MELAYE VERSUS ADEYEMI: Battle Shifts to Court

Dino Melaye and Smart Adeyemi

The Kogi West senatorial election might have been won and lost, but the next phase of the battle has shifted to the courtroom, where Senators Dino Melaye and Smart Adeyemi have to seek authentication or otherwise of their mandate, Ibrahim Oyewale reports

Like many other contentious elections, the Kogi West Senatorial election will be a subject of litigation mainly because of reported large-scale violence and electoral malpractice. The personalities involved make this legal battle even more compelling. Their political rivalry began in the 2015 general election when both contested the senatorial seat. While Smart Adeyemi contested on the platform of the Peoples Democratic Party, Dino Melaye was the candidate of the then newly-formed party, the All Progressives Congress (APC).

Generally, the contest between the political actors in Kogi West has always been fierce, even at both the tribunal and the court of appeal levels as was witnessed in 2015, after Melaye won the senatorial election. Senator Adeyemi had petitioned the tribunal challenging the former’s victory.

Melaye emerged victorious following the legal tussle that reached the court of appeal.

But prior to the 2019 general election in Kogi State, the struggle for the senatorial district ticket was rekindled the political rivalry. Adeyemi emerged as the preferred APC candidate and Melaye represented the PDP.

The most politically challenging period for Melaye was between 2015 and 2019 as he had engaged himself in the battle of wits against the Kogi State and the federal government. At a point, he became a thorn in the flesh of the state government led by Governor Yahaya Bello over perceived maladministration in the state.

This singular act, however, earned him more accolades and support from the downtrodden within and outside Kogi. But the frosty relationship between Governor Bello and Senator Melaye had also drawn the ire of the government, which at a point attempted to recall him from the senate. But the process failed as the electorate stood by Melaye and INEC could not meet the required number for his recall.

Melaye also had a running battle with the police authority resulting in his arrests and detention in Abuja and Kogi health facilities at various times to the extent that he could not campaign with an election around the corner.

But a last-minute adjustment of the INEC timetable by one week was the game-changer for Melaye. At the end of the election in Kogi, INEC once again declared Melaye winner, amid allegations of irregularities and violence.
It was against this backdrop that Adeyemi approached the tribunal and was able to prove beyond doubts that the irregularities and alleged alterations of results sheets robbed him of victory and the court ordered a rerun.
Melaye challenged the ruling at a court of appeal sitting in Abuja. It turned out to be a futile attempt.
Following this, the INEC fixed November 16, 2019, for the rerun.

The rerun election came and left leaving in its wake wanton violence and electoral irregularities. Eventually, the election was declared inconclusive.

The Returning Officer, Professor Olaide Lawal of Federal University, Oye Ekiti, said no clear winner emerged. At this time, Adeyemi of APC was credited as polling 80,118, while PDP’s Melaye had 59,548. A supplementary election was scheduled for November 30 in 53 polling units, where voting was cancelled.

But contrary to the belief that the electorate might not turn out as a result of widespread violence that characterized the November 16th election, there was impressive turnout in many units. It was equally observed that there was no violence and snatching of ballot boxes this time. But this was believed to have been because the APC was already in the lead.

At the end of the day, Adeyemi polled a total of 88,373 votes to defeat Melaye who had 62,133 votes.
Although the outcome of the elections will be the subject of litigation in the days ahead as Melaye vowed to challenge the results at the tribunal, Adeyemi, on his part, has been presented with the certificate of return and finally sworn in as a senator.

Now that the political tussle between two rivals has shifted to the courtroom, Nigerians can expect more drama.

However, some wonder: If the election that earned Melaye his re-election was cancelled as a result of what observers described as minimal irregularities, can the one that eventually produced Adeyemi as the winner survive legal scrutiny against the backdrop of reported widespread violence and irregularities?