court has redefined our jurisprudence, showing that when a party damages its primaries, it can never reap the proceeds of its illegalities. That is why and how the PDP that came second has today produced the governor, all senators, all House of Representatives and House of Assembly candidates today in one fell swoop.”
Atiku Hails Judgement
The Presidential candidate of the PDP in the just concluded elections, Atiku Abubakar, has lauded the judgment of the Supreme Court on Zamfara State elections, saying it has upheld the rule of law and done justice.
He also congratulated Matawalle and the people of Zamfara, who he said would finally have a government that will address the issues that have made life an ordeal in the state.
The former vice president in a statement issued yesterday by his media aide, Paul Ibe, commended the Supreme Court Justices for putting aside the interests of the powerful and upholding the interests of Nigeria and Nigerians.
Marafa Says it’s Victory for Democracy
A member of the National Assembly, Senator Kabiru Marafa (Zamfara Central), has described the judgement of the Supreme Court on Zamfara APC candidates’ tussle as a big victory for democracy.
He also described the apex court judgement as not only a victory for Zamfara State but for Nigeria as a whole.
He declared that no matter how long, truth will always prevail over falsehood.
“As we all know, the APC was unable to conduct primaries in Zamfara State. With this, lesson has been served that only strict adherence to rule of law and due process will take the country to the next level, as being advocated by President Muhammadu Buhari.”
The APC had dragged INEC before a Zamfara High Court over its decision to exclude its candidates in Zamfara from the 2019 general election.
The Zamfara High Court, however, set aside the decision of INEC thereby paving the way for the APC to participate in the election, winning the governorship, all National Assembly slots, as well as all the State Assembly seats.
However, the Court of Appeal in a Judgment held that the APC was not qualified to participate in the 2019 general election because it did not conduct valid primary election required by law to produce candidates for the election.
The appellate court in its ruling had held that there were irregularities in the conduct of the APCprimaries in the state and upheld the decision of INEC that APC cannot field candidates in the election.
Consequently, INEC halted the issuance of Certificates of Return to all APC members who emerged victorious in various elective positions in the state, including the governorship.
Dissatisfied with the Judgment of the Court of Appeal, the then governor-elect, Shehu and 37 others approached the Supreme Court to upturn the judgement of the Court of Appeal, Sokoto Division.
Matawalle Celebrates, Commends Judiciary
Matawalle has commended the judiciary for standing up to the truth in the discharge of its responsibilities.
In a statement signed by one of his aides, Umar Mohammed, Matawalle said: “The judgement is a testimony that the judiciary has remained fair in the discharge of its responsibilities.
“I wish to congratulate the people of Zamfara State, especially PDP supporters, for remaining peaceful and orderly throughout the time we sought redress in the courts.
“I assure you that we will not fail in this confidence reposed in us and I want to appeal to all people in the state to continue to be law-abiding as we transit into the new government,” he said.
Also reacting to the new development, the state’s outgoing Deputy Governor, Ibrahim Wakkala, commended the Supreme Court judgement, describing it as “a landmark achievement for the nation’s democracy.”
Wakkala, who contested for the governorship position but lost out because he was not supported by his principal (the outgoing Governor Abdulaziz Yari), later joined seven other aspirants all within the APC and formed a faction which fought the governor and his supporters.
Meanwhile, supporters of the PDP as well as those of other political parties in the state have taken to the streets in jubilation over the Supreme Court judgement.
Residents of Gusau, the state capital, mostly youths, trooped to the streets bearing posters of the PDP.