Nigeria: Tribunal Set to Deliver Judgement On Kano's Iconic Governorship Election Dispute

19 September 2023

The tribunal announced the judgement day in a notice issued to the lawyers representing parties to the case on Monday.

The Kano State Governorship Election Petition Tribunal sitting in Kano, the state capital, will Wednesday (20 September) deliver judgment on the petition filed by the All Progressives Congress (APC) to challenge the victory of Governor Abba Yusuf of the New Nigeria People Party (NNPP) in the 18 March election.

The tribunal announced the judgement date in a notice issued to the lawyers representing parties to the case on Monday. The announcement came weeks after lawyers made their closing arguments on behalf of their clients on 21 August.

The Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) had declared that the NNPP polled 1,019,602 votes to defeat the APC with its candidate, Nasir Gawuna, who scored 890,705 votes. The NNPP candidate thus won with a margin of 128,897 votes.

Displeased, the APC filed a petition at the tribunal to challenge the results declared by the electoral body.

The petition has received attention from within and outside the state, partly because it is a proxy war between rival political heavyweights in the state whose political tentacles extend to the national stage.

Former Governor Rabiu Kwankwaso, the leader of the NNPP, and his successor, Abdullahi Ganduje, who is currently the national chair of the APC, are friends-turned-foes. They enjoyed long years of political friendship with their once formidable alliance seeing Mr Ganduje serve as deputy governor to Mr Kwanwaso as Kano State governor for two terms of four years each. So warm was their alliance that Mr Kwankwaso helped Mr Ganduje to succeed him as governor in 2015. But political differences have since driven a wedge between them. With the good old days gone, both now have abiding political scores to settle, and the governorship election petition offers them the platform to test their strength.

Both veteran politicians have kept their attention firmly riveted to the governorship court contest, hoping their parties will succeed and, in turn, help them to consolidate their political base on the home front, a much-needed asset to stay afloat in the national pool.

Petitioner's case

The APC, strongly backed by Mr Ganduje, asked the tribunal to nullify the victory of Mr Kwankwaso-backed NNPP on among other grounds that the election was conducted in violation of the Electoral Act 2022.

It sued the INEC, the NNPP and Governor Yusuf as the respondents.

At the hearing of the petition, the APC, through its lawyer, Abdul Fagge, called 32 witnesses and tendered a series of documents including a report of the Bimodal Voter Accreditation System (BVAS) machines, the electronic voter accreditation devices deployed in all polling units for the conduct of the poll in the state.

The petitioner also tendered used Forms EC8A, the polling unit result sheets, and Form EC40G, the overall result sheet containing the final tallies, and other electoral documents obtained from the INEC.

Besides alleging irregularities during the polls, the petitioner also challenged the qualification of Governor Yusuf to contest the election.

The petitioner's lawyer, Mr Fagge, while making his final submissions in court, argued that the governor was not a registered member of the NNPP as of the time he contested and was declared the winner of the election. He tendered the INEC-certified copy of the NNPP membership register to substantiate his claim.

"In law, before you contest any election, you must be a member of a political party. In the Electoral Act 2022, section 75 made it clear that all political parties shall submit their register to INEC not later than 30 days before the conduct of their party's primary election. The name of the governor is missing in the certified true copy of the NNPP register issued by INEC," Mr Fagge argued.

He dismissed the alternate membership register brought by the NNPP, arguing that it was belatedly updated at ward level after the APC had filed its petition.

He added that the register fell short of the prescription of the law and INEC's standards.

The APC lawyer also tendered over 270,000 ballot papers thumbprinted in favour of the NNPP. He argued that the ballot papers were certified by INEC but were neither signed, stamped nor dated, and were therefore invalid.

Mr Fagge also told the tribunal that the state House of Assembly elections, which took place concurrently with the governorship poll, were declared inconclusive in at least 15 constituencies.

He said despite this, INEC went ahead to declare a winner of the governorship election when it ought to declare it inconclusive, the reason being that the number of cancelled votes substantially affected the outcomes of both elections.

"The declaration of the winner of the governorship election was against the provisions of the Electoral Act 2022, because the votes cancelled by INEC, by far, outnumbered the margin of lead between the winner and runner-up," Mr Fagge said.

He urged the tribunal to declare the APC candidate, Mr Gawuna, who came second in the election as the duly elected governor of Kano State because Mr Yusuf was not a registered member of the NNPP as of the time of the poll.

"We also want the tribunal to invalidate over 270,000 unstamped, not signed and no-date ballots that were cast in favour of the NNPP candidate," the lawyer added.

As an alternative prayer to the call for a declaration of Mr Gawuna as the winner of the election, the petitioner's lawyer urged the tribunal to declare the election inconclusive because the number of cancelled votes by INEC outnumbered the winning votes.

NNPP's lawyer disagrees

The NNPP lead counsel, Bashir Tudun-Wuzirchi, urged the tribunal to dismiss the APC's petition for being an academic exercise and a waste of time and energy.

He anchored his client's prayers on among other grounds that the non-joining of the party's governorship candidate, Mr Gawuna, as a pettioner, was fatal to the case.

He said all the allegations levelled by the petitioner were unproven and not correct.

Contrary to the petitioner's claim, Mr Tudun-Wuzirchi argued that the name of the governor was in the register as provided by the law.

"The issue of membership has been severally held by the Court of Appeal and the Supreme Court to be a pre-election matter of which the tribunal has no jurisdiction to determine," he said.

On the issue of the absence of INEC stamp on ballot papers, Mr Tudun-Wuzirchi said the allegation was baseless because it was not substantiated with any evidence "and no witness demonstrated before the court that a ballot paper used during the election was not stamped, or signed and had no date on it."

"Section 63(2) of the Electoral Act made it clear that even where a ballot was not stamped or signed but was counted by the presiding officer, the ballot paper is considered genuine," the NNPP lawyer added, pleading with the tribunal to reject the petitioner's argument about unstamped ballot papers.

Mr Tudun-Wuzirchi also faulted the APC lawyer's call on the tribunal to declare the election inconclusive.

He said the election witnessed the highest turnout of voters in the state, adding that the APC did not provide sufficient evidence to warrant declaring the election inconclusive. He said the margin of lead between Governor Yusuf and Mr Gawuna was over 100,000 votes

Bribery issues, spiritual supplications and other dramas

The high-stakes court case has generated expectable dramas within and outside the courtroom. On the sideline of the legal-cum-political arena, there are ongoing squabbles among religious personalities with divided interests in the matter.

A pivotal moment during the hearing was when the chairperson of the three-member election petition tribunal, Flora Azinge, raised the alarm lawyers were making some moves to bribe a member of the panel to procure a favourable outcome for a party in the case.

Ms Azinge's revelation sparked bouts of counter-accusations between APC and NNPP members, and further deepened uncertainties about the possible outcome of the case.

In reaction, both sides have gone spiritual. While NNPP members have held mass prayer sessions, the rival APC members have observed fasting and Qur'anic recitation.

On 26 August, the governor, Mr Yusuf, and his political godfather, Mr Kwankwaso, participated in a mass prayer session organised to secure the victory of their party at the election tribunal.

The cleric, Sani Ashir, who led the prayer session attended by thousands of supporters of the NNPP, described those challenging the election of the state's governor in court, as the enemies of the state, and prayed for God to destroy them.

"We are gathered here to pray for our leaders whom we willingly voted for. We seek God's protection and guidance on them.

"The enemies of the people are coming and planning to undermine our leaders. Defeat and destroy them all. Destroy the enemies of Kano State who are trying to steal the mandate of the people through the back door.

"The treasury looters and election riggers are yet to concede defeat. They are in the court. We pray for success at the election tribunal, and all other seats being contested in the court by our members (NNPP). We pray for a successful end," he said.

But Mr Ashir's participation in the prayer session drew a backlash from his colleagues - Idris Abdulaziz from Bauchi State and Abubakar Giro from Kebbi

State, who died recently. Both clerics accused of Ashir staging a mass prayer session with no backing of any Islamic injunctions.

Also, the state's Commissioner of Lands and Physical Planning, Adamu Aliyu, on Thursday, issued a death threat to the tribunal judges.

Mr Aliyu also promised to unleash mayhem on residents of the state, one worse than what residents of neighbouring Kaduna and Zamfara are going through.

"I am sending this message to the tribunal judges, any judge that allows himself to be used and collect bribes and pass judgment that is not right, we want to tell him he must choose between his life and the bribe money he collected.

"We are promising you (our supporters), we are receiving your complaints, the votes you cast on his excellency (Governor Yusuf) will not go in vain unless we lose our lives or the Kano state will fall.

"Another message for the leaders. You have seen the conflict (banditry) in Zamfara, Kaduna, and Katsina, I swear because of this governorship seat, everyone will die. The conflict that will start in Kano will be more deadly than the ones in those states and Borno," Mr Aliyu said.

The mass prayer session and gathering organised by politicians were held despite the ban on all forms of protests by the police in Kano. The police accused both the NNPP and APC of planning to foment trouble by sponsoring protests in the state.

The police commissioner in the state, Muhammad Gumel, in a statement, said the command had banned all forms of protest to prevent possible clashes and uprisings

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