All candidates of the governing All Progressives Congress (APC) in Zamfara State who emerged winners in the just concluded general elections, including the state governor and senator-elect, Abdul Aziz Yari, may lose their victory to their rivals.
This is sequel to yesterday’s ruling of the Court of Appeal, Sokoto Division, which set aside the judgement delivered by the Zamfara High Court allowing the party to field candidates in the 2019 general elections.
The appeal was filed by Sen Kabiru Marafa, Chairman of the Senate Committee on Petroleum (Downstream) and 129 others through his counsel, Mr Mike Ozheokome , SAN.
Respondents are Kabiru Liman-Danalhaji and 139 others represented by Mr Mahmud Magaji, SAN, as lead counsel.
We reported that the ruling party had swept all contested positions, from the governorship to seats in the national and state legislature in the February 23 and March 9 general elections. But by this judgement, the party’s candidates were not supposed to stand for the election in the first instance.
Delivering the lead judgment, which was adopted by two other justices, Tijjani Abubakar and Jamilu Tukur, Justice Tom Yakubu held that the lower court failed in its duty to properly evaluate the evidence before it.
Yakubu said judges had the legal power to produce judgement and reach decisions with reason, noting that in the instant case it was not done.
“I am convinced that the lower court has failed to evaluate the evidence before reaching the decision. The Appeal Court has power in law to access pieces of evidence on appeal, which we have done.
”Based on available facts, the respondents did not contradict the INEC evidence on conducting the said primary election,” Yakubu said.
According to the presiding judge, “documented evidence has upper consideration than oral ones.”
Justice Yakubu held that the plaintiffs, being card carrying party members and aspirants in the said primary election, had legal capacity to institute the suit, even as he asserted that federal, states and FCT high courts had jurisdiction to entertain such a matter.
The judges agreed that the judgement should serve as a “bitter lesson” for political parties which fail to follow legitimate guidelines and rules.
“Domestic affairs of political party activities must be in line with the law and leaders must act within such confines in dealing with party members and elections,” the judges said.
Recalls that a Zamfara State High Court had, on the eve of the general election, recognised the primary election that produced governorship, state and National Assembly candidates held by the APC in the state and directed INEC to accept the party’s candidates for the elections.
Meanwhile, a federal high court in Abuja had earlier voided the said APC Primaries.
But unsatisfied with State High Court decision, the appellants approached the appeal court and challenged the decision on the grounds that the State High Court lacked jurisdiction to entertain the suit, among others.
It was gathered that a similar case was instituted before the same appeal court by Rep. Aminu Jaji, a governorship aspirant and member of the House of Representatives for Kaura Namoda/Birnin Magaji Federal Constituency. The suit was dismissed after Jaji withdrew from the race.
Expectedly, the Court of Appeal judgement nullifying the APC primary election has generated mixed reactions amongst the political stakeholders in Zamfara State.
The decision of the appellate court to set aside the state high court verdict caused jubilations in some quarters, while for some politicians, it is confusion and anxiety.
In his reaction, the Zamfara State governor, Abdul Aziz Yari urged the teeming supporters of APC to remain peaceful.
Speaking through his spokesperson, Ibrahim Dosara, Governor Yari said“We appeal to all the law abiding members of the APC and indeed all the citizenry of Zamfara State, including members of all political parties to remain calm and law abiding,” he said.
Yari debunked the rumours on social media platforms that the Court of Appeal Sokoto Division had nullified the party’s elections, saying it is not true.
“Those circulating the rumours are doing so to cause mayhem in our state just to satisfy the ego of their masters,” he said, adding that they had been doing so to mislead the public.
According to Yari, what the appellate court did was to set aside the judgement of the Zamfara State High Court on the ground of ‘examination of proofs of evidence’ and that has nothing to do with APC elections.
“The Court has not in anyway tampered with our elections, as only a tribunal has the right to listen to issues arising from election matters.
“Again, the Court of Appeal, Sokoto Division, has not in any way tampered with the processes of the primary elections. It only faulted the examination of the proofs of evidence,” he stated.
He further noted that the processes of filing the appeal were done after the expiration of the period within which to do so.
But on his part, another chieftain of the APC, Sen Kabiru Marafa, described the judgement as victory for democracy.
According to him, the judiciary remains the last hope of the common man where wrongs could be corrected.
“Today’s verdict was a clear testimony that judiciary is working judiciously without fear or favour”, he said.
Senator Marafa’s position was corroborated by a civil society organisation in Zamfara State, Northern Youths Assembly, NYA.
NYA chairman, Comrade Manir Haidara, in a statement issued in Gusau, Zamfara State yesterday, said the outcome of the court was a clear indication that the court was the backbone of democracy.
“We are really in democracy where rule of law ought to be respected and adhered to by all lovers of democracy,” he said, adding that the judiciary is where aggrieved persons can turn to, to seek justice.
Haidara, however, urged political stakeholders in the state to remain calm and respect the court verdict.
Some senior lawyers, shortly after the court ruling, said that in the eyes of the law no primary election took place in APC in Zamfara State.
Ahmed Raji, a senior advocate of Nigeria, however, noted that only the tribunal could pronounce on the outcome of the general elections.
“The implication of the judgement is that the Zamfara APC never conducted any primary election. The primary election did not exist.
“But INEC lacks the power to recall the certificate of return. It is only the tribunal that can recall the certificate of return issued to the winner”, Raji said.
Another senior advocate, Chief Mike Ozekhome, said the primary election in Zamfara could not have stood because it was wrongly conducted.
Ozekhome said, “If the foundation is removed, the building will collapse. They had no right to conduct the election.“
An Abuja-based lawyer, Nasir Umaru, said the judgement of the court must be obeyed in line with the rule of law.
According to him, no one should sympathise with politicians because they are simply reaping the reward of their impunity.
“Until the court uses one of them as example for others, politicians and political parties will not sit up,” he said.