From Romanus Ugwu, Abuja

Among the eight disputed governorship elections appeal petitions the Supreme Court decided last week, that of Plateau, Zamfara and Kano states, were, perhaps the most shocking and unexpected to many Nigerians and particularly the chieftains, leaders, and members of the All Progressives Congress (APC).

From Kano to Plateau and then Zamfara states, the theatres of war where tension and apprehension built up to a fever-pitch, the verdicts were completely against the run of play for the APC, considering the expectations and previous judgments obtained at the lower courts and the enthusiastic mien of most of the party members.

As the news of the apex court verdicts on the Kano governorship election petition broke, that of Plateau and Zamfara states followed to compound the pains of the leaders, members, and chieftains of the ruling party.

Within hours, it became obvious that the outcome of the disputed governorship tickets mostly in the three states was a devastating loss to the ruling party, hitherto basking in high spirit for a favourable judgment.

The graveyard-like atmosphere at the headquarters of the ruling party in Abuja, which was completely deserted and devoid of the usual vehicular presence after the verdicts, practically depicted the gravity of the agony the judgment inflicted on the party and rested any further doubt on the disappointing mood of the members of the APC family.

The mood and anomie were expected because apart from concluding every logistic arrangement, including the alleged hiring of three private aircraft to convey dignitaries to Kano for the planned celebrations after a favourable judgment, APC was neck-to-neck, shoulder-to-shoulder with the other parties in all the affected states to muscle and wrest the contentious tickets.

In Kano, for example, the lower courts had ruled in favour of APC to take over from the incumbent governor, Abba Kabir Yusuf, candidate of the New Nigeria Peoples Party (NNPP), in Plateau and Zamfara states, APC was advantageously holding the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP), legally and practically, by the jugular.

In the consideration of many Nigerians, mostly political watchers, the unfavourable Supreme Court judgment painfully aborted the politics, lobbying, and networking which APC had perfected and waited for delivery in those three states last week Friday.

Before the delivery of what many Nigerians considered a landmark judgment, the political tension especially in the three states was becoming profoundly unbearable just as the country was practically hanging precariously on the balance and gasping for breath in expectation of what would be the outcome of the verdict.

It was so tense that different security agencies not only mobilised to the teeth and placed their personnel on red alert but also issued stern warnings on their readiness to deal decisively with any form of breach of security and public peace in the states involved.

But, to attest to the acceptability of the ruling, there was relative calm across the country after the judgment. The anticipated bloodshed was completely averted, and wild jubilation in the three states of Kano, Zamfara, and Plateau absolutely eclipsed the palpable anxiety and apprehension that hitherto pervaded the states.

It was a judgment that tested the resilience and patience of Nigerians; it was a judgment that confirmed the mantra of the judiciary being the last hope of the hopeless and a judgment that tested the integrity credentials of Nigeria before the international community.

In what appeared like an escalation of the anxiety and inkling of what to expect of the judgment, APC National Chairman, Abdullahi Ganduje had told newsmen at the party’s headquarters in Abuja on the eve of the judgment that the new target by the ruling party was to increase the number of National, State legislators, and governors on the platform of the party.

Hear him: “Our blueprint is to increase the number of legislators we have in the country. The number of governors we have in the country and by implication the number of members in the State House of Assemblies.  That is why we said APC will be active throughout the year.”

But, with the judgment, the blueprint, more or less, may have become only a pipe dream. In fact, to many political watchers and harshest critics of the party that usually frown at the gangster mentality of the APC, the Supreme Court judgment has not only decapitated the ruling party but has also clipped its wings to the point of demobilisation.

But, whether it was in the spirit of fair play or submission to the definitive might of the apex court, the national leadership of the ruling party has already accepted the verdict and even described it as a confirmation of a strong affirmation of the authority, vibrancy and independence of the judiciary.

APC, in a statement signed by its National Publicity Secretary, Felix Morka, noted that it has welcomed, with equanimity, the decisions on the election petitions challenging the outcome of the governorship elections in the eight states.

It, however, noted that the decisions must serve as a rebuke to political opposition figures that vilified and denigrated the courts whenever judgments were handed against them in these same matters.

The statement read: “Lagos, Ebonyi and Cross River states, the Supreme Court upheld the election of governorship candidates of our great party. However, the appeals on Kano, Zamfara, Bauchi, Plateau, and Abia states were decided in favour of other political parties and their candidates.

“While the apex court’s decisions will undoubtedly elicit mixed reactions and reviews, the decisions are final and binding on all parties to the legal contests. The decisions provide a strong affirmation of the authority, vibrancy, and independence of the judiciary.

“APC has been consistent in its position that the judiciary must be left alone to perform its important duty of resolving disputes, including electoral disputes as constitutionally mandated. “The decisions must serve as a rebuke to political opposition figures that vilified and denigrated our courts when judgments were handed against them in these same matters.”

While reacting further, the ruling party argued that; “Assuming that it has any spec of decency left, the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) must tender an unreserved apology to the courts and our judges for the senseless, irresponsible, reckless and unjustified attacks it mounted against the judiciary throughout this electoral cycle.”

Though hostile and favourable reactions have expectedly continued to trail the judgment, what should be of concern to many Nigerians should be the indifferent role President Bola Tinubu may have played in the entire legal process.

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A former member of the APC National Working Committee (NWC) who preferred anonymity told Daily Sun that President Tinubu deserved commendations even if he used the judgment, especially in Kano, Plateau, and Zamfara to curry favour from Nigerians.

According to him; “Truth be told, in a country like Nigeria where the President wields an overwhelming authority to influence the outcome of any election petition in court, President Tinubu would have swayed the outcome of these litigated governorship election petitions in those three states at the apex court.

“But, even if he did, he should be commended for standing on the side of the masses and gauging their body language and thoughts. However, beyond the President’s influence, the bad or fair judgment according to your side of the divide, certain factors like the turbocharged security concerns in some of the states, the security reports, and national interest generally, must have also influenced the judgment by the Supreme Court Judges. It is good that the leadership of my party has accepted the outcome of the legal battle.”

Equally appraising the Supreme Court judgment, particularly on the three states, a chieftain of the APC also told Daily Sun in confidence that anything, on the contrary, would have thrown the country into an avoidable turmoil that could have overwhelmed the security agencies.

“The judgment, particularly in the three states of Kano, Zamfara, and Plateau, would not have gone otherwise because of the visibly tense situation on ground in the states. In Kano State, for instance, the volcano was already getting to a disturbing eruptive level.

“Don’t forget that there have been series of protests and threats of impending violent clashes across the state since the Appeal Court ruled in favour of the APC. I feel that any attempt for the Supreme Court to rule against the NNPP would have escalated the situation there.

“Again, apart from the legal reference point to the appeal petitions already established at the apex court as pre-election matters, the Christmas killings in Plateau, which raised the security situation in the state, things would have deteriorated if the apex court had given the legal victory to the APC.

“The same reason concerning the security situation may not be different in the ruling on Zamfara State. Take for instance the delicate implication of the Supreme Court upholding the ruling at the Appeal court to conduct fresh elections in the three Local Government Areas (LGAs) due to the disturbing activities of banditry. I commend the apex court for considering all these delicate factors in their verdicts”, the party chieftain noted.

Reacting to the Supreme Court judgment, APC Deputy National Organising Secretary, Nze Chidi Duru, applauded the apex court and argued that the judgment has gone a long way to douse tension in the country.

Speaking at a press conference in Abuja shortly after the judgment, Duru said: “I applaud the judiciary for rising up to the occasion and espousing the law in a way that Nigerians are confident they can take their differences and grievances to an impartial arbiter and get justice dispensed in a way that is satisfactory to all parties involved.

“It is also commendable in a way because it did also suggest that if there is suspicion of any interference in the arm of government, the judgment and exposition on the part of the judiciary did show that they are essentially independent.”

On the takeaway from the apex court verdicts, Duru said that; “it gives confidence to both the political actors that the only way they can win election really and frankly is to reach out to the electorate; to canvass their views, ideas, and ideals, share manifestos with them and when they win, they win fair and square.

“I also want to believe that as time goes on and in the next election, the incentive to go to court, believing that somehow along the line you could use the back door channel to wrest an electoral victory you could not get through the ballot box, may become a disincentive for litigants and then candidates to go through the window of the judiciary to see if they can get a judgment.

“In my view, the judgment is a moment for Nigerians to be happy. I also believe that it has in a way doused tension in the country. It is not a matter of whether it is APC, PDP, Labour, or NNPP. The reality is that as we all know, another way or place to appeal is God, but as far as the institutions of man are concerned, the final arbiter has spoken in all elections that we were thrashed out on Friday and is essentially commendable.”

In their expected reactions, while the presidential candidate of the PDP, Atiku Abubakar, described the verdict of the apex court as; “good news” to the people of the states involved, and “indeed, a win for constitutional democracy”, his party, the PDP, tagged the judgment as a resounding victory for democracy and ultimate triumph of the expressed Will of the people.

“The reverberating jubilation across Bauchi, Plateau, Zamfara, and other states of the federation is a testimony that the judgments are in line with the expectation of Nigerians in their pursuit of justice, rule of law, and deepening of constitutional democracy in our country,” the statement signed by Debo Ologunagba, PDP National Publicity Secretary, read.

On his part, Atiku noted that the victory at the court reaffirms his position that only a united opposition force can strengthen democracy in Nigeria. “I am as prepared as ever to lead the charge, alongside all our leaders and governors, for the good of our country. Where justice is seen to have been substantially rendered, we, as patriots and citizens, will always applaud.

“The verdict of the Supreme Court means that there is a guaranteed continuation of the standards of good governance which the PDP has brought to the respective states,” Atiku noted in the statement he issued.

Already, the backlash from the judgment has started manifesting in some of the states. While some states like Kano and Zamfara have enjoyed an unlimited celebration, in Plateau, the crisis has hit the State House of Assembly as Speaker, Gabriel Dewan, has vowed not to recognise the 16 APC members reinstated by the Appeal Court verdict based on the ruling of the apex court that discredited the lower court verdict with the ruling on the governor.

The Appeal Court, which is the last point of jurisdiction for legislative appeals, had sacked 16 members elected under PDP because the party had no structure at the time they were nominated as candidates and, therefore, lacked the legitimacy to be sponsored by the party.

However, last Friday’s judgment of the Supreme Court that overruled the appellate court seems to have stoked a fresh political crisis in the state and emboldened the Speaker to state that he would not recognise the APC members who benefitted from the judgment.

Referencing the Supreme Court, Dewan told newsmen in Jos that the pronouncement of the highest court of the land had canceled the earlier position of the lower court, stressing that “as it stands now, only eight are recognised as members in the assembly.”

Regardless of the divide you belong, though the last may not have been heard about the apex court judgment especially as the ruling party will return to the drawing board, what may be incontrovertible however, is that it will stand the test of time in restoring the integrity of the apex court and by extension the independence of the judiciary as an arm of the government.