Date Published: 07/01/10
Sokoto LegalTussle: A Judicial Puzzle Requiring Judicial Solution! By Dr. Shamsudeen Tanko
When in April 2008 the Election Appeal Kaduna nullified the election of Governor Wamakko of Sokoto state based on the evidence that he was, as at April 14, not eligible to contest the 2007 general election, little did we realize that the Court verdict was dubious and deliberately delivered to appease the powers that be. For, the Court ordered for a re-run election in Sokoto and only parties and candidates on the Result Sheet of the 2007 election could partake in the re-run exercise.
Immediately the verdict was passed, legal opinions began to spring up, accusing the Court Judges of delivering an outright contradicting judgment. While some argued that the Court verdict grants all candidates and parties on the Result Sheet, including Wamakko and Party, are expressly free to contest in the re-run exercise, others insisted that since Wamakko was as at April 14, 2007 not eligible to contest the gubernatorial election, there was no way his name featuring on the Result Sheet, a document that came into being on April 16, 2007 could render him eligible to partake in the re-run election so ordered in 2008. They thus argued that since the re-run exercise of 2008 was a continuation of the 2007, which the Court found him illegible to contest, he remained illegible to equally contest the re-run election of 2008.
When a party to the case, DPP, ran to the High Court Abuja for interpretation of the grey areas as contained in the Kaduna Appeal Court, the Judicial puzzle became more complex. The High Court could neither accelerate hearing on the case nor restrain INEC from allowing Wamakko from participating in the re-run election conducted on May 24, 2008. It was only after the re-run election that the Court pronounced that it lacked jurisdiction to interpret the verdict of the Appeal Court. Consequently, the matter was moved to Abuja Appeal Court, which for more than a year could not make any pronouncement on the case. In an attempt to unravel that Judicial puzzle, DPP marched upwards to the Supreme Court for the interpretation of what it considered to be the Kaduna controversial and contradictory verdict. Later, DPP withdraw the case from the Supreme Court.
While that was pending in Abuja, the Election Petition Tribunal set up consequent upon the re-run election delivered its majority and minority judgment on the DPP’s case challenging the participation of Wamakko and PDP in the re-run exercise. Three judges were of the opinion that Wamakko’s participation was in order since the Kaduna Appeal Court did not bar him from contesting the re-run election. The remaining two Judges argued that since Wamakko was found to be illegible to contest the 2007 gubernatorial election, his participation in the consequent re-run election of 2008 was null and void, the votes he scored were wastage and that the candidate with second highest votes be sworn-in as the state governor.
The case moved to the newly established Appeal Court Sokoto for determination. The Appeal Court was to deliver judgment on the matter on April 24, 2010 when the Supreme Court restrained it from doing so based on the petitions made by Wamakko against the Judges handling the case. As if the puzzle was solved, the Appeal fixed another date of Judgment in May, 2010. As the judgment day approached, further petitions by Wamakko and INEC lawyer, Mahmoud Yahaya, were forwarded to the Supreme Court alleging that the Sokoto Appeal Court judges might not give fair verdict on the case. An advert of affidavit sworn by Senator Dahiru Tambuwal (Chairman Senate Committee on Judiciary) further aggravated the matter. Then, intensive scheming and maneuverings involved who’s is who in Nigerian politics and traditional rulers forced the Supreme Court to once again restrain the Sokoto Appeal Court from passing judgment on the case in May 2010.
The Supreme Court took over the task of entertaining the issues raised in Wamakko and INEC petitions before the Appeal Court could deliver judgment. Instead of solving the puzzle once for all, the Supreme Court on June 4, 2010 came up with its double-edge pronouncement on the matter. The majority view being that the earlier interpretation case filed before it by DPP was not only wrongly withdrawn but was re-instated and must be determined by the Apex Court before the Appeal Court Sokoto could do its own part on the matter. The minority judgment held that the Supreme Court had nothing to do with such an election matter; the Appeal Court Sokoto has the ultimate jurisdiction to entertain the matter.
The puzzle thus is daily becoming more complicated as a result of actions and inactions by our Judicial system. To say that the Supreme Court would have determine the illegibility or otherwise of Wamakko’s participation in the 2008 re-run election before Appeal Court could deliver judgment on the matter gives credence to delay-tactic and case-dragging theories propounded by the public long ago. Back in April, a public commentator alleged that Senator Tambuwal, some powers-that-be and a traditional ruler had concluded a deal with the Supreme Court that the case be kept on dragging, until such a time when it would naturally expire and be thrown into dustbin.
The way the case is now being handled by the Supreme Court gives an insight into the soundness of the delay-tactic theory. How long it will take the ever-busy Apex Court to determine the case, no one else can say. And what happens to the already written judgment on the case waiting to be read out at the Appeal Court Sokoto? Why is the Judiciary afraid of solving once for all a puzzle deliberately constructed by itself? Does it think senators, political parties and their candidates or traditional have a sharper brain in solving this puzzle? Or, doesn’t this really reveal the extent of romance between the Judiciary and party politics in Nigeria?
It should, however, be made clear that the Sokoto case is no longer about which party or candidate wins at both the Supreme and Appeal Courts but expressly a sign of how the Judiciary would handle subsequent election matters in Nigeria. This is besides the testimonies of those involved in complicating this particular case as would later be revealed in their autography. Some may opt to reserve the whole saga unto themselves, not minding how their concise would rumble and make them unable to sleep in the elderly part of their lives.
We remain amazed by the complex Sokoto legal puzzle because of the government’s over-rating of ‘Rule of Law’ and the common adage we are daily reminded that ‘Nigeria’s Judiciary is not only independent but the last resort of the common man’. Do these proclamations still stand or are we just been fooled? Haba! Let’s take Sokoto case as our litmus test.
Dr. Shamsudeen Tanko,
Department of General Medicine,
Usmanu Danfodiyo University Teaching Hospital,
Gawon Nama, Sokoto