Of The Tambuwals, The Issues And The Supreme Court Judgement

By Abdallah el-Kurebe 

It is about Governor Aminu Waziri Tambuwal and Senator Umar Dahiru Tambuwal. Both are from Tambuwal town in Tambuwal local government of Sokoto State; both are lawyers by profession and politicians; both were at the National Assembly, the former as a member of House of Representatives and Speaker and the later as a Senator and Senate Committee Chairman on Judiciary. Both were known to be friendly and worked for the development of the state.

Both came closer when former governor Aliyu Magatakarda Wamakko’s protracted legal battle seemed to consume his seat as governor, then. They worked assiduously to ensure that Wamakko won the battle by spear-heading the fight in unison with other National Assembly members from Sokoto state. The Wamakko/Dahiru romance was said to be so deep in which case the Senator was viewed as the likely successor to Wamakko. It was then viewed as Wamakko’s reciprocal gesture, with the Senator having worked on his connections with the judiciary to rescue Wamakko from the legal hurricane.

This writer gathered that Dahiru, not taken in by the country’s political hocus-pocus, had a heart-to-heart discussion with Tambuwal as to whether he was interested in contesting the governorship seat of the state. On three occasions, the governor was said to have affirmed to Dahiru that he was not. “Senator Dahiru contacted the governor on three occasions to ask him if he was interested in the contest and on each occasions, he told Dahiru that he would not,” a staunch member of the All Progressive Congress (APC) told me. Comfortably settled that he would not have to face an opposition, at least from the former Speaker, Dahiru began his ground works.

Dahiru and all other National Assembly members except Senator Ahmed Maccido, Rt. Hon. Tambuwal and Hon. Umar Bature had defected to the APC along with former governor Wamakko. However, Tambuwal’s late defection to the APC on October 28, 2014 changed the ball-game. Tambuwal changed his stance of not contesting the governorship seat. Dahiru viewed that as a “political hypocrisy that should not happen between us.” Dahiru could not be tamed not to contest the primary election with Tambuwal. According to him, he preferred losing the primaries than be cowed to bow to simple political cowardice. This gave birth to the political hullabaloo, which in turn resulted in the current legal juggernaut.

The December 4, 2014 APC party primaries was to be the stepping stone for the legal juggernaut between Dahiru and Tambuwal. For Dahiru the entire processes in the conduct of the primaries in which Tambuwal was declared winner with over 3,000 votes, were marred with irregularities and since the party both at state and national levels failed to address his complaints, he approached the Federal High Court (FHC) in Abuja. He told the FHC that provisions of the 2010 Electoral Act and the electoral guidelines of the APC as they affected the governorship primary in Sokoto state were breached in favour of Tambuwal.

Among Dahiru’s allegations was that the APC National Secretariat’s approved list of delegates were substituted with a boogie list, which was used for the conduct of the primaries in December 2014; that local and state government officials worked openly for Tambuwal in the primary that violated the APC guidelines as if affects secret balloting; that Tambuwal’s name was written on ballot papers, which were issued to delegates, freely and that non-delegates were also given chance to vote at the primaries. Dahiru told me in an interview that the governorship election committee that came to monitor the primaries from the APC national headquarters of the APC, was not allowed to listen to complaints lodged by him.

Discontented with what he terms as “injustice”, Dahiru went to the Federal High Court to challenge the primary election that led to the nomination and sponsorship of Aminu Waziri Tambuwal by the APC to contest the Sokoto State Governorship election held on April 11, 2015. He sued the All Progressive Congress (APC), the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) and Rt. Hon. Aminu Waziri Tambuwal who were Defendants in Suit No. FHC/ABJ/CS/11/2015 filed on January 27, 2015. Barrister Abubakar Sanyinna, who also contested the governorship primaries, was joined as second Plaintiff. 

In an originating summons, Dahiru posed the following questions for determination by the trial court: “(a) whether the procedure for the nomination and/or sponsorship of candidates for elective offices recognized by the Electoral Act 2010 and the Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria 1999, is within the exclusive domain of Section 87 of the Electoral Act 2010 (as amended); (b) whether the conduct of the Governorship Primaries of the 1st Defendant conducted on the 4th of December 2014 was not grossly in non-compliance with the provisions of Section 87 of the Electoral Act 2010, the APC 2014 Guidelines for the Nomination of Candidates for Public Offices and therefore unlawful, illegal, null and void.

“(c) whether in the circumstances of this case, the Plaintiffs are not entitled to relief having exhausted internal party mechanism to redress the non-compliance with the Electoral Act 2010 (as amended), APC 2014 Guidelines for the Nomination of Public Offices and the Constitution of the Republic of Nigeria, 1999 (as amended); whether it is lawful for the 3rd Defendant to act on a candidate nominated by the 1st Defendant for the purpose of the general elections when such a candidate was elected in violation of the Electoral Act, 2010, and the electoral guidelines established by the 1st Defendant.”

In the same vein, Dahiru sought court’s declarations that the procedure for nomination/sponsorship of candidates falls within Section 87 of the Electoral Act 2010 and APC Guidelines; that the conduct of the governorship primaries was grossly in non-compliance with the section of the Electoral Act and APC Guidance; the Plaintiffs were entitled to relief having exhausted internal party mechanism to address non-compliance with the Act and Guidelines; that it was unlawful for the 3rd Defendant (Governor Tambuwal) to act on a candidate since he was elected in violation of the electoral guidelines put in place by the APC; among other declarations.

Tambuwal challenged the jurisdiction of the Federal High Court Abuja because elections were conducted and he had won. He contended that Dahiru’s case had become an “academic exercise.” The FHC however overruled the preliminary objections raised by the APC, INEC and Tambuwal, and held that it had jurisdiction to hear and determine Dahiru’s cause of action. The court also considered on May 26, 2015 that “The issue is simple and straight forward, and that the conduct of election, does it extinguish the right of the Plaintiff to the action. My obvious answer will be in the negative. So the mere fact that election took place does not extinguish the right of an aggrieved party to the suit. On this my proposition of the law, I will place reliance on the case of GWEDE VS INEC & 3 OTHERS (2014) LPELR 23763 SC.”

Disappointed by the ruling of the Federal High Court, the APC, INEC and Tambuwal appealed against the ruling of the FHC to the Appeal Court and the Appellate Court on December 21, 2015 found merit in the appeal and agreed that the suit by Dahiru had become an academic exercise because Tambuwal had been elected as governor on April 11, 2015. “…In conclusion, this Court has jurisdiction to entertain this appeal on substitution of a candidate for an election which is a pre-election matter. This application lacks merit and it is hereby dismissed,” the Appeal Court held.

  1. Also dissatisfied by the Appeal Court, Dahiru and Sanyinna approached the Supreme Court to determine whether the matter had actually become an academic exercise and whether courts, including the Supreme Court, lack the jurisdiction of determining hypothetical and academic issues. The Supreme Court observed that “The real issue in controversy between the parties is not whether the trial court lacks the jurisdiction to hear and determine appellants’ cause of action but whether the jurisdiction as conferred under section 87 (9) of the Electoral Act 2010 as amended has become academic in other words needless, empty and incapable of being enforced with the conduct of the Sokoto State gubernatorial election on 11th April, 2015.”

Though the Supreme Court affirms Justice Abdu Aboki’s lead judgement in ADEOGUN VS FASHOGBON & OTHERS (supra), it found in the Abuja Appeal Court’s decision on this matter, an “intriguing and a manifest somersault,” especially when the same Aboki is the presiding judge. The superior court observed that the action of the Appeal Court was responsible to the public’s negative perception of the judiciary. “With such a visibly unpardonable refusal to be bound by the decision of this Court on a similar legislation, the negative perception the public has of the judicial process cannot be said to be without basis. The public is entitled, in the face of this brazen disobedience to the authority of the apex court, to conclude that the judiciary is compromised,” the Apex Court lamented.

In his judgement, Justice Musa M. Dattijo stated that for the Supreme Court to allow the Appeal Court’s perverse decision was to enthrone judicial impertinence. The Supreme Court set aside the judgment of the Appeal Court and ordered a retrial of the substantive case by the Federal High Court. “Accordingly, I find merit in the appeal and set aside the lower court’s judgement. The matter is hereby remitted to the trial court for same to be heard and determined expeditiously,” he stated.

Commenting on the Supreme Court judgement and Tambuwal’s preparedness for the retrial at the Federal High Court, Attorney General and Commissioner for Justice, Barrister Suleiman Usman said in an interview with this writer that since the main case was halted by preliminary objection, the Supreme ordered that the case be trait on its merit.

“Any discerning mind, any right-thinking person that watched the way the primary was conducted in a transparent, fair manner will know that there is no real likelihood or chances of success of that case. At the end of the day, it could be dismissed for lack of merit. This is because primaries were conducted in a fair atmosphere and he was roundly defeated. From the over 4,000 votes cast at the election, he did not win up to 50 votes.

Assuming but not conceding that the court decides the matter and, and for the fact that he did not get up to 40 of the 4,000 votes cast, is it possible for him to be declared as the winner of that primary election and the person that ought to be presented as the candidate of that party? The answer is no. So, even if the case is retried there is no real likelihood of his succeeding in the matter. However, we are set for the retrial. Our lawyers are up to the task.”

On the whole, as the Federal High Court acts on the order of the Supreme Court to retry and determine the matter based on its merit, the burden of proof now lies on the palms of Senator Dahiru. He must not only provide valid but also admissible evidence to prove that the Electoral Act 2010 (as amended), APC 2014 Guidelines for the Nomination of Public Offices and the Constitution of the Republic of Nigeria, 1999 (as amended) were not complied with during the primaries by the defendants.

On the other hand, Tambuwal must be ready to defend himself by proving that his election as APC’s governorship candidate of Sokoto state was qualified by the essential provisions of the Electoral Act 2010 (as amended), APC 2014 Guidelines for the Nomination of Public Offices and the Constitution of the Republic of Nigeria, 1999 (as amended). Until then, it is apprehension and excitement as to which way the case would go – Governor Tambuwal’s or Senator Tambuwal’s?