The chairman of the Oyo State Universal Basic Education Board (SUBEB), Dr. Nureni Adeniran, is a lawyer and the State Collation Officer of the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) in the March 9, 2019 governorship election in Oyo State. He speaks on the implications of the recent Court of Appeal judgment on the election, among other issues.
Recently, the Appeal Court gave a judgment on the Oyo State governorship election but some people have been saying that the judgment is confusing in that the election of Governor Seyi Makinde was upheld while the court also said the election petition tribunal verdict on the election was set aside because the opposition party was not given fair hearing. Based on this, members of the opposition party in the state are celebrating that they have a chance. You are the collation officer of the PDP in that election. What do you see to the development?
As far as I am concerned, I want to believe that the judgment, though some people are saying is controversial, it is straight forward. Unfortunately, people don’t know the difference between judgment against an election and pronouncement against the conduct of the Tribunal. The Appeal Court, in their wisdom, said that the appellants were not given fair hearing. But I have the opportunity of reading the judgment. When you go into the nitty-gritty of the judgment, you will realise that they were even given a fair hearing; the Tribunal listened to them. They listed about 60 witnesses. They called about 27 witnesses. In the process, they could not, with their witnesses and testimonies, establish their case. So, what the Appeal Court was saying was that some of the facts or some of the testimonies elicited through cross-examination were not evaluated. In other words, what they were saying is that the witnesses called by the respondents, may be they said something that was in support of what the appellants were saying and the Court of Appeal said that the Tribunal only evaluated the testimonies, witnesses and evidences of the appellant and not that of the respondents. And as a result of that, they believed that they were one-sided, asking ‘how can you evaluate the testimony of a particular party and you don’t do the other?’ Unfortunately, the burden of proof is on the appellants. They should prove their case. It is not for the respondents to help them establish their case. One cannot now imagine how few witnesses, may be in the process of their testimonies, were partly in support of what the appellants were saying. That, to me and other right-thinking persons, is not substantial enough to override over 150,000 votes.
Secondly, the Court of Appeal went further to say that in spite of that, they believed that the appellants were not given fair hearing. Therefore, they set aside the judgment of the tribunal, because the appellants were not given fair hearing. In a normal litigation, what would have been expected is to order for a retrial, if the appellate court discovered that fair hearing was not given to either of the parties. They would order retrial. But they have been caught up by effluxion of time, because election petition is sui generis. It is in a special class in which the Electoral Act clearly states that the issue concerning the election is to be handled by the Tribunal and it must be concluded within 180 days. And the 180 days have elapsed. That is why the Appeal Court said they could not order for a retrial. That shut them down. And they went further that they could not also nullify the election, because there is nothing on ground to use for them to nullify the election results. It is only when the election is nullified that they can either declare the appellant or order for a rerun. But the election cannot be nullified because there is nothing on ground to nullify it. And the appeal court, towards the end of their judgment, said that they even evaluated the evidence and had nothing to say; that the election could not be nullified. As far as I am concerned, it is a closed matter. I also want to remind you that in the Electoral Act, there are only four grounds on which an election can be nullified. The first ground is if the winner of the election was not qualified. The election can be nullified on the basis of non-qualification. The second is, if the winner of the election won not by lawful majority votes. It can be nullified. Also, the election can be nullified on the basis of corrupt practices. And the last ground is if the appellant has not been validly nominated, that he was unlawfully nominated. It is clearly stated in Section 138 of the Electoral Act. Without all these grounds, there is nothing available before court to justify nullification of the election results. That was why the Court of Appeal said that the ground they (APC) had was that they were not given fair hearing.
Many people don’t understand. The APC didn’t say they won the election. What the APC did was that they failed in establishing their own case and they were making attempt to use part of the testimonies of some of our witnesses to establish their own case. Unfortunately for them, I was a star witness at the tribunal and my testimony was very clear. There was nothing to suggest that there was unlawful deed or any malpractice during the election. Being the state collating agent for the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) and its governorship candidate in that election, every right-thinking person knows that the people of Oyo State came out in droves to reject the APC at the poll. It is not imaginable for somebody that won in five local government areas, as against someone that won in 28 local government areas, to say they are going to get it. And I am sure no court will attempt to do that. I am also using this opportunity to warn the Supreme Court as well as President Muhammadu Buhari to remember what happened in the First Republic in 1964. The Oyo State people have spoken and their voice was heard loud and clear. The Oyo State people are enjoying the dividends of democracy as being giving by the Seyi Makinde-led government. So, I don’t think anyone, even the Supreme Court, can see this and declare someone with only five local governments winner of an election. To declare a person winner of an election, he must be ascribed with votes. So, where is the vote? In the election, everybody knows that the people of Oyo State came out joyfully to vote against and resist APC. The election was peaceful and the violence that could have happened was perpetrated by the APC and the people resisted them. And there was no casualty. The election that was very peaceful, free and credible. Nobody should think he could use the back-door to get it. I also want to warn that we are not unaware that some people, because of their selfish ambition, want to pocket the entire South-West and they know the influence of Governor Makinde is being felt in the whole South-West. So, if someone is having a presidential ambition and he believes that because Oyo State is not an APC State, he must do everything to capture it, such person has failed. Oyo State is different from other states. Oyo State is not Kogi, Kano or Osun. What they did in those states and got away with cannot be done in Oyo State. They can’t get away with it here.
You were a witness in the court. What did the APC pray for at the Tribunal?
What they were saying was that in some places, there were over-voting, violence and so on. Admitting without conceding, even if all the areas were given to them as challenged, they still don’t have enough to verride over 157,000 votes difference. So, that is why I am amazed about how some people think. There is nothing in the petition to override the margin. In 2011, Abiola Ajimobi defeated the incumbent governor then, Chief Adebayo Alao-Akala, by just 33,000 votes. In 2015, Ajimobi won, though in a controversial manner, with 70,000 votes. If you add it, it is just about 103,000 votes. But here is an election won with 157,000 votes and the winner won in 28 local government areas out of the 33 in the state. I know nobody will attempt to set Nigeria ablaze on account of this kind of thing.
The APC and its governorship candidate have since been saying that they have a date with history at the Supreme Court. Does this not signify that there is something they are banking on?
They are banking on their fraudulent activities and fraudulent approaches to issues. In the first instance, some of them were expecting the Appeal Court to do abracadabra for them. But the court’s justices didn’t go where they wanted. The result of the election could not be tampered with. Maybe they are thinking that they would be able to manipulate the Supreme Court. That is why Nigerians are saying the Supreme Court justices should not allow themselves to be manipulated against the good people of Oyo State, because if they attempt it, the result will be unthinkable. I don’t mind if anybody says they want to give me Sowore treatment; I am here to say the truth. If they try any nonsense in Oyo State, it will be met with high level of resistance by the people.
I was at a radio station where I went to discuss this issue and people were calling in, saying ‘we voted for Seyi Makinde; if anybody attempts to do anything untoward, the wrath of God will be visited on them.’ So, you can’t run against the people. That is impossible. Everybody knew in APC that they had a bad day; they lost that election outright. They are only bad losers. They think they have some leadership that can buy over anything. They cannot buy over Oyo State. They cannot buy over the mandate that Oyo State people gave to PDP and Makinde.
Are you saying the pronouncement of the Appeal Court is a mere academic exercise to deepen legal knowledge?
It is an academic exercise, because they said they were not given fair hearing. Okay. How can a serious-minded litigant, having failed to establish his own case, be relying on the shortcomings of the witnesses of the respondents to establish his own case? The Tribunal was not wrong by saying ‘you have not been able to establish your case and with what you have brought to court, there is nothing to suggest that all you are asking will be given to you.’ That was on the basis that they dismissed the petition at the Tribunal. So, the judgment is not against the victory of Governor Makinde, rather it is against the conduct of the Tribunal. Good enough, they appealed and we also cross-appealed. Their own appeal is that since they said they were not given fair hearing; they should just declare them. On which ground will they be declared or get a rerun? And we are saying that the fair hearing they said they were not given is not true. They were given fair hearing. So, the essence of our appeal is that they were given fair hearing. Let the Supreme Court now determine if they were given fair hearing or not.
As the parties approach the Supreme Court, is there any reason to fear, especially against the background of the belief that the APC, being in control at the centre, could influence the judiciary?
As I said earlier, I don’t think that anybody who resides in a house would like to be responsible for setting it on fire, because the fire will consume him too. President Buhari became Head of State in 1984 and one of the reasons he gave for coming was that the 1983 election was massively rigged. And one will be wondering now that he is presiding over a process that is so falsified, so corrupt. Look at what happened in Kogi. Was that an election? There was a video on Facebook and Instagram where they were saying “them go hear ta ta ta,” meaning they would take over the place with guns, which was exactly what they did. If President Buhari is the president of Nigeria today, and he is presiding over the country and allowing those kinds of things to happen, those things he condemned when he was coming as military head of state; if he is allowing these, he didn’t have justification to overthrow Shehu Shagari’s government in 1983. It was not as bad as this. What I am saying is that the Supreme Court justices are Nigerians. They know what is happening. And the APC cannot take over everywhere.
In the case of Osun, for instance, the decision was affected by the fact that one of the Tribunal members who did not appear at a sitting read the judgment. As a lawyer, don’t you think technicality could be exploited against your party?
The court is not a Father Christmas; it does not give what you don’t ask for. Secondly, the court bases its pronouncements on facts available before it. The situation in Osun was quite different from this. One, the man was the incumbent. Two, they actually visited the scene at the Appeal Court on the litigant then, because he didn’t come. All that didn’t happen here. They have not said they won election. They have not said they have justification. All they said is that no fair hearing and no fair hearing does not mean they didn’t allow them to make their case. They presented their case and if your case is presented and you are not able to establish your case, you don’t rely on others to establish your case for you. Though, the rule allows that you can elicit evidence from the opposing party in a litigation to support your argument, but what I am saying is that one, even if that is done, will it be substantial enough to override the difference? Also, I know our justices too are people with intelligence. If somebody has lost an election in 28 local government areas and there was no large-scale violence; even if there are pockets of abnormalities here and there, will it be substantial enough to override the election? Don’t forget that the law also states clearly that there has to be substantial compliance. So, once the compliance is substantial, the sanctity of the election remains. What Oyo State people rejected; nobody can restore it through fraudulent means. And I know that the justices of the Supreme Court will not want to set Nigeria ablaze, because setting Nigeria ablaze is doing something untoward on this particular election result.