BY ABDULAZIZ BN ABDULSALAM
I do not envy the people of Sokoto state at all. Before their very eyes, the powerful turned the hand of their electoral clock backwards. They voted on March 9 for a governor but got what Abuja called ‘inconclusive’ as their dividend of democracy. Their gubernatorial baby was half way out of the womb and suddenly the midwife closed the maternity ward and declared the delivery inconclusive. That precisely was what the INEC did when it refused to declare the clear winner of the governorship election. It is a very precarious situation. An umpire who desires peace would do justice to all parties before him. And you cannot be said to have done justice to parties unless you use the law as the law says you should. The Glorious Quran says that justice is next to piety. Indeed, all religions of the world deplore acts, private or public, which derogate from the dictates of justice, equity and fairness.
If Northern Nigeria is volatile, it is partly because it values justice. But when certain other places in the North boil over, Sokoto always maintains its peaceful essence. Will it remain calm and an oasis of peace with this open assault on the patience of the people? INEC Chairman, Mahmoud Yakuku is a professor of history. He cannot be alien to the historical impacts justice has always had on peace. The last one week plus has witnessed a frenzy of tension and anxiety brought about by the curious decision of the INEC to declare governorship elections inconclusive in six key states, five of them in the North. The most shocking of the decisions is the one about Sokoto, the seat of the Caliphate.
Contesting this election with the APC should not have become the classical storytelling contest between the lion and the hunter. It should not be that until the lion of the PDP has its own storyteller – (its own INEC) – the APC hunter will always have the best stories. The opposition should not be contesting against a combination of the ruling party and the INEC. The incumbent governor, Aminu Waziri Tambuwal who is flying the flag of the People’s Democratic Party (PDP), faced the fire of that election and came out tops. Indeed, before the election process was halted last week, Tambuwal was leading with 489,558 votes closely followed by the candidate of the APC who polled 486,090. Then the midwife, INEC, decided to abort the baby when it was already on its way to life. It declared the election inconclusive citing cancellation of votes in 136 polling units across the state, the total of which, it said, exceeded the margin of win. Its defence is the Electoral Act.
The hyena of INEC possibly wanted to feed the votes of the PDP at all costs to the power hungry APC. It then declared that the PDP votes smelled like goats. You do not claim to be an impartial judge and hold down one contestant for the other to beat. The law exists for the judge to deliver justice to the parties before him. Whenever he misapplies law, the result is always manifest injustice with its attendant threat to social order. An election was held in Sokoto according to the law, a winner emerged as defined by law, then the process was halted or aborted – almost exactly as the military did with the June 12 election and you ask why? Where the law is on the side of justice, should a referee complain about anything again? What is the law here? It is what the constitution says. And what does the constitution say about winning a governorship election? Section 179(2) says:
(2) A candidate for an election to the office of Governor of a State shall be deemed to have been duly elected where, there being two or more candidates –
(a) he has the highest number of votes cast at the election; and
(b) he has not less than one-quarter of all the votes cast in each of at least two-thirds of all the local government areas in the State.
Now, you want to ask to what extent has Tambuwal met these constitutional requirements? The truth, backed by facts, is that Tambuwal not only has the highest number of votes cast in the election as demanded by Section 179(2)(a) of the constitution, he has also fulfilled the constitutional requirements as provided by section 179(2)(b) by having up to 25 percent of the votes in 2/3 of the Local Government Areas in Sokoto states. Indeed, his votes spread across ALL local governments of the state. So, why did INEC refuse to declare him as the winner?
The election umpire is hiding behind other subsidiary legislations, notably the Electoral Act and its Guidelines for the 2019 elections to tip the scale against manifest justice. But it is trite that the constitution cannot be subject to the powers of the Electoral Act or of any other subsidiary law. The tail does not wag the dog. And may that day never come when it would be terribly hard for a father on earth that he would pray to be bailed out by his late son. Jurist and legal philosopher, Hans Kelsen described the constitution as the grundnorm of a society against which the validity of all other laws are tested. Another legal commentator says the constitution “is the basic law of a people from which all other laws, actions and policies of their leaders derive their right of existence and legitimacy. No legislation, whether primary or delegated, bye-laws or policies of state practice should contradict or run contrary to the prescriptive dictates of the constitution of any society.”
Building a skyscraper of electoral excuses on the provisions of Acts and regulations is like encouraging the Okro plant to grow taller than the farmer. It cannot work and will not end well. The Electoral Act draws its life blood from the constitution. The Act can, therefore, not override its parent on all matters. That inviolable parent-child relationship also, is the law: Section 1 (3) of the 1999 constitution (as amended) says that “If any other law is inconsistent with the provisions of this Constitution, this Constitution shall prevail, and that other law shall, to the extent of the inconsistency, be void.” As far as the constitution is concerned, a winner has emerged in the last governorship election in Sokoto State. That person is Tambuwal. So why would INEC ignore the constitution which created it and declare Tambuwal’s almost sure victory inconclusive using the Electoral Act which was created by creations of the grundnorm?
You cannot cure a goat of its odious smell by washing it a million times. If the INEC’s refusal to declare Tambuwal as the winner is a ploy to cure the APC of its defeat with a repeat match, then it is too late. It is like playing with naked fire, it will burn the fingers of whoever is contriving this needless tension. Ignoring the constitution and cuddling a subsidiary legislation to elect an unpopular state chief executive is dangerous for our electoral system. It will create for INEC the image of a dictator, a King Herod who was troubled and therefore had “all Jerusalem (troubled) with him.”
It is not too late for INEC to withdraw both its feet from this slippery electoral river of supplementary election. Already, it was refreshing reading INEC reversing itself on Bauchi and Rivers elections. However, its silence on other states, particularly, on Sokoto is unsettling. There is no constitutional demand which PDP’s Tambuwal has not met on that election. Justice of the case demands that INEC lifts the siege on the process, conclude it and announce the winner. A rerun or supplementary election as being suggested by INEC will be an unjust act designed to overreach the leading candidate and confer undue opportunity on others for a rematch after they have been roundly beaten and worsted. I call on INEC to follow strictly what the constitution says on this matter. I call on Prof Yakubu to think about what history would say about him if the law, justice and fairness are violated by the ruling party which is already boasting of using raw violence to close the gap and win- as it did in a similar situation in Osun State in September last year. Both INEC and the APC should know that no matter how far they urinate, the last drop will always fall at their feet. No umpire can legislate an erection for the clinically impotent APC in Sokoto State. That party has lost this election, the results show, clearly. INEC should do the needful, conclude the process, declare the winner and save the seat of the caliphate from a needless war.