Senator Aisha Alhassan is Nigeria’s current Minister in charge of Women Affairs and Social Development, but her alias Mama Taraba was earned as a result of her achievements as a female politician from the Northern state of Taraba. And it was on the back of her popularity in Taraba that she rode to contest for the position of Governor of the state, in an election that held the promise of delivering the first democratically elected female state governor in Nigeria. Her strong personality and political acumen combined with PDP’s characteristic trademark of misgovernance replicated in Taraba by Darius Ishaku combined to serve an electoral drama that had many on the edge of their seats for days. In the end, under controversial circumstances the PDP man was returned as winner.
Since then, different tribunals have overturned the elections of several PDP governors including Abia, Rivers, and Akwa Ibom states. Taraba was not an exception. On November 7, the tribunal in a ruling delivered by Justice Musa Abubakar nullified the election of Darius Ishaku on the grounds that he was not validly nominated as candidate of the PDP and as such was not a candidate ab initio in the election. The tribunal then went further to declare the candidate of the APC, Senator Aisha Alhassan, as winner of the election.
The tribunal judgement was widely disputed by legal professionals and political observers. While some argued that the tribunal had no jurisprudence over PDP’s primaries as it’s a pre-election matter, others faulted the decision to declare Mama Taraba as winner as against declaring the election null and void and calling for a rerun. However, these questions are answered and adequately covered in Section 87 (1) and (2) of the Electoral Act, 2010 and Section 140 of the Electoral Act 2010 (as amended). The former stipulates that political parties must hold special congress in each of the local government areas of the state with delegates voting for each of the aspirant at the congress to be held in designated centers on specified dates; and the aspirants with the highest number of votes at the end of the voting shall be declared the winner of the primaries of the party and the aspirant’s name shall be forwarded to INEC as the candidate of the party, for the particular state.
Testimonies by INEC officials at the tribunal show the PDP held its Taraba governorship primaries in Abuja, in the absence of INEC observers and most importantly, delegates of the party from the state who are supposed to vote. Under the Electoral Act, anyone who emerges from such gathering is not duly elected as candidate to represent the party in the election. So the tribunal was well within the law to declare that Darius Ishaku was not validly nominated as the PDP candidate for the Taraba governorship election.
Section 140 of the 2010 Electoral Act also states that if the tribunal or the court as the case may be, determines that a candidate who was returned, as elected was not validly elected on any ground, the tribunal or the court shall nullify the election; 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, the Election Tribunal or court shall not declare the person with the second highest votes as elected, but shall order a fresh election
Clearly this Act grants the Taraba Tribunal the right to deliver judgement on party primaries. Interestingly, the PDP and Darius Ishaku in their appeal filed on November 25 did not argue the allegations of irregularities and substantial non-compliance with the Electoral Act, but choose to challenge the tribunal’s decision to declare Aisha Alhassan winner when it should have ordered a fresh election.
In its notice of appeal, the PDP argued that the Governorship Election Petition Tribunal of Taraba State erred in law and embarked on an academic exercise, when it entertained this petition which challenged the qualification of the fourth respondent (Ishaku) to contest the questioned election when the said petition had no substantive relief for the tribunal to order a fresh election.
It was shocking therefore, when on Thursday, 31st December, the Appeal Court sitting in Abuja decided to overturn the ruling of the tribunal. In the judgement delivered by Abdul Aboki, the court ruled Senator Aisha Alhassan had no locus standi – the right or capacity to appear in a court – to question the decision of the PDP to field a candidate who was not properly elected to represent the party. The five-man panel went further to complicate a case of contradictions by admitting the testimony of the INEC officer who testified that the PDP primaries violated sections 85 and 87 of the electoral law.
It is widely rumoured in Taraba that certain powerful elements who feel threatened by the possibility of political irrelevance in the state are against the candidacy of Aisha Alhassan. These forces are said to be made even more uncomfortable by her gender and religion, two factors which put her in the minority in the political dynamics of Taraba State. This perhaps explain the vigour with which political manipulations and perversion of justice is being pursued in this case.
Mama Taraba’s legal counsel Mr. Magaji has indicated that the case will be taken to the Supreme Court, insisting that as affirmed by the tribunal and Court of Appeal, the PDP governorship candidate Darius Ishaku was not validly elected as the party’s candidate as required by the constitution. Without a shadow of doubt, the Court of Appeal turned justice on its head in this case, and it is hoped that the Supreme Court will overturn that ruling and do what is right by the law, and the wishes of the people of Taraba State.
Aminu Adamu is a graduate of political science from Abuja.