Tribunal orders fresh governorship polls in Kogi
Idris, who contested on the ticket of the ruling Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) has, however, signified intention to contest the nullification at the Court of Appeal, the final stop for elections petition at the state level.
Former Vice President Atiku Abubakar yesterday hailed the verdict on Idris, saying that the judiciary had once again done Nigeria proud.
The Kogi State Elections Petition Tribunal, headed by Justice Ibrahim Bako held that the April 14 election in the state could not stand on the ground that a validly nominated candidate of another party was illegally excluded from the exercise by the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC).
The petition was filed by a former governor of the state, Alhaji Abubakar Audu, who was the validly nominated candidate of the All Nigeria Peoples Party (ANPP). He was, however, excluded from the exercise by INEC, which had implemented the resolve of the then President Olusegun Obasanjo to disallow the people his administration identified as indicted on corruption charges.
The Supreme Court has declared such a resolve as illegal. The controversial indictment had also been planned as a bar for the then Vice President, Alhaji Atiku Abubakar, from contesting the presidential election. The Supreme Court judgment, which forced INEC to include Abubakar's name in the ballot paper, came after the governorship election in which Audu was barred.
Audu had also asked the tribunal to order for a fresh election in the state. He joined the PDP, Idris and 21 electoral officers in the local councils as co-respondents. The respondents, led by Chris Uche (SAN) had argued that Audu lacked locus standi to institute the case since he was not a candidate. They averred that INEC was right to disqualify the ANPP candidate citing his indictment by both federal and state panels of enquiry over alleged embezzlement of state funds when he was governor of Kogi State between 1999 and 2003. The respondents also cited the trial of the former governor over cases of official corruption preferred against him by the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC) and at the Code of Conduct Tribunal.
However, the lead counsel to the petitioners, Dr. Alex Izinyon (SAN), maintained that Audu's exclusion was illegal and unconstitutional. He recalled the judgment of the Supreme Court that INEC has no power to disqualify any candidate validly sponsored by his party.
In a two-hour verdict delivered at about 11.20 a.m. yesterday, Justice Bako upheld the petitioners' arguments that Audu's exclusion by the electoral body after he was duly nominated by the ANPP, rendered the entire electoral process "unlawful, null and invalid and cannot stand in law.
"We therefore hold that the unilateral decision of INEC to exclude the second petitioner from the April 14, 2007 governorship election for Kogi State was unlawful, null and void and cannot stand in law to that extent that the case is entered in favour of the first petitioner (ANPP)," Justice Bako added.
The tribunal declared that return of Idris by the first and second respondents "is hereby nullified in accordance with the provision of section 147(1) of the Electoral Act. It ordered the first to 23rd respondent "to conduct fresh election for the governorship seat of Kogi State, including the second petitioner as the duly nominated candidate of the first petitioner in accordance with the provision of paragraph 27 section 2 of the Electoral Act 2006".
The tribunal chairman, Justice Bako expressed gratitude to his "learned brothers" and the Nigerian press for fair coverage of the petition, adding that if the tribunal members had made any errors in the handling of the cases "it is purely human and highly regretted".
Counsel to the PDP, Pius Akubo hinted on the readiness of the first respondent to appeal the judgment on the ground that the "main issues" were not substantially addressed by the tribunal.
A visibly elated Audu, who had been present in every sitting since hearing in the case began in June, said: "The judgment is purely an act of God, it shows there is truly independence of the judiciary in Nigeria of today", Audu said, adding that he was a target of assassination in the course of seeking justice in the matter and gave God the glory for the victory at the tribunal.
Abubakar's spokesman, Alhaji Garba Shehu, quoted the former Vice President as expressing the belief that more elected officials would still be removed.
This, Shehu added, is "because there were no elections at all in most parts of the country" in April.
The former Vice President added that the judgement had again shown that "the courts would continue to be the last hope for saving this democracy."
Meantime, security has been beefed-up in Lokoja, the Kogi State capital to forestall any breakdown of law and order. Battle-ready policemen cordoned off the gate of the State Government House, in the state capital.
In a broadcast later in the evening, the state's Deputy Governor, Chief Philip Salau called for calm by the residents.
He urged aggrieved persons to seek legal redress rather than taking laws into their hands.
Salawu maintained that the state structure remained with Idris as Governor, warning that any disruption of public peace would be met with appropriate action.
Also reacting, state chairman of the Action Congress (AC), Michael Adeleye declared that the tribunal did a good job, describing the verdict as "victory to the oppressed, victory to the judiciary, victory to democracy and hope for a new Nigeria."
On the next line of action for his party whose petition was earlier yesterday struck out by the tribunal, the AC leader said he expected Kogi State to be on the "fast lane" in the days preparatory to a free and fair election, excluding Idris. He said the allegations of certificate forgery leveled against the PDP candidate effectively ruled him out of the fresh election. "Now, everybody can go to sleep knowing that with the judiciary, sanity has been restored to the electoral process".
The governor's spokesman Farouk Adejoh-Audu told The Guardian that the judgment would be contested at the Court of Appeal.
Adejoh-Audu, who questioned the judgment, noted that a party in the case had begun celebrating since Tuesday, which is 24 hours before the verdict.
Senator Nicholas Ugbane (PDP, Kogi East) declined to comment extensively but took solace in the fact that the governor will remain, while the appeal is on.
"It is only after the appeal that we will know where to go. But for now I can not comment because I do not know what the tribunal based its judgment on," he said on phone.
Adejoh-Audu said: "We are not surprised at the ruling because we believe a lot of people were thoroughly compromised. Before the case even began, one of the parties had addressed the press in Abuja and Jos to say the state governor wanted him dead because he was going to win the case at the tribunal."
The government's spokesman queried: "How did he know he was going to win when the case had just begun? How come he had started printing his posters for a re-run election? Why were his supporters celebrating 24 hours before the judgment in a convoy? Why were the lawyers of the governor, and the state Attorney-General not aware that the tribunal was going to deliver its judgment by 2.00 p.m. on Tuesday?"
Some other lawmakers from Kogi declined to comment on the judgment yesterday.
Meantime, the AC, yesterday praised the tribunal on the cancellation of the poll.
He described the verdict as an expected end.
The party's National Publicity Secretary, Lai Muhammad told The Guardian that the electoral injustice allegedly perpetrated by the INEC in the conduct of Kogi State polls was obvious.
He also blamed the INEC for wasting Nigeria's resources on what he called the "selection" of Idris as the governor of Kogi State.
Muhammad noted that the AC protested the disqualification of its gubernatorial candidate in the state by the EFCC on what he called frivolous reasons, noting that the INEC had enough reasons to be restrained from throwing state resources into waste bins.
"The AC is not surprised at the tribunal's ruling yesterday. It was very obvious that there was no gubernatorial election in Kogi.
"The PDP, with INEC and the EFCC as its instruments
for perpetration of electoral injustice in Nigeria
just wanted to play on Nigerians' intelligence," he said.
Muhammad added: "When the EFCC disqualified the AC gubernatorial aspirant in the state for frivolous reasons, AC warned that the INEC should desist from wasting Nigeria's resources in the name of conducting elections which will eventually be nullified.
"It is just a pity that the INEC didn't heed our protest", he said.
He further said that the AC was ready to go into a fresh governorship election with any other party in the state provided INEC would be ready to conduct a free and fair election this second time.