Following a front page report in Daily Trust of Friday, April 2, 2021, with the headline: APC EXTENDS REGISTRATION AS MATAWALLE SET TO JOIN PARTY,” this gives us the impetus to review the circumstance that led to the emergence of the present governor of Zamfara State and to unequivocally state the likely consequence of his intending action.
It is worthy of note that for any person to emerge as governor of a state in Nigeria, aside the court-ordered governor, the returning officers of an election, after collation of results, would announce to the public that “Mr K having pulled the highest number of vote cast in the gubernatorial election and having satisfy the law is hereby returned winner of the election.”
Curiously, that was not the case of the present governor of Zamfara State, Bello Matawalle. His situation is so pe- culiar as he was returned by the judgment of the Supreme Court in suit: SC/377/2019 wherein the Supreme Court declared that the All Progressives Congress (APC), which the governor is allegedly proposing to join, did not hold a valid primary election and, in turn, sacked all the candidates put forward by the APC.
For this reason, all candidates put forward by the APC were invalidated by the judgment of the Supreme Court, including their governorship candidate at the time.
The Supreme Court held that the APC could not have won any election in Zamfara, including the post for the governor of Zamfara State. The judgement of the Supreme Court meant that Matawalle, candidate of the PDP, who polled the second highest number of votes in the election, was declared winner by the Supreme Court; since APC had failed to fulfill the combined provisions of Section 177(c) of the 1999 Constitution, as amended, and section 31 of the Electoral Act.
Section 177 ( c) stipulates that for a candidate to contest for election he must be a member of a political party and must be sponsored by that political party. Section 31 of the Electoral Act also ensures that political parties must conduct primary election and the person who wins the primary election is sponsored by the political party to participate in the general election. This situation was absent in Zamfara state in the last election for APC thereby robbing them the opportunity to hold any political position in Zamfara State.
The Supreme Court sacked all the APC seats won during the 2019 general election not just for fun but for the purpose of keeping to the tenet of the law.
The proposed intention of Governor Matawalle to defect right now would undermine the decision of the Supreme Court which he has benefited from. He must be seen to ensure the complete satisfaction of the judgment rather than frolicking with judicial pronouncements or trying to castrate the order of the apex court.
Interestingly, Governor Matawalle benefitted from the judgment of the Supreme Court as he was the candidate that was second in the poll, during the last general election held in 2019. Having enjoyed the benefit of the judgment, he must not be seen to invalidate the judgment by his action or his proposed intention to join the APC that the Supreme Court had already sacked from occupying any political post in Zamfara for a period of four years.
The Learned Justice of the Apex court, Justice Paul Adamu Galumje, JSC, did not mince his words when he declared as follows: “For avoidance of doubt, a party that has no candidate in an election cannot be declared the winner of the election. This being so, the votes credited to the alleged candidates of the 1st appellant in the 2019 general election in Zamfara are wasted votes; for that reason it is hereby ordered that candidates of parties other than the 1st appellant with the highest votes and the required spread stand elected into the various offices that were contested for in Zamfara State in the 2019 general election.”
The compelling question judging from above is why would Governor Matawalle want to invalidate and castrate the judgment by defecting from his political party, the PDP, to the APC, which the Supreme Court had sacked for a period of four years?
It is also worthy to note that Section 180 of the 1999 Constitution, as amended, settled the tenure of office of the governor and puts it at a four-year fixed term. What it means is that for the period of 2019 to 2023, Governor Matawalle and any other candidate that occupies the sacked seats of APC candidates must remain there with their party affiliation till the end of that tenure.
It, therefore, follows that any at- tempt by the Zamfara governor to defect from the PDP to APC will not only be contemptuous of the judgment of the Supreme Court which gave the PDP the seat, but, it would also mean that he resigned from the seat for the next in line, according to the provisions of the Constitution, which, in this case, is the Deputy Governor.
It is clear that, by the decision of the Supreme Court, the APC is forbidden from seating in any of the contested seats during the last general election. Therefore, any attempt of the governor to circumvent the judgment of the Supreme Court of the land by defecting to APC is contemptuous and the implication may be bizarre.
In summary, the proposed action of Governor Matawalle could result in at least four grievous consequences:
1. It would be seen as gravely contemptuous and a way of frustrating and castrating the apt judgment of the Su- preme Court in Suit SC.377/2019;
2. It would most likely lead to Governor Matawalle losing his office and, go- ing by the provisions of Section 191(1) of 1999 Constitution as amended, the office becomes that of the deputy governor should he remain with the PDP. However, should Governor Matawalle defect together with his deputy, then, in line with Section 191(3), the office passes to the Speaker of the House of Assembly;
3.Any attempt by the governor of Zamfara State, with his other colleagues, to defect from the PDP to the APC will not only be contemptuous of the judgment of the Supreme Court but will also mean that he resigned from the seat for a by-election to be conducted;
4. Also, as a party that has invalidated and castrated the judgment of the Apex Court which made him governor, Matawalle could be made to refund all the benefits he has enjoyed on the basis of this judgment, which he is now seeking to invalidate.
It is strongly advised that, in order for the Zamfara State governor not to open a potential can of worms through his actions, it is best that he remains with the PDP in compliance with the judgment of the Supreme Court in Suit SC.377/2019.
•Otitoju, PhD, writes from Abuja