Ishaku: Why Taraba tribunal verdict cannot stand test of time

The Taraba State Governorship Election Petitions Tribunal on Saturday gave the most prejudiced and infamous judgment. It voided the declaration of Governor Darius Dickson Ishaku as winner of the April 11 governorship poll on the ground that he was not validly nominated and sponsored by his party, the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP). This, indeed, is the zenith of judicial rascality in world history.
I recall vividly when on Thursday January 8, 2015, Ishaku was given the symbolic PDP flag to fly at the April 11 governorship poll. The flag was presented at the Tafawa Balewa Square, Lagos, by ex-Chairman of the party, Adamu Muazu. Ishaku became the PDP candidate following his victory at the party’s primary held earlier at the party’s national secretariat Wadata Paza, Abuja. This was announced in almost all the Nigerian electronic and print media.
On January 29, Ishaku was again presented with the PDP flag by Muazu when the party held its presidential rally at the Jolly Nyame Sports Complex, in Jalingo, the Taraba State capital.
This was why the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) included the PDP and the name of Ishaku on the gubernatorial ballot papers. But the tribunal, in collusion with the APC, ruled that Ishaku was not validly nominated. The tribunal saw that Ishaku clearly won the ballots with a landslide gap, so even if it canceled the election and ordered fresh poll, it will not change the opinion of Taraba people on Ishaku and Mrs. Alhassan, as Ishaku would still carry the day. So, the tribunal left the crux of the litigation and delved into something comical to sack Ishaku, when the woman was defeated twice through a supplementary poll.
The tribunal, headed by Justice Musa Danladi Abubakar, left the main issues in the petition and decided that the governor’s nomination was the only technical conduit upon which it would give judgment to where it wanted. Even a layman knows this was a partisan, discriminatory, bigotry and above all, very poor judgment. The tribunal goofed as it shot itself in the leg. The tribunal challenged the validity of holding the PDP primaries in Abuja, when the same tribunal sat throughout in Abuja, on alleged insecurity grounds. This is a snooping and great conflict of irony that exposes the contradiction and double standard inherent in its ruling.
Was it not because of the heated polity and tension in the state, which the party foresaw the fierce heat of hostility coming like a furnace of heat from hell that it shifted the primaries to Abuja? How come the tribunal sitting in Abuja on security grounds faulted the conduct of PDP primaries in the same Abuja on security reasons?
There is nothing as true as saying the Taraba Governorship Election Petition Tribunal acted a script prepared by the ruling party. The APC wants to get from the backdoor what it couldn’t get at the election. Without doubts and incongruity, one can accuse the presidency of executive interference in judicial matters to manipulate the judiciary and annihilate the PDP.
It should be noted that Governor Darius Ishaku is the third PDP governor, after Udom Emmanuel of Akwa Ibom and Nyesom Wike of Rivers, to lose at election tribunal after the April general election. We saw this coming and that is why we earlier alerted all well-meaning Nigerians, the international community and democracy watchers globally that there was a grand design by the APC government to use the judiciary to wrestle some PDP states, particularly Rivers, Akwa Ibom and Taraba. Yes. Now the judiciary is being politicised and politics judicialised in Nigeria as APC holds the levers of power.
The tribunal ruling on Saturday has exposed the saddest rascality of our judicial system. The tribunal acknowledged that the PDP actually won the election, so why did it declare victory for a candidate it acknowledged came second? Election petition tribunals are established to determine true winners of elections. But here, a tribunal has decided to install the party that it acknowledged lost the general election. This is bizarre and ridiculous, and can only be held in Nigeria!
Even if the tribunal had discovered there was an internal dispute in the PDP on who is the rightful candidate, since INEC had included PDP on the ballot and the PDP won the election, the proper inquiry according to the precedent set by the Supreme Court in the Amaechi case would have been to determine the rightful candidate of the PDP, in which case, it wouldn’t have been the business of the tribunal or the APC.
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In Benue State, Governor Samuel Ortom had contested primaries in the PDP and lost. The following day he became the candidate of APC on whose ticket he won the election. The PDP went to tribunal to challenge the validity of his candidacy following a suit filed by aggrieved APC governorship aspirants. But the tribunal turned its legal eyes away. It is curious that virtually all tribunal decisions taken have been in favour of the ruling party. With the judiciary gone to the dogs, we have lost it as a country. We are peregrinating to perdition, as our democracy is being slaughtered scandalously; let’s the undertakers come in and inter the casket!
It is crystal clear that with the APC government, Nigerians have entered a “one chance” cab. PMB is sitting in the front passengers’ seat just like the “one chance” criminal taxi in which the scoundrels often sample an elderly woman in the front to doze people’s suspicion. It is evident that it was the frustrated and disgruntled desperados in PDP that left to form APC and they are out to do anything doable to return to power. After all, who sponsored Mrs Alhassan in the election? Was she not accused by Taraba APC members of “hijacking” the party and imposing herself?
The ruling against Darius Ishaku, no doubt, is a brazen case of manipulation and judicialisation of politics. This was figured out from the fact that APC supporters had rejoiced the ruling (outcome) on Friday before the verdict was passed on Saturday. Yes, they got wind of the judgment because an hour before the judgment was delivered their victory had arrogantly gone viral on the social media including Facebook, Twitter, WhatApp and Twoo.
A bloody violence broke out in Taraba state as a result of this robbery of justice. Several people were killed, some injured and properties estimated in millions of naira destroyed. Yet some are still missing. It is very unfortunate that the government is trying to fight terrorism in the battle field but promoting official lawlessness in the court. If our learned judges can promote brazen rape of the law at the tribunal, what do you expect of the layman who is a youth? The answer is simple: he will resort to violence when he is aggrieved; he will take the law in his hands when he feels his will has been unlawfully thwarted. What will Justice Musa Danladi Abubakar and other members of that tribunal tell the youth of their communities when they take to violence, when they cannot lead the course of law and order by example?
The tribunal has no powers to give the kind of judgment it gave. Having discovered and acknowledged that Ishaku won the ballots, the worst it would have done, if at all his candidacy had K-leg, was to have cancelled the election and ordered fresh poll. Section 140(2) of the Electoral Act 2010 states: “Where an election tribunal or court nullifies an election on the ground that the person who obtained the highest votes at the election was not qualified to contest the election, or that the election was marred by substantial irregularities or non-compliance with the provisions of this Act, the election tribunal or court SHALL NOT declare the person with the second highest votes or any other person as elected, but shall order a fresh election.” However, in this case, Darius Ishaku won the election; he was qualified to contest the election, and he won the primaries and was sponsored by his party (PDP), consequent upon which INEC issued him the Certificate of Return.
The premise on which the tribunal based its decision, therefore, clearly showed a defeat of the law by politics. This is a recipe for anarchy and rebellion as it portends serious danger for our democracy and cohesiveness. The desperation to wrestle Taraba and make Aisha Alhassan the “first democratically elected female governor” in Nigeria shouldn’t be a Magna Carta to murder justice and ridicule the law. President Muhammadu Buhari was voted into office on the mantra that he would crackdown on corruption and impunity. This judgment is totally unacceptable; hence we are heading to the Court of Appeal for the appellate court which has superior jurisdiction to reverse this diabolic verdict.

– Abe Williams, from Jalingo, is a script writer for the PDP, Taraba State.

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