#GombeTribunal and INEC’s Intrigues By Sulaiman Manu Lawanti
The popularity of the All Progressive Congress (APC) across the North East is not debatable. Whoever knows the political trends in the North East will draw conclusion that the party has the highest support in Gombe State.
When President Muhammadu Buhari visited Gombe during the presidential rally, a large crowd of supporters brought all activities to a standstill during the rally. The support the party candidate, Alhaji Muhammad Inuwa Yahaya also commands was tremendous. It is therefore puzzling when the electoral umpire, INEC, declared the party loser in the governorship election.
Forget the exaggerated “achievements” of Governor Dankwambo and take into cognizance the underlying facts, hard facts! If you are familiar with Gombe politics, take a critical look at the scenarios, assess the formidable structure of the party, put into account the whirlwind of CHANGE that swept across even Benue and Plateau States, consider the heavyweight politicians in the APC fold, and then ponder how APC “lost” the governorship election in Gombe State? It is unimaginable. The facts are clear: APC won convincingly in the polls.
But as events unfold, it was understood that the ruling party in the state had rigged massively in some local government areas of the state. The desperation by the state governor to return to power at all cost with active connivance of the disgruntled elements in the APC fold made the rigging plans possible.
The APC in Gombe state however discovered a huge discrepancy in the votes captured by the INEC card reader and the results captured in Forms EC8A and EC8B. Some results also varied from the poling unit level to ward levels. The discrepancies are just numerous, just as the rigging machinery was heavy.
As a law-abiding party, we toed the ideal path of seeking redress. Surprisingly, however, the electoral umpire that should be neutral in the matter, is siding with the ruling party to justify the electoral heist at the tribunal. If I am not mistaken, the new INEC’s acting chairperson, Hajiya Amina Zakari, had said that the commission would not support any party that violates electoral laws during election. In a nutshell, the commission will not side with election riggers.
But it seems INEC in Gombe State is crying more than the bereaved. The officials are either inaccessible or uncooperative of APC, but cooperative and supportive of the PDP.
Even before our party secured order from the tribunal to have access to the materials, the commission frustrated our efforts. And after getting the order, INEC officials kept on sabotaging our efforts such that an obsolete photocopier was provided to photocopy the materials. In view of the bulkiness of the materials to be photocopied or scanned, and the constraint of time, the commission denied our party’s offer to provide enough and functional photocopiers and scanners in order to meet the deadline. Note also that APC had paid INEC the sum of N11 million as charges for processing of election materials but despite the payment of the “administrative charges”, the commission refused to give us cooperation.
Gombe INEC’s frustration of our efforts therefore compelled the tribunal to set aside our prayer seeking re-count of the ballot papers used for the 2015 governorship election and also present the result as part of the proceedings. In a simple term, the tribunal set aside an order directing INEC to produce the said ballot papers for a recount in the presence of all parties.
In a recent interview with journalists in Gombe, the secretary of APC in Gombe State Alhaji Sallau Manu Pindiga, confirmed that the electoral commission has ulterior motive in its refusal to be fair to all parties.
Corroborating the state party scribe’s position, APC’s counsel, Mr. Akintola noted that INEC Head of operations had said he was not authorised to produce the documents for verification, adding that his client paid over N11million to INEC to bring all relevant document.
The substitution of the two out of the three-man panel of judges in the tribunal at the crucial stanza of the trial is also giving the teeming members of our party a cause for complain and concern. The new panel seems to be on a mission to unwind earlier decisions of the tribunal.
For instance, the new panel recently dismissed and nullified the petition of the ADC candidate in the election, whose name and logo were excluded in most of the ballots, on the basis of the question over the competence of the petitioner’s counsel, Mr. Sam Kagbo. Chairman of the tribunal, Justice Mohammed Sirajo in his ruling upheld that based on the provision of Section 1 (2) and 24 of the Legal Practitioner’s act: “Only persons whose names are on the roll of legal practitioners can practice as barristers of solicitors in court”.
Although this simple technicality was trashed away by the previous tribunal judges, Justice Sirajo insisted the name “Sam Kagbo” as used by the petitioners’ counsel was not on the role of legal practitioners despite the fact that the counsel is widely known to use the short forms of his name in all his legal dealings and the fact that the petition was counter-signed by the party.
Those responsible for the substitution of the judges should have given reason for the decision, failing which our party would suspect a foul play.
*Lawanti, an APC stakeholder, wrote from Gombe