BY DOGO NANZING
That the judgments of the different Elections Petition Tribunals, across the country have shocked Nigerians is an understatement. And to reason that the Appellate courts that should look into these weird judgments, with a view to redressing some of the anomalies, as well as restore hope in the judiciary, appears not to have carried out it responsibility up to the expectations of Nigerians. That the People’s Democratic Party (PDP) and other opposition parties have been a targeted victim in this travesty of justice and, for whatever reasons, remains not just a fact, but serious cause for concern.
Plateau State chapter of the PDP, from all indications, has been set aside by some powerful forces from within and without, as the object of the on-going display of jungle justice. In 2019 the party had Senator J. T. Useni, as its gubernatorial candidate. The party did all it could but some how lost the election which raised issues in the party.
The tenure of the state party EXCO expired in 2020. A caretaker Committee was put in place, vide a letter from the national headquarters of the party, signed by Col (rtd) Austin Akobundu, the National Organising Secretary of the party. This gave birth to the Hon Gwott Chocho-led Caretaker Committee, whose tenure ended on May 10, 2020.
To address the situation and restore sanity, the National headquarters of the party, set up a Committee headed by Senator Suleiman Adokwe, with three members each, from the two factions. The Adokwe-led Committee conducted a Congress on August 29, 2020 during the COVID-19 and Hon Chris Hassan emerged Chairman, defeating Hon Bitrus Kaze. Hon Kaze decided to approach a Jos High Court, to challenge the election of Chris Hassan.
On November 26, 2020, Justice S P Gang of the Jos High Court, ordered the PDP to dissolve the Chris Hassan – led EXCO and conduct a repeat Congress. On June 10, 2021, the National Working Committee of the PDP decided to set up a Special Committee to look into the matter, headed by Senator Tunde Ogbeha. It was given 90 days within which to sort out all the issues and conduct a fresh Congress. After working tirelessly, the Ogbeha Committee organized a repeat Congress on September 25, 2021. Hon Chris Hassan defeated Hon Bitrus Kaze to emerge as the state Chairman of the party.
With this development, the crisis in the party was deemed to have been put to rest. This is because to date, no member of the PDP approached any court to complain about the conduct of the second congress. Surprisingly and unexpectedly, the APC picked on the conduct of the congress as its reason to call on the Tribunals and court of appeal, for the nullification of the election of all candidates elected on the platform of the PDP. Today all candidates of the PDP who won their elections, in the general elections, have been sent packing, by the tribunal/ appellate court.
It is therefore very important that some of the issues bandied at the tribunal and Court of Appeal that were used to nullify the election of PDP contestants from the state are reviewed, with an intent to put the records straight. The legal team of the APC has harped extensively, on the disobedience to court orders, by the PDP, as reasons for the nullification of the victories of its candidates.
From the brief summary above, is the PDP guilty of disobedience to any court order(s)? To answer this question it is necessary to take another look at the summary above. The only court order the PDP was issued with was that of Justice S P Gang, in 2020, to conduct a repeat congress. This was substantially complied with in 2021, during the September 25, 2021, Congress.
After this congress, there was no complaint before any court in any part of the country from a member of the party in Plateau state, with regard to the congress. To therefore nullify elections that were duly conducted in line with the laid down guidelines, under the excuse of disobedience to court orders is, to say the very least, most disconcerting. Even where there was an established case of disobedience to court orders, it does not amount to a condition for the nullification of an election by an election tribunal or its appeal court. Precedence to this effect exist.
Per adventure there was disobedience to court orders, was this a pre or post – election matter? Given the precedence already established by other courts of corresponding jurisdiction and the Supreme Court, where such matters were struck off, on the ground that they are either outside the jurisdiction of the courts, or that they were pre-election matters, was the case of Plateau fairly and equitably handled, in line with the law? Certainly Not.
It is also necessary to state here, that contrary to the wrong impression being created around, that the PDP in Plateau was in the habit of repeatedly disobeying court orders, it is worth noting that there was only one court order to the party. The judgment of Justice S P Gang of 2020 was the only court order, which was amply and substantially obeyed.
Another deliberate misinformation making the rounds is that the judgment of S P Gang was for Congress to elect officers for the party, from the ward to the state levels. This is completely false and malicious. All other structures of the party were perfectly in place and, besides, Hon Kaze went to the court over the state EXCO election which he contested and not for any other election.
The second Congress held, according to the laid down guidelines for conducting such functions. It had delegates from the 17 Local Government Council branches of the party. The five EXCO members from the 12 LGAs were not involved in the elections, for reasons known to them, but were replaced by special delegates from their Council areas.
The Congress arrangement targeted 2600 delegates from the 17 LGCs. 2005 delegates however voted at the congress. Certainly the participatory percentage form a quorum for a valid congress.
In conclusion, it should be noted and accepted as right, that in the eye of the law, no matter how bad the second congress was conducted, it is only the members of the party who participated in it that can validate or raise issues about it. No delegate or contestant in that congress approached any court to challenge the conduct of the congress, as at the time of the 2023 elections.
No court therefore, has the power to, in any way ,to unilaterally give validity or otherwise to it. The APC cannot in anyway, raise issues concerning the conduct of congresses of other parties.
Another area in which the public has been deliberately misinformed is on the subject of a structure, incidentally arising from the question of the congress.
Having successfully conducted a repeat congress, in line with the order of Justice S P Gang, the PDP had its structure in place. It is rather intriguing that the APC legal team used that false premise to mislead the courts to the extent that the PDP had no structure. A good example here, among many others, is the Anambra state PDP which, prior to the 2021 elections had unresolved issues.
The state leadership collapsed completely, to the extent that the national Secretariat of the party had to directly get involved in the conduct of the gubernatorial primaries. The tussles between factions of the party, like the Plateau case, were exploited by one of the political parties in the state, to complain of a lack of structure by the party.
The Supreme Court, in its ruling on the matter, upheld the intervention of the national headquarters of the PDP, as valid and, that no persons from other parties had the right to raise questions thereto. The apex court equally held that the structure of a political party at the state, or lack of it for that matter, was completely immaterial, to it presenting candidates for elections.
This is what ought to have been the scenario with Plateau PDP at the tribunals and appellate court. This is because it is the position of the law.
Let me conclude by saying, that regardless of the narrative being sold by the APC and the Appeal Court, PDP HAS A SOLID STRUCTURE
Nanzing sent in this piece from Plateau State