Jigawa State Governor, Sule Lamido (left), his Kogi State counterpart, Ibrahim Idris, Kano State Governor, Ibrahim Shekarau, his Edo State counterpart, Adams Oshiomhole and Governor Danjuma Doje of Gombe State, at the National Economic Council (NEC) meeting at the State House, Abuja… yesterday
Wednesday, November 19, 2008
Oshiomhole’s victory at the Appeal Court
LAST week, the Court of Appeal sitting in Benin City gave its long-awaited verdict in the matter of Osunbor v. Oshiomhole over the April 2007 governorship election in Edo State. In its well-considered judgement, the five justices unanimously upheld the earlier decision of the Election Petitions Tribunal, which had declared Comrade Adams Aliyu Oshiomhole as the duly elected governor of the state. The verdict by the appellate court brought to a close the protracted but tenacious legal battle by Oshiomhole to reclaim the mandate which he was freely given by the electorate but was fraudulently and capriciously awarded to Prof. Oserheimen Osunbor by the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC).
The euphoria which erupted in Edo State and reverberated in most parts of the country soon after the verdict is needless proof that, at last, justice has been done. Easily the country’s most influential labour leader in recent decades, Oshiomhole, a notable organiser, mobiliser and relentless advocate for workers and the poor, contested the governorship elections on the platform of Action Congress (AC). Osunbor, a professor of law and two-term Senator in the current Republic, ran on the ticket of the People’s Democratic Party (PDP), which controls the Federal Government. INEC declared Osunbor winner, on the basis clearly of concocted figures derived from ballot-box snatching and stuffing as well as outright arbitrary award of figures to the contestants.
With threats, intimidation and cajolery, some other person might have given up the fight easily. Not so for Oshiomhole and the AC which painstakingly built its case and pursued it doggedly at the Election Petitions Tribunal. On March 20, this year, the tribunal upheld Oshiomhole’s petition and declared him winner. Celebrations broke out in Edo State as well as in other places where Oshiomhole is greatly admired. Osunbor went on appeal, which took eight, sometimes agonising, months to determine.
We salute the judiciary for finally getting this matter behind it. But we urge that action be expedited in other pending cases as well, such as in Ondo, Ekiti and Oyo states. It is scandalous that legal disputes arising from the hopelessly conducted elections of April 2007 continue to linger 18 months after some of the disputants have been in office exercising powers and authority with a huge question mark. It was common knowledge, for instance, that while Osunbor awaited his fate at the courts, his government with a legitimacy crisis was virtually paralysed, especially after the tribunal ruled him the loser in the election. Just as some governors are perched on the wings of uncertainty, so are a number of Senators, members of the House of Representatives and state legislators. Some of their elections have been nullified, and are only awaiting the outcome of their appeals.
The country must strive earnestly for a reliable system in which elections are conducted and where there are disputes these are resolved expeditiously – and the duly elected officials carry on immediately with the urgent task of governance. There is so much work to do that political leaders need not be encumbered by legitimacy concerns which are distractive on the one hand, and on the other disable them from connecting effectively with those whom they are supposed to lead.
Nigerians are therefore looking eagerly to the electoral reforms promised by President Umaru Musa Yar’Adua who, by the way, awaits his day at the Supreme Court on the appeal against his declaration as winner of the April 21, 2007 presidential election. The Justice Uwais Panel on Electoral Reform has already forwarded its report to the President. Since it would require more than executive fiat to bring about the envisaged electoral reforms, it is imperative that an executive bill be fast-forwarded to the National Assembly to commence its enactment into law.
It is now trite law that, on the basis of the Supreme Court decision in Peter Obi’s case (the Anambra governorship tussle with Chris Ngige), Oshiomhole has four full years for his first term, which began to run on the day he took the oath of office before a mammoth crowd at the Ogbemudia Stadium on November 12, the day after the final decision of the Court of Appeal.
It is instructive that Oshiomhole set a tone with his appearance and inaugural speech in which he identified and articulated the task before his new administration. Often, inauguration ceremonies in these parts are a gaudy affair. Oath-takers are lavishly dressed and no expense is spared in entertainment. Oshiomhole appeared in his workaday clothes – a simple French suit, but he opened up his heart in his speech, detailing the immense challenges of infrastructure renewal, employment generation, the imperative of education in the 21st Century, healthcare, youth development and sports.
Governor Oshiomhole has set a very high standard for himself, deriving in large part from the pith and marrow of his advocacy over the years. As the saying goes, yesterday he was on the other side, now he is on the firing line. He will constantly be under watch, more so in a strategic state like Edo. In the meantime, he is eminently deserving of the congratulations and good wishes that he has been offered on account of his remarkable triumph in the legal battle to validate the mandate of the electorate.
Wednesday, November 19, 2008
Subtexts of Oshiomhole’s triumph
By Kingsley Osadolor
WATCHING the live transmission of the Court of Appeal sitting in Benin City at which the final judgment was delivered last Tuesday in the protracted governorship election tussle between Prof. Oserheimen Osunbor of the People’s Democratic Party (PDP) and Comrade Adams Oshiomhole of Action Congress (AC), the atmosphere in the courtroom bore an uncanny resemblance to a funeral service for the repose of the souls of master-riggers of elections and political oligarchs. Neither the well-known oligarchs nor their direct beneficiaries were present in court. They couldn’t have been anyway, since the service was in their memory. They were receiving the equivalent of the Sacrament of Extreme Unction.
The apparatchiks had been dealt a fatal blow on April 14, 2007, at the governorship election in Edo State, but were sustained on a costly life-support for nearly 18 months. On March 20, this year, the Election Petitions Tribunal ordered that the life-support be switched off. But the oligarchs appealed. In doing so, they were conveniently oblivious of two aphorisms, namely, vox populi vox dei (the voice of the people is the voice of God) and that in God’s case there is no appeal. On April 14, last year, the electorate voted overwhelmingly in rejection of the oligarchs and in favour of a new order symbolized by Oshiomhole. On November 11, that overwhelming choice was upheld by the Court of Appeal whose courageous five-member panel, like priests in the temple of justice, performed the last rites of the woebegone era of subverting the wishes of the electorate.
Oshiomhole’s case has exposed the mechanism of rigging and simultaneously provided the antidote. The materials arising from the diligent prosecution of the case are compulsory reading, understanding and application by anyone that is truly interested in making genuine votes count at elections. The Federal Government, which has already received the Justice Uwais Electoral Reform Panel Report, must seek to extract from the record of the proceedings of the Oshiomhole case the mortar that can be used to fortify the electoral process by enhancing its integrity.
Oshiomhole and his team of brilliant lawyers argued and won, at the tribunal and at the Court of Appeal, not by reliance on mere technicalities, but on the very merit of their case. In that endeavour, Oshiomhole surmounted an onerous burden of proof. Election master-riggers were always smug in their belief that the burden of proof was wearisome that even where the most courageous petitioner was determined to pass the test, the evidence (which are the critical building blocks of a case) would be so inadequate, it would amount to erecting a house on bare sand. At the slightest breeze, the case comes tumbling down. That is why election petitions often failed.
In its spirited but spurious defence of its conduct of the farcical elections of 2007, the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) has often contended that the nullification of some elections by the various tribunals and the Court of Appeal, which consequentially ordered the conduct of fresh elections, arose not on grounds of fraud, but usually because of pre-election matters, such as membership of a political party, or the exclusion of a qualified candidate from participation in an election. That was the situation in Rivers, Kogi, Sokoto, Adamawa, Cross River, and elsewhere. In Enugu State, the Appeal Court reversed the judgment of the tribunal which had nullified the election of Governor Chime on grounds of electoral larceny.
Thus, Oshiomhole’s case is the locus classicus of an election petition argued and won decisively on the grounds that there were malpractices which manifestly affected the results that INEC had announced in declaring Prof. Osunbor winner. The real hero in the adjudication may well be the Election Petitions Tribunal. So thorough was the tribunal in its work, that it would have required an extraordinary desire to subvert justice for an appellate court not to affirm the tribunal’s conclusions. In a sense, therefore, save insofar as it was in fulfillment of all righteousness, namely, the exercise of the right of appeal, the appeal by Osunbor was invariably a waste of the appellate court’s time.
For want of better grounds to canvass, the appellant’s lawyers resorted to willful distortion of the findings of the tribunal, with regard, for instance, to the nullification of “invalid” votes in 12 disputed local government areas. The tribunal did not nullify the voting in the 12 local government areas; rather, it made a tally of the valid votes as well as the invalid votes and dispensed with the latter. On that basis, Oshiomhole was declared winner. It was, in fact, because Osunbor’s lawyers distorted that aspect of the decision that they urged the Court of Appeal to proceed on a voyage to discover whether Oshiomhole could have been declared winner on the basis of results in only four local government areas which were not in dispute. The rebuke of presiding Justice Umaru Abdullahi is instructive: “In making his presentation, at an appellate court, an appellant is not allowed to distort the findings and conclusions of the lower court, more particularly by reading into them what they do not contain or intend.”
Discerning observers must be scandalized by the curious statement attributed to the PDP National Chairman, Prince Vincent Ogbulafor, in the aftermath of Oshiomhole’s victory. Prince Ogbulafor said that the factional crisis in the Edo State chapter of the PDP affected the outcome of the case in court. He bemoaned the failure of the party to reconcile the factions – one led by Chief Tony Anenih, the other by Dr. Samuel Ogbemudia and Prof. Osunbor. The subtext of the PDP Chairman’s remark is an oblique suggestion that if the party were united, they might have had a better outing in court. But the reality was that the electoral dispute had no direct connection with the PDP factional crisis, and so whether the PDP was united or disorganized had no impact on the merit of the case. Unless, of course, one is to understand the chairman to mean that if the factions were united, they could have “reached” the arbiters. Even in that sense, this was not a case in which anyone could have been “reached” to swing the outcome.
For the PDP, it was a bad case. It was because the PDP was unable to put its house in order that a good number of their members left to form what became AC. In 2005, the PDP embarked on a bizarre exercise of de-registering its members in the states, including Edo. The factional chieftains at the time believed that once some of their disagreeable members were chucked out of the party, they would be choked off politically, since PDP was, in their imagination, destined to rule forever. Nigerians would recall that Vice President Atiku Abubakar was humiliated by being denied registration in Adamawa State. Later, following public outcry, the garrison apparatchiks of the PDP decided to organize a special registration exercise for him at Aso Rock, where his name was entered into an exercise book that was hardly a party register of members.
The arrogance and internal incoherence of the PDP gave birth to the AC. Yet, in Edo State, it would have been an uphill task to dislodge the PDP. It required the calibre and tenacity of an Adams Oshiomhole to confront and defeat the political oligarchs in the state. And the PDP knew that it would be a tough battle. In the relentless volley of accusations and counter-accusations that underpinned Oshiomhole’s irrepressible drive to claim his mandate, there was one memorable exchange that spoke volumes. An exasperated Oshiomhole challenged Osunbor to swear by the Holy Bible, or the Holy Koran, or by ogun, or by whatever Osunbor believes in, that he (Osunbor) truly and verily won the governorship election of April 14, 2007. I never heard or read any direct response to that challenge either by Osunbor or his ubiquitous hacks.
Obviously, it is not sufficient that Oshiomhole and the people of Edo have received justice with the restoration of the mandate. The state also deserves justice. This is because state laws were willfully violated by persons – not ghosts – who, according to the decisions of the Election Petitions Tribunal and the Court of Appeal, concocted and announced fictitious election results. In the first results that were signed and released by INEC on April 15, 2007, the PDP was awarded 329,740 votes, while the AC came second with 197,472, and the other parties were scored according to the fancy of the electoral officers. In the first results, two local governments were not included, because the elections were cancelled. Three days later, on April 18, INEC returned with its abracadabra. This time, it included the “results” of the two local governments and finally gave Oshiomhole 201,116 votes, while Osunbor was rewarded with 291,262 votes. But once all these were tested at the tribunal, the lawful votes came to Oshiomhole (166,577) and Osunbor (129,017).
While congratulating Oshiomhole, President Umaru Yar’Adua stated that the outcome of the case was in sync with the government’s posture on the rule of law. Fair enough. But the rule of law does not consist only in obeying court orders. Inherent in the rule of law is an unbiased willingness to enforce the law and to mete sanctions when the law is broken. In this case, the ultimate test of the Federal Government’s obedience to the rule of law is how it enforces the law against the persons who committed the electoral heist that precipitated the legal tussle in which Oshiomhole emerged triumphant last Tuesday.