Monday, November 30, 2015

Confusion In Kogi State Election: The Way Forward

Kogi State is in a fix. A free and fair election was held a week ago, APC candidate Prince Abubakar Audu was set for victory. Suddenly, he died. His demise threw the state into confusion.

Governor Idris Wada, the candidate of the PDP, who was trailing the late Audu in the results, has asked the electoral commission to declare him winner.

The local APC is rooting for the late Audu’s running mate, James Abiodun Faleke, who has rejected a bid to make Yahaya Bello, the party’s candidates in Saturday’s supplementary election.

Now what is the way forward?

The NATION's Bunmi Ogunmodede and Emmanuel Oladesu write on the imbroglio, the dramatis personae in the crisis and implications for transition in the state.

Kogi, a multi-ethnic Northcentral state, is enveloped in anxiety. Voters have gone the poll for a transition. The governorship election was a festival of choice, change or retension of the status quo. But, some stakeholders want the process to end in fiasco. They are capitalising on the tragedy that befell the All Progressives Congress (APC), even after a clear winner had emerged. Following the death of its flag bearer, Igala-born Prince Audu Abubakar, the plot to truncate the process thickening by the day. Now, the battle for the soul of the state may shift from the ballot box to the court rooms.

The bones of contention are two-fold: Despite the emergence of a clear winner, the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) declared the poll inconclusive. So far, the two major parties – the APC and the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) – have not raised any complaint about the results already declared. The tacit approval of the results underscored the transparency of the process. But, Audu’s sudden death created a new challenge. Since the 1999 Constitution is silent on the next step to be taken if a candidate dies during an election, politicians are capitalising on the loopholes to make fresh and unsubstantiated claims.

In the antagonistic games of interest, the APC is about to suffocate. The PDP, led by Governor Idris Wada, who has lost the election, judging by the results in public domain, is waging a curious war against the popular will of the people. In his view, the APC should forfeit its hard-earned victory because his challenger, Audu, who defeated him, died on the eve of victory. Also, the APC is facing the prospect of self-liquidation in Kogi, obviously owing to the mishandling of the unexpected development. Certain decisions on the way forward have been taken, but without widespread consultations and consensus. The implication is the gradual eclipse of goodwill and solidarity among party chieftains, who were united behind Audu, until his sudden exit. Now, while the PDP is planning to pull the rug from under the APC’s feet, the party is enmeshed in self-inflicted crisis.

The motive behind the intervention of the APC National Chairman, Chief John Odigie-Oyegun, in the Kogi emergency will remain in the realm of conjecture. Barely two days after the governorship candidate, Prince Abubakar Audu, died, the chairman asked the Kogi chapter to prepare for a fresh primary. Apparently, Odigie-Oyegun was relying on the hasty advice by the Attorney-General and Minister of Justice, Abubakar Malami (SAN), that the party was at liberty to select another candidate to replace the deceased flag bearer. It was confounding to concerned party members across the federation that the party leadership decided to jump the gun. They had expected the APC National Executive Committee (NEC) and National Working Committee (NWC) to review the Kogi situation critically, especially the position of the electoral commission on the inconclusive election.

Many chieftains were taken aback. Prior to that announcement, there was no evidence that the Chairman had consulted widely. But, the new primary proposal woke up some aspirants from slumber. They discovered a new opportunity-an inexplicable second chance to try their luck and resurrect their ambitions. Aggrieved aspirants who had returned to their shells, following the original primary, resurfaced and spoilt for war. The bereaved running mate, Hon. James Faleke, claimed that he was not carried along by Odigie-Oyegun. Majority of party leaders were enraged. Faleke’s senatorial district, which has been agitating for power shift to the West, complained bitterly. Generally, party chieftains were immered in confusion.

Two days after, the former Edo State governor made a u-turn. The retracing of steps, sources said, may have been instigated by some powerful forces, who felt expediency should take precedent over law or logic, in the APC led-Federal Government. Without any explanation, Odigie-Oyegun transferred the governorship ticket to Yahaya Bello, the aspirant who came second at the original primary with only two votes. His name was sent to the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) secretariat, Abuja in a hurry. Faleke’s name was also forwarded to the electoral agency as Bello’s running mate. The National Secretary, Mai Mala Buni, was directed to communicate the new decision to Faleke. The running mate said that he was not consulted. When he inquired from the chairman after the secretary had conveyed the new decision to him, Odigie-Oyegun confirmed it without explaining the reason behind it to Faleke.

Party sources said that at a time the party was expected to stand firm, courage failed its leadership. Owing to the NEC’s vulnerability, fresh crises were unleashed on the troubled Kogi chapter. According to the sources, ethno-religious dimension, which the APC promised to suppress during its campaigns ahead of the last general elections, was played up. The dummy was sold to the party that, since Muslims are in the majority in Kogi State, it is not ripe for a Christian governor. Therefore, another factor that worked in favour of Bello was religion.The option of bringing Audu’s son, Mohammed, to the driver’s seat was not considered, since it would have amounted to the introduction of patrimonial approach to power. It was considered a weak option, more so when Mohammed was ready to become Faleke’s deputy, if he had become the flag bearer.

There are many puzzles: Can Odigie-Oyegun avert a crisis in Kogi APC, judging by the party’s latest decision which has led to a floodgate of litigations? How can the party justify the rejection of Faleke and preference for Bello, who had gone back to private life after losing the ticket to Audu? Does the chairman have the mandate of the National Executive Council (NEC) to take these crucial decisions? What is the collective position of the party leadership? Is the NEC being teleguided?

Buni is the APC National Secretary. He is conversant with Faleke’s valid address. But, for him, written correspondence should be ruled out because the urgent matter required speed. Thus, the National Secretary called the running mate on phone and conveyed the message to him about the party’s decision on the Kogi imbroglio. ‘Your name has been forwarded to the INEC as the running mate to the new governorship candidate, Bello,’ he was said to have informed Faleke on phone. Faleke was not invited to the APC National Secretariat for any consultative meeting.

The turn of events contrasted sharply with Buni’s initial promise of fair play. Reacting to the death of Audu and myriad of opinions by stakeholders on the two divides, the secretary had said that the ruling party will thread the path of the rule of law.

At what stage did it occur to the electoral agency to declare the Kogi election inconclusive? Was the decision made after the news that Audu had passed on? What constitutes an inconclusive poll? Is the supplementary election necessary? These are questions waiting for answers.

The INEC did a good job in Kogi. Audu was set for victory at the so-called inconclusive poll. At the close of the election, he was leading Governor Idris Wada of the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) with over 41,000 votes. However, INEC claimed that the exercise was cancelled in some units due to security threats. Although there are 49,000 registered voters in the outstanding 91 polling units, only about 25,000 voters actually have Permanent Voter Cards (PVCs).

Foreign observers and domestic monitors adjudged the election as free and fair. In some units, polling staff and materials were late, but voters were patient. The poll was not marred by arson, snatching of ballot boxes and violence, which were the bane of the electoral system. Kogi State Resident Electoral Commissioner (REC) Halilu Pai said the agency was guided by past experience, adding that the mistakes of the past were avoided. Giving the INEC a pass mark, the Transition Monitoring Group (TMG), in its interim report, said that the agency lived up to expectation. “At 92 per cent of polling units, Quick Count observers reported that accreditation started at 9 am. At 94 per cent of polling units, there was security presence,” it added.

According to the results declared by INEC, Audu/Faleke polled 240, 867 votes, against Wada/Awoniyi’s 199,514. APC won in 16 councils. They are Okehi, Ajaokuta, Adavi, Kogi, Ijumu, Yagba West, Yagba east, Idah, Kabba/Bunu, Ofu, Ankpa, Olamaboro, Lokoja, Igalamela/Odolu, Bassa and Ibaji. PDP won in Okene, Ogori/Magongo, Dekina, Mapamoro and Omala. The votes in these councils were valid. Even, if PDP wins the outstanding 25,000 votes, Wada cannot beat Audu. Hence, the question: how inconclusive was the so-called inconclusive election?

Bello came and saw. But, he could not conquer during the primary. The young politician scored two votes at the shadow poll, trailing far behind the experienced politician, the late Audu. He later regressed into his shell, after he realised that taking the party to court over the outcome of the primary was counter-productive. During the campaigns, Bello was absent. In fact, he distanced himself from the party during the electioneering. Reconciliation moves targeted at him were rebuffed. His ambition also became a closed chapter, until last week when he was made the beneficiary of Audu’s demise.

Late Abubakar Audu
Until the demise of his father, Mohammed, the first son of the late All Progressives Congress (APC) candidate, Prince Abubakar Audu, was relatively unknown – at least politically. But his contribution to the APC electioneering campaigns in the run-up to the November 21 poll was unquantifiable. He is believed to be a close confidant of his late father, participating in the rallies.

Like his father, the younger Audu is loved by his kinsmen in Ogonicha, Ofu Local Government Area, where he is believed to have carried himself as a disciplined man to earn himself the status of a role model to the youth.

This love was demonstrated by some youths, who on Saturday took to the highways in Ajaokuta to show their rejection of Alhaji Yahaya Bello by the party as Audu’s replacement for the supplementary election.

Mohammed yesterday claimed ignorance of his father’s replacement as the APC governorship candidate. His claim confirmed fears in certain quarters that relevant stakeholders in the Kogi debacle were not being carried along by the APC leadership in its search for a way out of the logjam.

Many, who are pushing for him to step into his late father’s shoes, feel picking Mohammed in line with the “doctrine of necessity” would placate the Ogonicha community, the Ofu council area and Kogi East Senatorial Zone. Besides, they believe his choice would compensate for his late father’s contributions to the political development in theConfluence State.

The 11 APC lawmakers in the Kogi State House of Assembly have also threatened to oust any other governor who emerges other than Abubakar. Their spokesman, Maman Rabiu, said the younger Audu had the clout of his father and, therefore, capable of leading the state.

Shortly after news of his father’s demise hit the airwave, the APC in Kogi East Senatorial District tipped Mohammed to replace his father as the party’s flag bearer.

James Abiodun Faleke has been in the news since the demise of his principal in governorship election, Prince Abubakar Audu. He believes the supplementary election slated for Saturday by the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) is unnecessary and that his party ought to have demanded the declaration of its party’s candidates as the winners of the November 21 poll.

To him, the idea of a supplementary election should not have arisen because the APC had already won the governorship slot by polling 240, 867 to beat incumbent Governor Idris Wada of the PDP, who had 199, 514 votes.

He said there was no truth in the belief that the outstanding votes could sway the poll’s results, as only 25,000 of the 49, 353 registered voters from the 91 units from 18 council areas where the supplementary election would take place, have Permanent Voter Cards (PVCs).

By his calculation, if all the outstanding votes go the PDP way, the ruling party would still be trailing the APC.

Faleke has written letters to INEC and the APC leadership, highlighting the illogicality of presenting another candidate as the APC’s flag bearer. He has also kicked against the party’s participation in the supplementary election, which he believes can only produce a supplementary governor.

In two letters written last Thursday to the chairman of APC and INEC, Chief John Odigie-Oyegun and Prof Mahmood Yakubu, Faleke’s counsel, Chief Wole Olanipekun, said Faleke as the co-owner of the 240, 867 votes, should be the party’s automatic candidate, in case the party decides to participate in the supplementary election.

Olanipekun argued that the APC cannot stage supplementary primaries to pick candidates for the supplementary election in 91 polling units across 18 local government areas of the state.

Faleke has not only kicked against the party’s choice of Yahaya Bello as the candidate for the supplementary poll, he has communicated his rejection of the APC’s decision to retain him as running mate on the ticket.

“Following the demise of my principal after the announcement of results from the polling units, wards, local government areas and the state, our party had highest number of votes of 240, 867 against PDP’s 199, 514, thus creating a difference of 41, 353 votes between the two leading parties. On the strength of this, I hereby state clearly that I remain the governor-elect of Kogi State on the platform of our great party,” Faleke wrote to Odigie-Oyegun.

He said the party erred by reverting to the APC primaries to pick Bello, who came second to the late Audu, alleging that he was not consulted by the party before it arrived at a decision to substitute his principal.

“While it is true that the said Alhaji Yahaya Bello participated in our party primaries, it’s trite that party primaries are conducted to produce a candidate and once a candidate is produced, the congress, being an ad-hoc tool for that purpose, should automatically extinguish,” he said in the letter.

At another forum, Faleke said: “What our party has done can be likened to two pilots in the cockpit of a plane where the captain suddenly slumped and died mid-air, and the control tower insists that the co-pilot cannot continue with the flight, unless a new pilot is flown to take over the flight.”

As incumbent governor and the candidate of the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) polled 199, 514 votes and won convincingly in only five of the 21 council areas as against his APC challenger, the late Abubakar Audu, who had polled 240, 867 and leading with popular votes in 16 local government areas before INEC declared the poll inconclusive.

His party had asked INEC to declare him the winner of the election following the demise of the APC candidate. But, a lawyer has accused the party of attempting to get what Wada could not get from the ballot through the back door.

Even if Wada gets the 25,000 outstanding votes in Saturday’s supplementary election, it is certain that he would not be returning to the Lugard State House in Lokoja in January, at the expiration of his four-year term.

Strangely, wada asked for the impossible yesterday. In a statement byone of his aides, he accused INEC of doing a hatchet man’s job by going ahead with the supplementary poll even after Audu’s demise.

As far as he is concerned, INEC should declare him winner and issue him with a Certificate of Return.

“My conclusion was reinforced by the fact that ‘whatever votes Audu scored in the election died with him. INEC simply overreached itself, and I wonder why a body established to be the custodian of the rule of law would ignore the fundamentals of the rule of law in arriving at the decision not to issue him a certificate of return,” the governor said yesterday in a statement signed by his Chief Communications Manager, Mr. Phrank Shaibu.

1999 Constitution
The current challenge points to a gap in the Constitution and the electoral law. Two factors can avert a future occurrence of the Kogi crisis. The first is for the parties to the dispute to go to court. The court will either make a pronouncement, especially on the Constitutional interpretations, or give a ruling that will become a precedent. The second is constitutional review or an ammendment to the Electoral Act that will make a provision for what should be done, if a candidate dies when the election is “inconclusive.”

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