Following Kogi State Governorship Election Petition Tribunal’s ruling that Governor Yahaya Bello was validly elected at the November 16, 2019 Governorship Election and that the petitioners failed to prove allegations of over voting, multiple thump printing and others, Associate Editor, SAM EGBURONU, reports on the secrets of Bello’s political victories in Kogi
For Kogi State Governor, Alhaji Yahaya Bello of the All Progressives Congress (APC), the state’s election petition tribunal’s positive ruling offers a moment of triumph after months of intrigues and legal fireworks since his opponents formally challenged his victory in the November 16, 2019 Governorship Election.
It would be recalled that in the election, the Independent National Electoral Commission’s results said Bello polled 406,222 votes to defeat the PDP’s candidate, Wada, who scored 189,704 votes.
Challenging Bello’s re-election however, the candidate of the Peoples Democratic Party in the election, Musa Atayi Wada, and his party alleged that the candidate of APC, Bello Yahaya, should not have been returned as the duly elected Governor of Kogi State because he did not obtain the highest number of valid votes cast at the election as declared by INEC.
But in its majority judgement, the Kogi State Governorship Election Petition Tribunal, headed by Hon. Justice Gumna Kashim Kaigama, ruled that Bello was validly elected at the November 16, 2019 Governorship Election and that the petitioners failed to prove allegations of over voting, violence and others.
Reacting, Bello said the judgement is “a re-affirmation” of his “landmark victory” of the November 16, 2019, election held in the state.
In a statement by his Chief Press Secretary, Onogwu Muhammed, the governor described the landmark judgment as “a validation of the people’s mandate and an added impetus to my drive to do more for the good people of Kogi State.”
He said with the majority ruling of the tribunal dismissing the petition of PDP candidate “the rule of law once again came to the defense of democracy by affirming the collective will of the people which was expressed on the 16th of November, 2019 when a vast, compelling majority of the electorate cast their votes,” the statement said.
The legal battle
The governorship candidate of the Peoples Democratic Party in the last election, Musa Atayi Wada, and his party had however approached the tribunal to challenge Bello’s election and the victory of APC.
The petitioners alleged that the candidate of APC, Bello Yahaya, should not have been returned as the duly elected Governor of Kogi State. This, according to their petitions, is because “he did not obtain the highest number of valid votes cast at the election as declared by INEC.”
The petitioners prayed the Kogi State Electoral Petition Tribunal to grant them the following reliefs:
“That it may be determined and thus declared that the Respondent was not duly elected and /or returned by a majority of lawful votes cast in the Kogi State Governorship election held on 16th November, 2019 and therefore his election/declaration and return as the Governor of Kogi State is null void and of no effect whatsoever.
B: A declaration that neither the 2nd respondent nor 1st Respondent scored the majority of lawful votes cast at the election to the office of the Governor of Kogi State held on I6th November, 2019 upon cancellation by this Tribunal of the unlawful votes allotted to them in all the Polling Units complained of where there were over voting and non-accreditation.
C: An Order of this Hon. Tribunal nullifying the Certificate of Return issued to the 2nd Respondent by the 1st respondent, amongst other reliefs.”
In its judgement, after many months of legal battle, the tribunal, led by Kashim Kaigama, held that the petitioner failed to prove the allegations of over voting, massive thumb printing, voter intimidation and other electoral malpractices. Justice Baraka Wali agreed to this this ruling.
One, out of the three justices, Ohimai Ovbiagele, however gave a dissenting judgement in which she ordered a rerun election in seven local government areas within the next 90 days.
Bello’s strong points
Notwithstanding the single dissenting judgement delivered by Hon. Justice Ovbiagele Ohimai, some informed observers said her ruling will not be binding since the majority of the three justices, through their ruling, held contrary views.
Most of the lawyers, who argued this way told The Nation that this is the situation because the dissenting ruling relied substantially on the expert opinion of Professor Tanko Ishaya of the University of Jos, a forensic expert, who the PDP and its candidate hired to prove the allegation of multiple voting.
The tribunal’s majority ruling held that it was not sufficient to rely on the expert opinion of Ishaya, noting that his opinion should have come as a collaboration of order witnesses, which, albeit, the PDP and its candidate ignored. In other words, he was expected to collaborate facts that had been proved.
It also held that Prof. Ishaya having agreed that he did the job for a fee, made it obvious that he worked to protect the interest of his clients. The Tribunal also held that Prof. Ishaya, one of the 32 witnesses presented by the petitioner, acted beyond his briefs by counting or recounting the ballot papers, which the Tribunal held, was the responsibility of the Independent National Electoral Commission, INEC.
The lead ruling signed by Hon. Justice Gumna Kaigama and Hon. Justice Baraka I. Wali, held that the onus of proof lies with the petitioner on all grounds of relief it sought, but maintained that it was not able to convince the Tribunal. It affirmed that the petitioner could not sufficiently prove that he did not rely on hearsay and therefore, was unable to show proof to invalidate the election.
The tribunal agreed with the respondents’ lawyers that he who alleges must prove, noting that in election petitions, it is trite law that result declared by INEC is prima facie correct and the burden of proving the contrary lies with the person disputing the result.
He further affirmed that a petitioner alleging over voting or other malpractices in an election must tender and demonstrate in evidence the allegations, as it is enough to ‘dump’ these pieces of evidence on the Tribunal.
The Tribunal therefore aligned itself with the position of the respondents’ lawyers that the petition made their “facts vague, ambiguous, imprecise and nebulous” and saddled the Tribunal with the task of helping the petitioner straighten out his facts, a task the Tribunal isn’t empowered to undertake because it isn’t a Father Christmas.”
It is also to the advantage of Bello that under cross-examination, INEC told the tribunal that the election was conducted in substantial compliance with the extant laws and also denied knowledge of any court order to count the ballot papers. Instead, it insisted that the election was free and fair.
Commenting on the development and Wada’s alleged threat to appeal the judgement, Alhaji Ibrahim Usman, a political analyst, told The Nation during the week that “Bello has every reason to celebrate because his opponents do not seem to have concrete evidence to support their allegations. Even the learned Justices said that much when they pointed out that the petitioners’ failure to bring witnesses that will prove their cases showed that their allegations amounted to ‘documentary hearsay.”
Usman also said that Bello stands taller than his opponents politically “because either way he would win even if the election was cancelled given the fact that the areas in contention are his strongholds.”
On why Bello has won his many political battles in spite of the determination of the opposition, Usman said: “Some of Governor Bello’s political opponents do not seem to understand the secrets of his political successes. The truth is that before he emerged the governor, the state was sharply divided along ethnic, religious and class lines. He bravely abolished this. His political appointments testify to this. It is only during his tenure that anyone that merits a sensitive position can be appointed notwithstanding his religion, class or ethnic background. Until he became the governor, there was no Christian chapel at the Government House. He has built one there. That is why, he has become so popular notwithstanding the allegations his opponents may throw around.
“Another thing that has endeared him politically is his exploits in resolving the challenge of insecurity. You will recall that he personally led security operatives to flush out kidnappers and armed robbers in the state. He also ensured that the ill-gotten properties of the hoodlums are crushed. He started this in his community, Okene. This explains why the Senate President, Ahmad Lawan, lauded his efforts in the area of security when he paid him a condolence visit at his country home in Okene to commiserate with the family over the demise of their mother, Hajia Hauwau Bello,” he said.