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2023 Nigeria Decides

Why Eyes Are On The Judiciary In Plateau

By Emmanuel Aziken



judiciary plateau

Senator Napoleon Bali was so livid on television last Tuesday, a day after the Plateau State National Assembly Election Petition Tribunal annulled his election as he vowed that he had upon the decision resolved to go to law school.

A retired two-star air force general, Bali said he could not understand the motivations of the tribunal in deciding the case against him despite what he claimed as his electoral supremacy during the February 25 election and the provisions of the Electoral Act.

Senator Bali’s election was particularly remarkable. His main challenger was the immediate past governor of the state, Rt. Hon. Simon Lalong. Even more, Lalong was the director-general of the APC Presidential Campaign Committee.

His defeat in the election was resounding as Bali, a political neophyte went home with 148,844 votes to the 91,674 votes garnered by Lalong.

The outcome of the election for Lalong was a riposte to the fate that befell the penultimate president of the Senate, Senator Bukola Saraki in 2019. Saraki was all about the country in 2019 mobilising and strategizing for the PDP presidential candidate as the campaign director-general when he lost his Kwara Central Senate seat to a political neophyte. Even more, he lost the state that had been his political backyard to the APC.

However, the difference between Saraki and Lalong stops there. Eight years of uninspiring governance on the plateau helped to seal Lalong’s fate and the loss to the political neophyte, Bali.

Lalong who happened to become governor through the political foolery of the penultimate governor, Jonah Jang lost his senate bid and two weeks later, the APC-controlled state in the governorship election.

It is indeed remarkable that after some initial setbacks with the new state administration taking decisive measures in restoring confidence, especially through its agricultural empowerment policies, that the prospects for peace on the plateau are indeed returning.

However, concern for Plateau State rose again this week after the eruptions from what was supposed to be the temple of justice. Pronouncements from the two National Assembly tribunals have left many people like Bali bewildered as to the principles of law being applied. This has in turn raised tension in the state and concern about a possible descent into anarchy.

It is for this reason that Bali told a bewildered Dr. Rueben Abati during his appearance on Arise News Morning Show programme that he was preparing to go to law school.

Like in many other states, tribunals to adjudicate on petitions that arose from the February 25, 2023 election were constituted for Plateau State. In the case of Plateau, two tribunals were constituted to adjudicate on the National Assembly cases.

One of the tribunals is led by Justice William Olamide and the other by Justice Mohammed Tukur. In the last week, the two panels who are sitting in the same building appeared to be walking along different paths bringing questions as to whether they are using different sets of rules.

What has drawn attention are the judgments of the Tukur-led panel which has sacked about 15 persons elected on the platform of the PDP on the basis of what it claims as lack of structure.

According to the APC which has benefited from most of the judgments, the judgments delivered by the Tukur tribunal simply meant that the PDP does not officially exist and as such could not have produced candidates to contest elections.

It is based on this premise that the APC has won all the cases that were brought against the PDP in the Tukur panel.

Meanwhile, the Justice Olamide panel has discountenanced the solicitations of the APC and dismissed the cases on the premise that the PDP validly elected its candidates.

At the centre of the confusion is the crisis that predated the emergence of the present state executive of the PDP with Chris Hassan as chairman. It would be recalled that the party had been split into two main tendencies loyal to Senator Jerry Useni and the other to Senator Jonah Jang.

Different Tales From Plateau National Assembly Tribunal

Indeed, the pre-election disputes within the PDP led a Federal High Court to order the party to repeat its congresses which all stakeholders participated in leading to the emergence of Hassan as chairman in February 2022. Since then there has been no dispute in the PDP with all tendencies united in a common home.

Remarkably, the report of the Independent National Electoral Commission, INEC on the court-ordered repeat congresses has been tendered before the two panels.

While the Olamide panel has taken cognisance of the INEC compliance report and thence, of the Hassan-led executive, the Tukur panel has rubbished the same, leading to further questions as to the motif of the Tukur panel.

That motif has been also brought to bear by the precedent ruled by the Supreme Court and recently applied by the Presidential Election Petition Court, PEPC in dismissing the APM’s questions on Vice President Kashim Shettima’s nomination as presidential running mate. The PEPC ruled that the nomination of Shettima was a pre-election matter that could not be brought to the election tribunal. Even more, it queried the capacity of the APM to question the nomination of the APC’s candidate upon the judicial pronouncement of the Supreme Court that non-members of a political party, nay, persons who did not partake in the primaries that produced a candidate cannot even challenge the process.

It is based on these judicial pronouncements from higher courts that insinuations are being read into the decisions being taken by the Tukur panel in Jos.

For a state that has suffered years of anomie, it is no surprise that the insinuations about a script to return Plateau to the dungeons are now being talked about.

Indeed it is on account of these contentious judgments that all eyes are now on the Tukur Panel.

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