Recent judgments of the Election Petition Tribunals in the Plateau State have stirred a hornet’s nest as the people, who have rejected most of the tribunal judgments, are alleging serious political interference. Seriki Adinoyi writes
A majority of the people of Plateau State have rejected the recent judgments delivered by the National and State Houses of Assembly Elections Tribunals led by Justice M.B. Tukur, Justice Omaka Elewa and Justice O.A. Adetujoye in which they quashed most of the election results and gave victory to people the indigenes had rejected at the polls.
Describing the judgments as an infringement on their democratic mandates, the people are raising the alarm that the tribunals want to force leadership on them against their decisions, and are therefore protesting to the Court of Appeal to help reclaim their right of choice. They have also collectively decided to resist any further judgment that would subvert the popular will of the people, especially as the governorship election judgment comes up in a few days.
First, it was the judgment that sacked AVM Napoleon Bali and declared the former governor of the state, Simon Lalong, who was overwhelmingly defeated, as the winner of the Plateau South senatorial zone election. This was a man that the people of the state generally believed had disappointed them after eight years as governor, and therefore decided to vote him out of power.
In a similar manner, the tribunals also sacked House of Representatives members, Hon. Peter Gyendeng, Hon. Dachung Musa Bagos, and Hon. Beni Lar, representing Riyom/Barkin Ladi, Jos South/Jos East, and Langtang North/Langtang South federal constituencies respectively.
The people expressed worries that the tribunals are removing nearly all the choices they had made at the polls, and are imposing leaders on them, describing the development as worrisome and unacceptable.
Condemning and describing the judgment as arbitrary, a pro-democracy organisation in the state, Peoples Mandate Protection Vanguard (PMPV), warned that the development portends great danger for democracy.
Addressing a press conference in Jos, the group alleged corruption and political interference, calling on the National Judicial Council (NJC) and other anti-graft agencies to take immediate action and withdraw the tribunal judges from the state.
The leader of the group, Mr. Emma Zopmal, said: “Some of them (judges) have already compromised their job. The integrity of the judiciary must be safeguarded, and all those involved in selling judgments, whether the judges, lawyers, or political actors, must face severe consequences for subverting the democratic process.
“We, as a leading pro-democracy organisation in Nigeria, strongly denounce the blatant corruption observed within Nigeria’s election tribunals’ recent judgments on the highly contested election of the National Assembly in Plateau State held on February 25, 2023. The unjust verdicts, tainted by grave levels of corruption, underscores a disheartening setback for transparency, justice, and democracy in Nigeria.”
The group observed that the election petitions tribunals’ primary responsibilities are to ensure fair and impartial adjudication in electoral disputes. “Regrettably, this sacred duty to uphold the sanctity of the democratic process has been compromised by the rampant influence of corruption and vested interests as clearly manifested by the way and manner the National Assembly Election Petition Tribunal sitting in Jos having gaged the duly elected members of the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP).”
Calling on Nigerians, civil society organisations and international orgaisation to join forces, stand up against corruption and demand justice for the people, Zopmal said it is only by reinforcing the rule of law and ensuring transparent and fair electoral processes that Nigeria’s democracy can truly thrive.
The PDP is even more upset with the judgments because all the candidates that have so far been sacked are elected on its platform, hence the belief that there’s a political connotation to the judgments.
The tribunals’ claim for the rulings is that the PDP in Plateau State lacks the structure and legal standing to present candidates for the 2023 elections because they did not conduct proper congress from where the candidates emerged.
But the party has dismissed the tribunal claim, noting that its congresses were properly conducted under the supervision of the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC), adding that two previous judgments by other tribunal panels sitting in Jos had affirmed PDP’s victories in Plateau North senatorial election and Bassa/Jos North Federal Constituency House of Representatives because there were sufficient proofs, including court judgment that the party held proper congress that produced their candidates.
The state chairman of PDP, Mr. Chris Hassan, who addressed the press on the matter, said there was an initial claim of some irregularities raised regarding the party’s congress which led to a court judgment urging it to repeat the process which it duly complied with, through a repeat congress in September 2022, and was monitored by INEC as legally required. This congress was validated by the Federal High Court in Jos, as well as the Court of Appeal in Jos.
He said: “This same congress was affirmed by the Federal High Court Jos in a judgment delivered by Justice D. V. Agishi in the case of one Augustine Timkuk vs PDP validating the state executive of the party as duly elected and this same judgment was also unanimously affirmed by the Court of Appeal Jos in favour of the PDP by TY Hassan, Justice I. A. Andenyangtso and Justice O. O. Goodluck delivered on February 11, 2023. The fact remains that PDP has a valid and solid structure through which our mandate was given.”
The party affirmed that it has a valid and solid structure in the state through which the people’s mandate was given, and therefore described the rulings by the tribunals as baseless.
“We take great pains to tell you that the decision of the tribunal on this matter utterly falls far short of expectation; we are here to tell you that the judgments of the tribunal is a judgment that we refuse to accept because it is bereft of substantial justice and a diversion of the undiluted will and choices of the Plateau people.
“It is noteworthy that as we register our disappointment in the verdict of the tribunals, it can never destroy our confidence in the judiciary.
“Consequently, we have asked our lawyers to take the mandate of the Plateau people as their right of appeal to the Court of Appeal to reflect the wishes of the electorate. This will of the people, as freely expressed by electing Senator Napoleon Bali, Hon Peter Gyendeng and others must be respected. As a law-abiding party, we will explore all available legal means to restore the victories of the PDP.”
Describing it as a temporary setback, Hassan urged party stakeholders, supporters and the people of the state to be calm.
But pundits have advised the party to be watchful and remain optimistic that the governorship tribunal, consisting of Justice R. Irele-ifineh, Justice Sunday Olorundahunsi, and Justice A.Y. Joh, will uphold the will of the people of the state as they prepare to deliver their judgment on the governorship election this week.
Governor Caleb Mutfwang has already requested the Governorship Election Petition Tribunal to dismiss as baseless the petition filed by Dr. Nentawe Yilwatda of the All Progressives Congress (APC) and affirm his own election as the rightful governor of the state. This request was made during the adoption of written addresses, with Mutfwang’s lead counsel, Pius Akubo (SAN), arguing that the APC’s petition lacks merit and sufficient evidence.
Similarly, the counsel representing INEC and the PDP have also urged the tribunal to strike out Nentawe’s petition and validate Mutfwang’s election as the duly elected governor.
Plateau people have said that though they are confident that the tribunals’ rulings on the federal lawmakers would be upturned because they are baseless, they will resist a similar scenario in which their governor will be troubled to have to go to the Court of Appeal over a mandate that they freely and overwhelming gave to him.