Taraba State In The Eye Of The Storm: An Outsider”s Perspective By Simon Peter
It is becoming increasingly clear that the judiciary which is the last hope of the common man is beginning to cast doubtful shadows following events in recent times where a ruling was made without due consideration to prayers sought.
The ruling by the electoral tribunal charged with handling the Taraba State electoral dispute puts a question mark as to whether it is possible to dispense justice dispassionately and in the general interest of the voter who is the grand arbiter that decides who should occupy a political office. The decision made by the tribunal will over many years be a referral point as to whether popular votes, technicalities or political control determine who becomes a governor, senator or even a local government chairman.
It is not in contention that the popular votes casts in Taraba State were in favour of PDP’s Darius Ishaku Dickson. However, the opposition party, the APC contended that the election was marred by malpractices in some parts of the state. As should be expected the outcome of the judgement should have centered on the areas concerned and if necessary elections repeated in those ares as stipulated in the Nigerian electoral act. But the ruling came with an unsolicited answer to no prayer at all. This appears to be out of tandem with the general norm and practice of a neutral judiciary whose sole duty is to interpret and uphold the law.
This deviation from the general practice of judiciary raises a lot of questions. If the judiciary decided that Darius Ishaku Dickson should relinquish the seat to Aisha Alhassan, it means that the popular votes counted and computed has been rubbished. It is worthy to note that the judgement in part said proper election were not conducted in the PDP fold thereby rendering Darius’ nomination and subsequent victory in the polls null and void.
If that is the case, were there no INEC officials at the nomination? If not,who issued him a certificate of return? Who included his name in the ballot paper? Who finally gave him a certificate ascertaining his victory at the poll? Even so why did INEC go the full length of re-conducting election in some areas of the state to ascertain the victor? All these questions are begging for answers. From all indications certain interests are at work and from all indications these interests are at work and from all indications these interest are not representatives of the people of Taraba State.
Another important aspect of the tribunal’s ruling that has raised eyebrows is the decision of the tribunal to enthrone Aisha Alhassan who clearly is not the winner of the election by any means, and is by no means constitutionally entrenched.
The electoral act is categoric about such cases. First is the fact that in a case where by a court or tribunal annuls, voids or nullifies an election for reasons of irregularities, the tribunal or court shall not make the runner-up the winner rather fresh elections should be called for. This fact makes it difficult for the lovers of the law and it’s protectors to understand how the tribunal arrived at its verdict that Aisha Alhassan wears the mantle of leadership when she does not have the mandate of even a simple majority, let alone the stringent constitutional provision that she must have scored 25% in not less than two thirds of the local governments that constitute the state. From all indications the tribunal seems to have digressed from its areas of jurisdiction to grey areas of pre-election matters that should be of no consequence to it. It would appear that by act or omission the tribunal has ladened itself with duties that go beyond its competence.
Where the tribunal has had its say, the court will have to finally decide what is right and what went wrong at the tribunal. From all indications the ruling of the tribunal will serve as a litmus test and will bring to light what the duties of a tribunal is supposed to be and its limits.
The Taraba issue is a precarious one because it borders on political social, ethnic and even religious dimensions. All these factors are not only germane in Taraba State but neighboring states and should therefore be handled with care. To avoid the escalation of conflicts in Taraba and communities beyond a wholistic approach should be made to address the needs of the feuding parties in a way that would represent the good of the common man in the state and in Nigeria as a whole.
It is worthy to note that immediately after the tribunal’s verdict, pockets of violence erupted in various parts of the state with religious coloration and ethnic jingoism. This led to the death of a number of people in Taraba. In Kaltungo in Gombe state traffic along Gombe-Yola road was blocked for about an hour. This goes a long way to prove that events in Taraba are not only localized to Taraba alone but goes beyond.
At this state of our development for desire for democratic values which represents the general good for our people, our number one duty as citizens is the constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria and all laws that derive their power from it.
Every single court decision is important. Every single tribunal’s decision is equally important as it is on these that we lay precedence which would serve as points of reference in future civil and criminal proceedings.
Yes, the law is an ass, but practitioners and those that live under the law are not asses. The time is now and all and sundry should be able to stand up for the law. We can’t all be right nor can we all be wrong,but in glaring terms the tribunal ruling in Taraba State when revisited by a court of law will be a landmark in deciding whether inconsequential legal technicalities can subject four million people under an unpopular government or allow them to live under a government voted in by the people for their own good. Which is what democracy is all about.
It not sensible for INEC to accept a candidate without verifying the constitutional processes that the courts are now siting for nullification of Darius’ victory at the polls even for the sake of the value of their certificate of return.