opinionBy Ahmad Muhammad
Not a few people were shocked by the Friday, January 11th 2013 verdict of the Abuja High court, presided over by Justice Gladys Olotu. If nothing else, its historic nature will make the ruling a point of reference in the annals of judicial precedence under our democratic experiment.
What has now come to be known as the Katsina 10 comprises two entities: the 'estranged' faction on one hand and another 10 in the mould of the mainstream faction on the other; have presented our judicial system a litmus test with bitter pills. On the one hand is a group, comprising Senators Sadiq Yar'adua and Hadi Sirika and eight other members of the House of Representatives, namely: Ahmed Kaita, Salisu Salisco, Umar Abubakar, Salisu Daura, Isa Doro, Sani Mashi, Abbas Machika and Dr. Mansur Funtua. On the other, is the second group, comprising Senators Abdu Yandoma and Ahmed Sani, alongside eight other members of the House of Representatives, namely: Murtala Isa, Muntari Dandutse, Musa Salisu, Aminu Ashiru, Umar Katsayal, Muhammad Tukur, Tasiu Doguro and Abdu Dankama.
What is now being described by many as a controversial outcome of a long protracted mandate by both sides of the divide is clearly an avoidable rift, given the incidence of how "Peter was robbed to pay Paul or how Peter suddenly becomes a beneficiary of Paul's hard work". In other words, the internal contradictions within the Congress for Progressive Change (CPC) permitted what has finally, unfortunately, become the party's albatross. Arising from a divided house as a result of two parallel primaries, the emerging controversies of the Katsina CPC has been fathomed too early, along with its destructive tendency of ripping the entire party structure apart, even at the national level. For some distant observers, the reference to 'Masari group' and 'Yakubu Lado group' signals a palpable watershed in what finally culminated in the legal showdown throwing spanners in the party's progressive wheel.
The recognition given the Lado group by the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) in spite of a pending suit in court filed by the rival faction, paved way for too many twists, hence, one can say that, it was in good faith, that, the election tribunal ruled in favour of the PDP, setting aside the elections and upholding PDP's prayer that, the contestants were not validly nominated in the first instance. On the premise of the 28th September 2011 ruling by Justices Solomon Akintoye and Halim Saleeman, by which INEC was ordered to conduct fresh elections within 90 days, there apparently was an opportunity for the party to put its house in order by returning to the trenches to pursue a common front. Rather than contemplate closing ranks, it opted to appeal and then secured a verdict which quashed the position of the electoral tribunal, consequently assuming a validation via INEC.
It is therefore not surprising that, even in the latest ruling, Justice Gladys Olotu acknowledged that the election tribunal should have been the rightful place where an amicable resolution ought to have been reached on the matter. She then proceeded to declare that, INEC lacked powers under Sections 68 (1) and 78 (1) of the Electoral Act of 2010 to withdraw any certificate of return from candidates who validly won an election. With clearly a hint of more confusion as the issue as it has finally been made to appear, the December 2011 decision by the Supreme Court, seen by many as a terminal verdict, which was in favour of the 'Masari group', and for which INEC was compelled to withdraw certificates from the 'Yakubu Lado' group and issue to the 'Masari group' is now more or less a cul-de-sac.
On a broad context, the structure of the CPC presents severe limitations for internal party democracy. Although this is not to say that, only CPC has such attribute, as other parties are equally 'guilty' of the same 'offence'; the CPC's posture readily gives the perception of a very credible opposition, for which much might be expected in terms of standard practice. Sadly, the weighty centralization of the party's fortunes around the personality of the party's presidential flag bearer, Gen. Muhammadu Buhari, has been often been over-estimated, if not grossly abused. There is, as it appears, a tendency for short-cut access to appropriating public integrity by the processes involved in selecting people who will stand elections on the party's platform. For instance, the party may struggle with the stigma of lack of integrity over the two separate Katsina 10 factions, as both divides can only boast of partial legitimacy, but in different contexts. The 'Lado group' as has been largely assessed, does not have party legitimacy, as its standing is not an endorsement of the party. The 'Masari group' on the other hand does not have public legitimacy, as it lacks genuine acceptance of the electorate, as it appears or seems. This is not to be said however of the PDP, which representations enjoy the legitimacy of the party and equally at congress levels.
The CPC and its National Assembly members from Katsina have questioned the validity of Justice Olotu's judgment as overruling the Supreme Court verdict, raising issues of judicial precedence and stating categorically their desire to appeal. I however see this differently and contextually. In truth, the CPC had no candidates to legitimately occupy the contentious legislative seats they currently enjoy. First, as noted earlier, the Yakubu Lado faction had no party base from which to contest the election. That was a basic requirement for electoral participation which the candidates, and by extension, the primary lacked, which thus, makes their election null and void. Again, the Masari faction also has some legitimacy issues, because the identity of the contestants in the group did not appear as options on the ballot papers, neither did they present themselves for elections before the general electorate.
So, for both factions of the CPC to deploy the deficient whims of partial legitimacy, is to state, like it has been said by a few commentators that, the CPC lacked locus standi, as it had no candidates to present for the elections in the first place, owing to the sustained internal party wrangling in which the party had been enmeshed. This runs quite contrary to the general logic and basic expectations that, candidates to be presented for elections by the parties, especially at the primaries must be those who are accepted by both the party and general electorates.
It is easily derivable from the point of logic therefore, that, a clear resolution to the legal quagmire is in the resort to the status quo ante, that is, a fresh conduct of the elections beginning from party primaries. This is the first logic to the problem. This will afford the contestants, 20 in all, a fresh opportunity to test their popularity and validate their claims to genuine mandate from the electorate. By so doing, those who win would have truly been considered as true representatives of their people, while those who lose would have been seen as having given a shot at the ticket and proven their mettles all the same. Above all, such a move would clearly replace the animosity within the CPC with some measure of public acceptance and integrity as a formidable political opposition party.
Muhammad wrote from Kurfi Street, Katsina.