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One Party State: APC takes over Nigeria

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One Party State: APC takes over Nigeria

By OBINNA EZUGWU

Nigerian intellectuals have often argued that the country is a state under capture; run by a select few military generals, who prosecuted the civil war. But in the past six months, the Nigerian state has witnessed another form of more gripping capture under the ruling All Progressives Congress (APC) and the country’s new president, Bola Tinubu.

In an address in Abuja a few days ago, Dr. Salihu Lukman, former National Vice Chairman (North West) of the ruling party noted that the party itself was transforming into a “despotic organization” under the leadership of President Tinubu.

Indeed, in today’s Nigeria, there is an emerging consensus that democracy is collapsing, amid seemingly spirited attempt to stifle opposition by compromising the very institutions on which democracy is built and defended. Institutions, such as the judiciary, the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) under Professor Mahmood Yakubu, independent press and state security architecture, are rapidly collapsing, many have said.

Statements issued by such important national security outfits as the Department of State Service (DSS), are sometimes, hardly distinguishable from those of the ruling party, while the electoral umpire, going by recent court pronouncements, has been given the power to pick and choose winners and losers in elections without recourse to any laid down rules or guidelines.

“Our democracy is fast becoming a one-party system, and, of course, you know that when we have a one-party system, we should just forget about democracy,” Atiku Abubakar, former vice president and candidate of the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP), noted when he received a delegation from the national executive committee of the Inter-Party Advisory Council of Nigeria (IPAC) on Tuesday. “We have all seen how the APC is increasingly turning Nigeria into a dictatorship of one party.”

The PDP, which had largely remained a lame duck opposition since losing power to the APC in 2015, is presently facing existential crisis, with some of its key figures apparently determined to wreak it from within. Nyesom Wike, former governor of Rivers State, currently serves as minister of the FCT under the APC government, having determinedly worked against his own party in the last presidential election.

And for their own survival, serving governors of the main opposition party, notably Bala Mohammed of Bauchi and Douye Diri of Bayelsa, have been seen fraternising with Tinubu and the APC. But it’s indeed the gradual decimation of trust in strategic institutions like INEC and the judiciary that, many say, is most troubling.

“We are witnessing judiciary capture,” said Olumide Akpata, former president of the Nigerian Bar Association and member of the Labour Party at the International Bar Association conference in France last week. “There is a deliberate attempt on the part of a political party in Nigeria to capture the judiciary, and that has very grievous consequences for the rule of law in Nigeria. It is deliberate, it is intentional and it is achieving results for them.”

On Friday, the judiciary, which had come under scrutiny for giving shocking and contradictory judgments in post 2023 election petitions mostly in favour of the ruling party, performed yet another judicial acrobatics in sacking Abba Yusuf, the Kano State governor, for not being a registered member of his party, the New Nigeria People’s Party (NNPP), a pre-election matter, and declaring APC’s Nasir Yusuf Gawuna winner of the election.

“The appeal court sacked the Kano governor because he was disqualified pre-election,” tweeted Cheta Nwanze, a journalist and Lead Partner at SBM Intelligence. “There is a Supreme Court ruling that pre-election matters cannot overturn an election. Sooner or later, Nigeria will see a judge’s head explode in court, trying to jump hoops in precedents.”

The Kano State Governorship Election Petitions Tribunal had initially sacked Yusuf by declaring that 165,663 of his votes were invalid on the grounds that they were not signed or stamped by the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC).

The governor’s votes were then reduced to 853,939 while those of Gawuna remained at 890,705.

INEC would ideally defend its own declaration in court, no matter how flawed the process is, but curiously, on October 6, the Head of the Legal Department of INEC in Kano, Suleiman Alkali wrote a letter stating that the commission, which had declared Yusuf as the validly elected winner of the election, was no longer interested in defending its declaration.

Regardless, Yusuf had rejected the tribunal verdict, which he described as “unfair” and “a miscarriage of justice”, and headed to the appeal court.

However, a three-member panel of justices led by Justice Moore A. Adumein on Friday, sustained the verdict of the lower court, but this time deciding that the NNPP breached the constitution by sponsoring Yusuf, who was not a member of the party. The panel held that every political party shall maintain the register of its members as provided in Section 77 of the Electoral Act, 2022.

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But it’s a judgment that has continued to turn heads, given a number of precedents already set by the same court, most recently in validating the election of Tinubu, the vice president, Kashim Shettima, who was a senatorial candidate at the time he was nominated to be vice presidential candidate.

Indeed, the same Appeal Court, in dismissing the election of APC’s House of Representatives member, Musa Iliyasu Kwankwaso, and reinstating NNPP’s Yusuf Umar Datti as the validly elected member to represent Kano’s Kura/Madobi/Garun Malam Federal Constituency seat, said two weeks ago that “the issue of membership of a political party is an internal affair, which no court has jurisdiction on.” One court, similar cases, but different verdicts.

“I’m not getting this right: In the case of Tinubu vs Obi, the court ruled that candidate’s membership is a party affair,” noted Dr. Yakubu Sani Wudil, @yakubwudil, an assistant professor at King Fahd University of Petroleum and Minerals. “In the case of Abba vs Gawuna, the court ruled that it has jurisdiction to interfere in the candidate’s membership. Same country, same constitution, same court, same judges.”

Justice Haruna Simon Tsammani, chairman of the defunct Presidential Election Petitions Court (PEPC), which delivered the judgment in Obi and Atiku’s case against Tinubu, alongside 21 other justices of the Court of Appeal, has meanwhile been elevated to the Supreme Court of Nigeria.

Farooq Kperogi, a columnist and U.S-based professor of journalism, equally dismissed the Kano verdict in a piece at the weekend as “a predictable, premeditated, and carefully choreographed judicial charade,” noting that “it is apparent that former Kano governor and current APC national chairman Abdullahi Ganduje, has resolved to damn all consequences and use the federal might at his disposal to wrest the power that his party and his flunkey lost to Rabiu Kwankwaso and his son-in-law in the governorship election.”

The case will now proceed to the Supreme Court, which will deliver the final verdict, but already Ganduje is brewing with confidence.

“Probably, they will go to the Supreme Court, which is part of democracy. There is nothing wrong for them to go to the Supreme Court. We too, we are ready to meet them in Supreme Court. And Insha Allah, we will win at the Supreme Court as well,” the APC chairman said at press conference after the verdict on Friday.

Yet, it’s not just the judiciary, and it’s not just in Kano. Another drama is also playing out in Plateau State, where nearly all the PDP federal lawmakers have been sacked by the Appeal Court because the main opposition party failed to obey a subsisting order of the Plateau High Court delivered in 2022, which ordered the party to conduct a fresh congress in the 17 LGAs in the state. And the fate of the state governor, Caleb Mutfwang, now hangs in the balance, in what human rights lawyer, Professor Chidi Odinkalu said “appears to be a clear judicial design to overturn the will of the people and re-assign their mandate to candidates and parties for whom they did not vote.”

Prof. Odinkalu, while emphasising the enveloping decay in the electoral and judicial systems, noted that “according to actual cases decided by actual courts in Nigeria, you can undertake an election without candidates; administer an election without INEC; and produce winners without votes. That is not democracy. It is judicially-authored kleptocracy.”

 

INEC under capture?

 

In its conduct of the 2023 presidential election, INEC repudiated its own guidelines on measures it had promised to adopt to ensure credible outcome, particularly the electronic transmission of polling units results via its results viewing portal, IRev, which had given many people hope. It eventually resorted to the problematic manual collation, which the opposition insist gave room for what they believe was the manipulation of the election in favour of Tinubu.

The decision not to upload polling units results during the presidential election provided impetus for the brigandage that occurred in a number of states during the governorship elections that followed on March 18, further dampening confidence in the electoral umpire.

And while many reasoned that the umpire would use the November 11 off-cycle governorship elections in Kogi, Bayelsa and Imo states to redeem its image, the elections turned out to be much worse than the February and March polls, according to observers, such as Yiaga Africa and the Situation Room. The ruling APC retained Imo and Kogi states in what were highly controversial elections, while PDP’s incumbent Bayelsa governor, who was seen at the presidential villa days to the election, also retained his seat.

Unconfirmed reports had suggested that the Bayelsa governor was taken to the villa by Wike to see the president to be allowed to retain his seat. Bauchi governor, Mohammed, also had his election victory upheld by the Appeal Court on Friday.

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The off-cycle elections may have eroded the last vestige of confidence in the electoral umpire, which combined with judicial decisions, observers say, could have dire implications for elections going forward.

“After the 2023 elections and the fireworks at the Supreme Court, we now have a new electoral jurisprudence, which the Supreme Court has established by reconfiguring democracy,” said Solomon Dalong, former minister of youth and sports. “What the Supreme Court has said in its judgment is that elections in Nigeria is now down to INEC. You have to lobby INEC because even if they make bylaws regulating elections, they are at will to jettison them in midnight and declare anybody winner, and you can’t hold anybody accountable.”

Dalong said those seeking elective offices in the country should no longer waste resources campaigning for votes, but rather campaign in INEC offices and lobby Prof. Mahmood.

“I’ve been advising those, who are interested in running elections to campaign in INEC offices; try to befriend Prof. Mahmood because anything outside this, you won’t get justice,” he added.

The former minister’s skepticism, many would agree, is justified. But perhaps even worse, recent appointments into INEC suggests that a more audacious attempt may be afoot to turn the umpire into an appendage of the ruling APC.

President Tinubu had built a reputation for being a master strategist, who for the past 24 years, managed to hold Lagos down as his own political empire, deciding, insiders sources say, who becomes anything from councillors to governor and everything in between. While few people had raised concerns about him replicating his grip on Lagos at the national level, many thought Nigeria too complex and too diverse to be reduced to a single political actor’s fiefdom, but six months down the road, everyone is coming to terms with how easily institutions can be compromised, amid rapid slide of democracy, the enthronement of a one party state, which is often the precursor to authoritarianism.

To ensure the neutrality of the electoral umpire, Nigerian law prohibits the appointment of members of political parties as resident electoral commissioners (RECs), individuals, who coordinate INEC activities in different states, but Tinubu recently nominated, at least, RECs, who are known to have ties with him, and the APC or politicians in his government. All have since been confirmed by the Godswill Akpabio led senate.

Among them are Messrs Umoren, Shaka, Omoseyindemi and Onuoha. Mr Umoren is a member of the APC and a long-time ally of Akpabio, who served as the Chief of Staff at the Akwa Ibom State Government House, when the senate President governed the state between 2007 and 2014.

“At this point, APC believe they can do anything and get away with it,” noted Joseph Onuorah, @JosephOnuorah, a key figure in the Obedient movement. “NASS is pocketed. Judiciary is pocketed, INEC is pocketed. Security agencies are pocketed. In their sublime euphoric feeling of omnipotence lies the great fall.”

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