VIEW FROM THE GALLERY BY MAHMUD JEGA
One can understand the panic that enveloped large sections of this country’s political scene last week as several state governors suddenly had their positions in grave peril as a result of election court cases. Election appeal tribunals quashed the elections of the governors of Kano, Plateau and Zamfara, though with different levels of consequence. Kano State Governor Abba Kabir Yusuf had earlier lost his case at the election tribunal, which the appeal tribunal upheld. Zamfara’s Governor Dauda Lawal and Plateau’s Governor Caleb Mutfwang won their cases at election tribunals, only to lose them at the election appeal tribunals, while Governor Abdullahi Sule of Nasarawa, whose election was quashed by the election tribunal, had it restored by the appeal tribunal.
I said with different levels of consequence because unless Yusuf and Mutfwang succeed at the final level of litigation, i.e. the Supreme Court, their election opponents Nasiru Gawuna and Nentawe Yilwatda respectively will be sworn in to replace them. Zamfara’s Lawal however has a strong fighting chance because his election was only declared inconclusive and a rerun was ordered in some wards and polling units. The gap between him and his opponent, former state governor and current Minister of State for Defence Bello Mutawalle, is such that it will be difficult to close in a rerun election.
Opposition parties’ supporters across the country quickly shouted blue murder because all three governors affected by the rulings belong to opposition parties, two of them PDP, one of them NNPP. On the other hand, Governor Abdullahi Sule is an APC member, so it fueled opposition claims of an APC power grab through the courts.
As it happened, many other governors survived appeal tribunal rulings. They include the governors of Ogun, Delta, Bauchi, Adamawa, Benue, Cross River, Lagos, Ebonyi, Kebbi and Kaduna. Three of those governors are PDP members but that did not elicit much interest among Nigeria’s army of election case commentators because all the others are APC members. The loudest narrative last week was that APC was determined to increase its haul of state governors.
If truth be told, APC also suffered traumatic loses in the courts even when it was the ruling party at the centre in the last eight and a half years. In traumatic effect, no election reversal in the history of Nigerian democracy quite rivalled Zamfara APC’s experience in 2019. It won the governorship and every state and federal legislative seat, only to have all of them quashed by the courts and the seats handed over to their PDP opponents. No one said then that it was a PDP power grab. The reason for the shock judgments was that APC failed to hold genuine primaries before the 2019 elections. This is exactly what the courts have now found Plateau PDP guilty of when it ignored a High Court order to hold local government congresses before its party primaries.
There were other devastating APC losses at the courts, as Kano APC activist Binta Spikin recounted at the weekend. They include the Supreme Court’s handing over Bayelsa governorship to PDP’s Duoye Diri just when APC’s David Lyon, who was victorious in the 2019 elections, was already at the parade ground inspecting preparations for his scheduled swearing-in the next day! It reminded me of what former ANPP national chairman Dr. Ogbonnaya Onu once said when I asked him about how he lost his 1999 presidential nomination: “You don’t pray for that to happen even to your enemy.”
Gubernatorial casualty figures in this Republic, and especially in the 2023 election cycle, have been high compared to all previous cycles but one. In the Second Republic between 1979 and 1983, only four governorships prematurely ended in the whole country. One was Governor Abdulkadir Balarabe Musa of old Kaduna State, who was impeached by his State House of Assembly in 1981. The second was Governor Shehu Kangiwa of old Sokoto State, who tragically died in a polo accident, also in 1981. And then in 1983, in the run up to that year’s elections, Governors Mohammed Abubakar Rimi of old Kano State and Abubakar Barde of Gongola State both resigned from office. The reason was that Federal Electoral Commission [FEDECO], which in those days was quite partisan, refused to register the Progressive Peoples Party [PPP], a proposed merger of UPN, NPP, a GNPP faction supported by its two state governors and a PRP faction led Chief Michael Imoudu and supported by Governors Abubakar Rimi and Abba Musa Rimi of Kaduna. They had planned to fight the ruling NPN in the 1983 elections under PPP’s umbrella.
PRP’s registration certificate was held by Malam Aminu Kano’s Tabo faction while GNPP’s registration certificate was held by Waziri Ibrahim’s faction. Kaduna State Governor Abba Musa Rimi decided not to seek re-election, so for Abubakar Rimi, Barde and Borno State governor Muhammadu Goni, who sought re-election, their only option was to defect to either UPN or NPP. Rimi and Barde joined NPP; Rimi explained that NPP presidential candidate Dr. Nnamdi Azikiwe was an easier sell in Kano than UPN presidential candidate Chief Obafemi Awolowo. Goni however opted for UPN because, it was said, the traditional joking relationship between Kanuri and Yoruba made it easier to sell Awolowo in Borno. Who knows? Was that why Chief MKO Abiola chose Ambassador Babagana Kingibe as his running mate while President Tinubu chose Senator Kashim Shettima as Vice President, the same calculation that Goni made in 1983? Anyway, Rimi lost to Sabo Bakin Zuwo; Barde lost to Bamanga Tukur while Goni lost to Asheik Jarma, all of them of NPN. The military however sacked all the governors in December 1983, some of them after only three months in office.
In the Third Republic years 1992-3, none of the 30 state governors lost his seat until General Sani Abacha sacked all of them in November 1993. Since IBB was still in power at the federal level during their tenure, talks of impeachment or godfather maneuvering were absent in that Republic. When governorship seats again became open to civilians six years later in 1999, three of the Third Republic governors managed to return, namely Segun Osoba of Ogun, Jolly Nyame of Taraba and Abubakar Audu of Kogi.
Since 1999, we have had more cases than I can count of governors losing their seats variously through impeachment, loss of primary election within their own party [I think there was only one case, Anambra’s Mbadinuju], numerous defeats in general elections and then through court cases. One sitting governor, Mamman Bello Ali of Yobe, died in this Republic, but no voluntary resignation. The largest number of court cases upturning governorship mandates occurred after the 2007 election, when PDP governors of Edo, Ondo, Osun and Ekiti were all removed by tribunals. In Ondo, a Labour Party candidate took over while AC candidates took over in the other three states. Plus, the dramatic Hope Uzodinma take over in Imo in 2020.
Apart from prematurely losing the president’s chair, as occurred twice in this Republic [President Umaru Yar’adua’s death in 2010 and President Jonathan’s election defeat in 2015], nothing is more traumatic in Nigerian politics than prematurely losing a governor’s chair. In such a situation, hundreds if not thousands of other officials have their positions immediately imperiled, including commissioners, special advisers and assistants, many permanent secretaries and heads of agencies, local government chairmen and councilors, chairmen and members of boards, state assembly leaders as well, not to mention contractors, marabouts and even traditional rulers who owed their appointments to political connections.
Even if PDP loses one or two governorships through the courts, it still has nearly a dozen others left. NNPP and Labour Party, which grabbed only one governor each in the 2023 polls, will however suffer double trauma were they to lose the seats. Right now NNPP has only one legal chance left to salvage its lone governorship seat, i.e. appeal to the Supreme Court. Its supporters are however trying other means, such as street demonstrations and lavish red-cap receptions for Governor Abba when he returned to Kano from Abuja. Whether that is enough to impress Supreme Court justices, remains to be seen.
Without this lone governorship, NNPP will have a hard time indeed keeping its house intact, which requires a lot of patronage. Its controversial agenda of hastily demolishing whole duplexes on the allegation that Ganduje’s administration improperly shared out the lands to cronies, the threat to dissolve the new emirates that Ganduje created, and even Kwankwaso’s public pledge that Abba will “revisit” the former Kano Emir’s deposition, added to the Kwankwasiyya movement’s stock of powerful enemies. A change in Kano’s governorship from NNPP to APC, if Supreme Court upholds it, however promises to be a messy affair.
NNPP’s leader Rabi’u Kwankwaso, whose standing in Nigerian politics rests very much on his control of the key state of Kano, could have his future in politics imperiled and might have to rest his presidential ambition. Even if he is not running for president again, his bargaining power ahead of 2027 could be very much weakened if the Kano governorship is lost. On the other hand, his bitter rival Abdullahi Umar Ganduje’s hand will be greatly strengthened by the double victory of becoming APC national chairman and regaining control of Kano State Government through his former deputy, Gawuna. To borrow Dr. Onu’s saying, I don’t wish political trauma on anyone.