John Adams, Minna
Governor, Abubakar Sani Bello of Niger state, recently took the political atmosphere in the state by surprise when he defied the wishes of his party, the All Progressives Congress (APC) in the state to swear in Mallam Safiyanu Yahaya of the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) as the Chairman of Magama Local Government Council.
Governor Bello did not only approve the swearing in of the main opposition PDP candidate, Mallam Safiyanu Yahaya as the Chairman of the local government, he even personally presided over the 15 minutes brief ceremony at the Government House in Minna despite heavy protests from his party.
The governor’s action, according to a source in the Government House was in obedience to Minna High Court 5 ruling which quashed the election of Salihu Ubandoma of the All Progressives Congress (APC) as the elected Chairman of Magama local government in the November 30, 2019 local government election on the ground of pre-election offence.
The Court then declared Safiyanu Yahaya of the main opposition PDP as winner of the election and ordered the State Independent Electoral Commission (NSIEC) to withdraw the certificate of return issued to Salihu Ubandoma of APC forthwith and issue same to Safiyanu Yahaya of the PDP as the duly elected Council Chairman.
In compliance with the court verdict and failure of the embattled APC candidate to secure stay of execution from the appeal courts, Governor Bello as the leader of the party in the state directed that the PDP candidate be sworn in, in accordance to the decision of the court, saying that, “we must begin to respect the rule of law in this country”.
Before the swearing in, the state Chairman of APC, Jibrin Imam had asked the governor to resist any pressure to swear in the chairman on the ground that the party (APC) had appealed against the High court judgement.
The argument of the Chairman was that former chief executives have at one time or the other disobeyed court verdicts in a similar case and heaven did not fall, and therefore it should be business as usual.
Imam had in a press conference hours before the swearing in, disclosed that the case is already before the Appeal Court seeking a reversal of the judgement, saying that, “it will be counter productive and embarrassing to the party and current administration if the governor did anything contrary”.
But the governor had a contrary view, and to him, the rule of law must take precedence over any party consideration. He therefore ordered that the Chairman be sworn in, in obedience to the court decision “as Democracy is all about the rule of law”.
Through to his word, the governor at exactly 4:05pm, after about two hours of meeting with stakeholders, walked into the council chamber and took his seat as he watched Justice Salihu Alhassan Majidadi administer oaths of office and allegiance on the Chairman.
The entire ceremony lasted only 15 minutes and the governor, without uttering a word, immediately took his leave without a handshake with the newly sworn in Chairman which one of the protocol officers said was his avoidance of any contact as a result of the COVID 19.
This action by the governor has come to many as a surprise because according to political watchers in the state and in the country at large, this is a deviation from democratic traditions in the country since 1999 where a ruling party will manipulate the entire local election process to favour his party with full executive backing.
However, to many other political stakeholders and observers in the state, the action of the governor did not come as a surprise to them due to a number of reasons.
The governor said as a two-time beneficiary of court/tribunal judgements on the road to occupy the Niger State Government House, his decision therefore to respect the court verdict was not out of place, even though many who have enjoyed similar court judgements on their way to occupy the number one position in the past, decided to turn the other way.
Twice Mallam Yahaya’s mandate was challenged before the electoral tribunal, twice the tribunal gave him his mandate, hence it was understandable why the governor insisted that the rule of law must prevail.
Analysts argue that the body language of the governor before and during the election was enough to send some signals to the party executives that it will not be “business as usual”.
For instance, in the build up to the primaries of the party to elect candidates for the 25 chairmanship and 224 Councilorship seats for the November 30 local government polls, the governor resisted all attempts and pressures from individuals and the party to anoint any aspirant.
Governor Bello’s decision not to handpick anybody, and to allow a level playing ground for all the aspirants during the APC primaries’ elections, plunged the party into a monumental crisis with violence in almost all the local government areas in the state.
Like it was with the national headquarters of the party before the 2019 general elections, APC in the state witnessed the highest pre-election crisis in the history of local government elections in the state, all in an attempt by some party bigwigs to plant their candidates.
Hell was let loose and the center could not hold as violence rocked the party with a number of people killed and several others injured.
However, when the dust settles down, the party went into the November 30 election with 33 pre-election cases; 90 percent of them are either age fortifications or certificates’ forgery related, as acknowledged by the party Chairman while briefing newsmen in Minna on Monday on decision of the party over the swearing in of the PDP candidate as chairman of Magama local government.
In addition to this, during the council polls, the governor also came out to make his position known to all the candidates regardless of party affiliations that “people’s votes must count”.
Speaking during a stakeholders parley with all the candidates of his party (APC), the governor made it clear to them that he will not impose any candidate on the party, stressing that “the people must be allowed to make their choice. That is the only way that we can minimize electoral violence in the system”.
He equally warned all trouble makers in the state to shield their swords, as the government will not tolerate any act of political violence in the state, “simply because people want to elect their representatives”.
The governor urged the candidates and party to put their house in order ahead of the election to ensure total victory without any form of manipulation.
This declaration by the governor was taken by many as a mere political statement until when the governor lost his Central ward in Kontagora local government area to the opposition PDP and all attempts by the party to overturn the result in his (governor’s) favour was rejected by him, insisting that “if that is what the people want, so be it”.
Reacting to this uncommon display of obedience to the rule of law by the governor, the Chairman of Association of Local Government of Nigeria (ALGON), Niger State chapter, Alhaji Ibrahim Abubakar Bosso described the action of the governor as highly commendable, stressing that “it is high time we begin to respect the rule of law and build confidence in the electorate. We cannot continue to reinforce past anti-democratic behaviors.
“We, Chairmen of local government in the state sincerely commended the action of the governor and we respect his decision, because despite pressures from the party for him not to swear in the opposition candidate’s Chairman, he chose to obey the rule of law.
“The governor did what is right even though some governors in the past had disrespected court verdicts in a similar circumstances but we cannot continue to do the wrong thing as a people. We should begin to do things that will make people have confidence in our democracy and the rule of law.
“I strongly appealed to our leaders to emulate the governor and turn a new leaf. We should try to respect the rule of law in this country, the judiciary is the last hope of the common man and therefore we should not rubbish the judicial process”, he submitted.
Also speaking in similar vein, the state commissioner for local government, community development and chieftaincy affairs, Alhaji Abdulmalik Sarkin Daji advised the party executive not to see the action of the governor as a respect for the party, stressing that “the governor is merely respecting the court verdict”.
The commissioner pointed out that the governor just have to allow the swearing in of the Chairman for now, adding that “if by tomorrow the appeal court decides otherwise, the governor will not hesitate to swear in the party candidate.
“But for now, let us respect what the lower court says. There is no point heating the polity, the party should understand with the governor for his stance on this matter”, he insisted.
Speaking after the brief event, the newly sworn-in Chairman, Safiyanu Yahaya described Governor Sani Bello as a man of Justice who has demonstrated an absolute respect for the rule of law by acting in compliance with the directive of the Court.
He said despite belonging to another political party, the governor took the best decision by respecting the decision of the Court and swore him in as the duly elected Chairman of Magama local government.
He said the victory is for democracy and the people of Magama, stressing that “their will have finally prevailed.”