Monday, January 6, 2020 3:04 pm
By Richard Elesho/ Lokoja
With a second term in the kitty, Kogi State Governor, Alhaji Yahaya Bello, is upbeat and steadily winding down on his first tenure. Following his landslide victory in the 16 November election, Bello will commence his second tenure on the 27 January, 2020. However, as the governor mounts the saddle on that day, there are some legal hurdles that may yet constitute clogs in the wheel of his second term train.
The process that led to the Governorship election last November was intense and characterised by several infractions. Indeed, the election was acrimonious to a level that prompted many aggrieved persons to seek redress from the courts. Some pre-election matters mainly against the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) are still pending in the regular courts.
Similarly, the Kogi Governorship Election Petitions Tribunal has received many petitions asking for outright annulment or partial cancellation of the poll. In fact, one of the petitioners even accused the governor of a stolen mandate and asked the court to help retrieve his mandate from him. So as January opens a new Vista for his inauguration, the month will also herald activities in the courts aimed at de-turbanning him. With so many legal mines on his path, Bello must spare some moments on how to wriggle out of them all. Let us consider some of the cases.
As the new year rolls in, the governor will have his ears on what happens in the state High Court headed by Justice Richard Olorunfemi on 9 January. That day, the judge will make crucial pronouncement on the tussle over the rightful owner of the People’s Democratic Party, PDP Governorship ticket in the state. The ticket has been a bone of contention between main challenger Abubakar Ibrahim and Musa Wada, the party candidate in the November 16th election. Will Wada remain Bello’s main opponent or will the case be more complicated by the emergence of a new PDP candidate? Time will tell.
On 20 January, a Federal High Court in Abuja will adjudicate on the qualification of the governor to seek a second term in office. The court will determine the double INEC Voter Registration status of the governor. His notorious opponent and candidate of the Social Democratic Party, SDP, Barrister Natasha Akpoti had dragged Bello before the court urging it to quash his candidature over an alleged double registration.
In 2017, the Independent National Electoral Commission, INEC had issued a statement accusing the governor of registering twice as a voter. The governor was said to have first registered in Abuja in 2011. He unsuccessfully attempted to transfer his voting right to Kogi State, but later some INEC staff allegedly moved equipment to his office in Lugard House to re-register him in 2017. The commission sacked the two staff found culpable in the saga while explaining its inability to prosecute the governor because of his immunity. As his first term was drawing to a close, Natasha urged the court to disqualify Bello on the ground of the double registration criminal offence.
Shortly after the Governorship poll, President of the Court of Appeal, Justice Zainab Adamu Bulkachuwa, constituted the Kogi State Governorship and National Assembly Election Petitions Tribunal on 27 November 2019. Secretary of the tribunal, Abubakar Umar in a statement urged aggrieved parties to direct their petitions to the tribunal Secretariat in Abuja. Since its inauguration, petitions have been pouring in torrents at the tribunal’s Secretariat.
First to approach it was the PDP and Wada its candidate. Wada who was first runner up in the election submitted a 1,500 page petition in three volumes at the tribunal Secretariat in Abuja on Monday December 9th. His lawyer Ibrahim Okutepa, SAN urge the tribunal to declare his client as winner of the election.
“We hope that the judiciary will get justice not just for me, but for the common man that voted for me. No matter what anyone may say, I still believe that the judiciary is the last hope of the common man and I am a common man,” Wada said.
About the time Wada submitted his petition, Natasha also visited the tribunal. Accompanied by her counsel, Ola Olanipekun, she managed to beat the deadline set by law for the submission of petitions. She joined the APC, INEC, Bello and his running mate Edward Onoja in the petition. She alleged widespread violence, vote buying, ballot stuffing and other infractions during the election.
She added in her petition that there was no election in the state on 16 November. She sought the tribunal to declare the election as null and void ab nitio , following the omission of her name from some of the results sheets, disclosing that writing her name with ball point pen on the result sheet was an after thought. She wants the tribunal to order for a fresh election.
The Allied Peoples Movement Party, APM, is also seeking outright cancellation of the election. The party hinged its complaint on the exclusion of its candidate, Yusuf Mamman Danielle from the ballot. Oluwarotimi Ojo, counsel to the petitioner wants the tribunal to compel INEC to conduct a fresh election and mandate the electoral body to include his client as a candidate in the exercise.
In a related development, Samuel Alfa Audu a United State, US based medical doctor and candidate of Action Alliance, AA filed a petition against INEC alleging undue exclusion in the poll. Some other parties and their candidates who were disqualified from participating in the election are also in the tribunal to pursue similar argument.
Meanwhile, Special Adviser to the governor on Information and Communication, Kingsley Fanwo, has said his boss is not perturbed by the legal challenges, noting that election losers will normally head for the courts in Nigeria. He expressed the hope that justice will be in favour of Bello and that there “is no cause for alarm.”