One month after the governorship election in Kogi State, it appears that the dust is yet to settle over the outcome of the election. It will be recalled that the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) declared the candidate of the All Progressives Congress (APC) Ahmed Usman Ododo as the winner of the governorship election in Kogi state ahead of his closest challenger and candidate of the Social Democratic Party (SDP), Murtala Yakubu Ajaka.
Ordinarily, that declaration should have settled the matter but given the nature of political contestations in Nigeria and the rancorous acrimony that characterised the largely ethnicised governorship election in Kogi state, it is safe to assume that those who lost the election would need more than time to get over the pain of defeat. Political gladiators and their parties may have now shifted their battle to the courtroom beginning with the Election Petitions Tribunal sitting in Lokoja which is the court of first instance in this case.
The decision of the SDP governorship candidate, Murtala Yakubu Ajaka, to file a petition before the Kogi State Governorship Election Petitions Tribunal (whether that was within the constitutionaly allowed timeframe is a different matter) should be applauded as it is far better than resorting to self-help given all the controversies arising from the election.
The SDP candidate appeared on live television while the electoral process was yet to be concluded to declare that he was not going to challenge the outcome of the November 11 governorship election in court thus conceding defeat in the contest ab initio.
However, in a volte-face characteristic of a man lacking in honour and self esteem, Murtala Ajaka suddenly announced that he was headed to the Kogi State Governorship Election Petitions Tribunal. Bouyed by a group of ethnic champions and chauvinistic lawyers masquerading as members of Civil Society Organisations, the SDP candidate embarked on his judicial expedition which is well within his rights as a party in the governorship election.
Since the Election Petitions Tribunal began sitting in Lokoja before it was reportedly relocated to Abuja, there were several provocations by political actors that are far from desirable especially among citizens genuinely concerned about the peace and stability of Kogi state. Amidts claims and counter-claims by members of the APC and the SDP over procedures and processes leading to the filing of election petition at the tribunal, there were heated exchanges by party supporters prompting interventions by law enforcement agents.
Given the highly charged political atmosphere before, during and after the governorship election, one would expect all parties including the judiciary to exercise absolute caution in dealing with any piece of material deemed consequential in the electoral process.
However, it thus appears that some of the major actors, in more than one instance, may have thrown caution to the winds with the manner they went about handling the processes of the petition itself.
While the SDP’s approach to challenging the victory of the APC at the tribunal is suspect, the position of some elements in the judiciary has fallen far short of their status as independent adjudicators or representatives of parties in the process.
One of the litigants whose position has been heavily compromised is Barrister Jibrin Okutepa, a Senior Advocate of Nigeria, whose call on the federal government to intervene in a matter purportedly before the court is not only unbecoming of a senior lawyer but completely partisan, extra-judicial and crassly divisive.
His line of argument which is outlandish and sensational apart from feeding the spectre of ethnic jingoism that has taken over politics in the state, is a pretext to what the SDP’s lawyer, who has never hidden his disdain for the prevailing unity, peace and progress of Kogi State, is seeking to be the outcome of the court process. With his vituperations, it is clear that Mr. Okutepa wants the people of Kogi state to go to war over an election that has been won and lost.
Perhaps more despicable is the position of the secretary of the Election Petitions Tribunal, Mr. David Mike Umar whose infamous role has raised doubts over the entire process of the election petition by the SDP and the good intention of the election petitions tribunal. His dodgy and grossly unprofessional conduct is a text book reference in judicial corruption in Nigeria.
How do you explain that the Secretary of the tribunal became so partisan, aggressively compromised and compulsively egoistic that he decended so low to receive an election petition from a political party in his hotel room?
How will the petition he claimed to have received by 8.30 in the morning of the 1st of December, 2023 again in his hotel room, still be in the car of tribunal’s Secretary at the time he claimed he was attacked around 4.30 in the evening of the 3rd of December, 2023?
How does a petition that should be submitted through the court registry be found in the car of the tribunal’s Secretary as alleged by him in his statement to law enforcement agencies?
How could the tribunal’s Secretary be the one to be heading to the court on the 3rd of December, 2023 purportedly to submit the petition to the court registry on behalf of the SDP and three other political parties as alleged by him?
Who are the persons responsible for filing petitions of the three other political parties whose petitions the tribunal’s Secreatry allegedly also received?
Why is Mr Okutepa desperately defending the tribunal for which he is not a member and why is this partisan lawyer daring to create tension in one of Nigeria’s most peaceful states?
Nigerians and the international community should take note of the sinister plot by corrupt elements in the judiciary like David Mike Umar, the Secretary of the Kogi State Governorship Election Petitions Tribunal and his cohorts in the SDP to set Kogi State on fire in their nefarious attempt to push through the petition of the SDP allegedly filed out of time on the 4th of December,2023 and for which notice is yet to be served on any of the parties named as respondents as at today.
Isa Ismail, a concerned citizen of Kogi State writes from Lokoja