Court of Appeal judgment on Kano election bungled integrity of judiciary – NNPP scribe

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In this interview, the National Secretary of the New Nigeria Peoples Party, Oladipupo Olayokun, speaks on the Supreme Court judgment on the Kano State governorship election petition. He said the Court of Appeal judgment on the Kano governorship election bungled the integrity of the judiciary. Excerpts:

The Kano State governorship legal tussle has been settled when the Supreme Court ruled in favour of your party, the New Nigeria Peoples Party. What is your perspective about it?

Yes, as regards the issue of Kano State, we thank the judiciary; we thank God, and we thank Nigerians. We thank the people from the international community for what eventually played out at the Supreme Court. The trauma was uncalled for, and it was unnecessary; the trauma in the sense that you went out into the field, selling your party and your candidates to the electorate. The electorate, in their wisdom, accepted your party. The results were announced, and the loser of the election accepted the result and congratulated the winner. Only for people surrounding the loser to go to court, and then given all the evidence provided, you see the court derailing, so to speak. And as if it was a mistake at the first layer, the second layer of the court also derailed.

We felt threatened by what God gave to us, some people somewhere wanted to snatch it through the back door. But thank God, the Supreme Court rose to the occasion and came to the rescue of the Nigerian judiciary and the Nigerian democracy.

Without mincing words, it was very glaring that some people wanted to snatch Kano by all means.

In the 2023 general elections, there were five polls in all the states, including Abuja, except eight states where we had what they call off-season elections.

The five polls are the presidential election, the senatorial election, and the House of Representatives, making three on the same day, February 25. Then you have the governorship election, and the House of Assembly election on March 18.

Now, let us take Kano State for example. In all the elections, the NNPP roundly defeated the APC. The presidential candidate of the NNPP, Senator Rabiu Musa Kwankwaso defeated the current President of Nigeria, Asiwaju Bola Tinubu by a wide margin. I am talking of Kano State. On the same day, in the senatorial election, there were three senatorial seats. The NNPP took two; the APC took one in very shady circumstances. Everybody knows it in Kano. For the House of Representatives election, out of 24, the NNPP got 18, the APC had six.

Then you fast-forward to March 18 when we had the governorship election and the House of Assembly election.

In the governorship election, the NNPP defeated the APC candidate.

Immediately after the election, the governorship candidate of the APC, Nasiru Gawuna, congratulated the candidate of the NNPP, Abba Yusuf, for a well-deserved victory, only for the APC, about one month later, to go to court, and in the matter before the tribunal, the candidate of the APC was not joined. Then all the matters went normal. However, on the day when the tribunal would give their ruling, they said they would not go to Kano State. They gave the judgment through what they call zoom.

“Justice Enyang Okoro, JSC, made it very clear that the lower court bungled the integrity of the judiciary”

Was your party against the delivery of judgment through zoom?

Nobody was against that because we are now in the era of technology, but people became suspicious because there were insinuations that ‘this is where they sat down to deliver the judgment’, and nobody could fault whoever had any feelings because nobody knew exactly where they delivered the judgment.

We took the judgment and said, ‘Okay, there’s another level of an appeal’, which was the Appeal Court. Don’t forget that the APC hinged its problem on the election or attacked the election on two fronts. One is that there were ballot papers that were not stamped or carry the signature of an INEC official. Two, that Abba Kabir Yusuf, the Governor of Kano State today, was not a member of the NNPP at the time he contested the election. Those were the two fronts.

The tribunal agreed with them. We don’t have any problem; we decided to go to appeal. I remember that on the day the lawyers were in the court, that is the Court of Appeal to adopt their written submission which they submitted earlier to the justices of the Appeal Court, the chairman of the Court of Appeal said they were under pressure, and the senior members of the bar in court on that day should pray for them so that they will be able to withstand the pressure.

They prayed for them, and they left, only for them to say they were going to do their judgment on a Friday. We went there. In the judgment, they said they agreed with the lower court, tribunal, no problem. We accepted the judgment. It was given on a Friday. And we told them we were going to appeal this judgment. Friday, Saturday, Sunday, Monday, Tuesday, five days gone, and we had only 14 days to appeal the judgment and you know, to appeal, you have a lot of documents you will have to assemble based on the judgment of the Court of Appeal. We became agitated when the judgment Certified True Copy was not forthcoming. We went into the field; and started talking; shouting, calling on Nigerians to please help us to beg the Court of Appeal to release the CTC to us.

How did your party eventually get a copy of the CTC?

They were stampeded into giving the CTC on Tuesday. Lo and behold, the copy of the Certified True Copy they gave to us, on the final page, which is the concluding part of any judgment, which carries the real judgment, says they have given the judgment in favour of our party. They even set aside the judgment of the lower court and awarded a cost of N1 million in our favour against the APC. Everybody was aghast; what happened? You know the outrage that followed it.

They now said it was a clerical error. That was a very serious dent in the image of the judiciary. If you could call a whole page of a judgment; not a sentence, not one word, a clerical error, Nigerians said definitely, something was fishy. It was not out of place for anybody to conclude that there was a judgment already prepared before another judgment was brought to them.

Unfortunately, in the process of cleanup, you know God is a God of justice. It would be assumed that they didn’t clean up properly. They said, ‘Oh, it was a mistake’. We said, ‘Okay, no problem’. There’s another window for us to get to redress. So, that was how we now decided to go to the Supreme Court. And the judgment of the Supreme Court was very clear. It vindicated the stand of those people who believed that something went wrong at the two layers of the judiciary, either at the tribunal or at the Court of Appeal, because the person who read the lead judgment at the Court of Appeal, Justice Enyang Okoro, JSC, made it very clear that the lower court bungled the integrity of the judiciary.

It shows the incompetence or let me use the finesse of those two people, either the chairman of the panel at the Court of Appeal or the registrar for them to have released a CTC which ran contrary to what they read to the court and the world.

Of what significance is this victory to your party because you have just Kano State, two senators in the National Assembly, and some elected members in the House of Representatives?

This victory is very significant to our party because the election in Nigeria is a struggle. When you struggle to get a victory in an election, it will count.

Just like the INEC counsel told the Supreme Court that they should avoid a very dangerous precedent when people will lose elections in the field and come to court to grab it, snatch it, and run with it, using the language of the APC. That is a very dangerous trend, and the Supreme Court should not be an accomplice. So, the significance is that for Nigerian voters, for Nigerian politicians, you know that you can struggle to get an election result, and then the thing will stand.

Then, this is a morale booster for our party. Also, what the APC and the judiciary did to our party at the lower level made the NNPP to be more popular. People are now focusing on Kano State.

I make bold to say that in the next three years, Kano State will be a reference point for any governor. So, the secret is that in the next three years, we are going to use Kano State to spread our tentacle across Nigeria.

You have seen the good, bad, and ugly side of the Nigerian judiciary. Do you still have confidence in that arm of government?

We do. That’s why any time we lost in court, what we told our people was to remain calm. We believe that the shenanigan will not pass through the Supreme Court. We are so sure because we know that by the time you get to the Supreme Court, what else do they want? What can they threaten them with?

We knew that there was no pressure they could mount on the Supreme Court, and we told our members to stay calm and that this matter would not pass the Supreme Court. That was why on the day of the judgment, our governor was there because we knew that the Supreme Court would not play into these shenanigans.

Some say some of these loopholes were created by INEC considering how the 2023 election went. In your view, what do you think INEC needs to do to perfect future elections?

I have always said it because I have taken part in elections, maybe at the level of an association and then at the level of a party. It would be uncharitable if we lay all the blame for the election on INEC.

I think INEC carries less than 20 percent of the blame. I think the blame should rather go to the politicians and indeed Nigerians. So, it is not INEC. I am not saying INEC is not culpable. I am not absorbing INEC. What I am saying is that INEC carries less than 20 percent of the blame.

What is your party’s plan to ensure that Nigerians buy into its vision and mission and see the NNPP as their own?

It is very unfortunate the way the last election went. We had every good reason to go to the tribunal because our expectations were very high.

I make bold to say that it was only Senator Rabiu Musa Kwankwaso who visited more people, asking for votes more than any other candidate. This man visited about 600 local governments personally. It was not that he would go to one state capital to organise a jamboree called a rally.

He visited local government areas by road. The people saw him face-to-face. He felt the pulse of the people. There’s always a blessing in every disappointment. What we experienced in Kano State, I must tell you, has catapulted the NNPP into the consciousness of a whole lot of Nigerians. So, to that extent and then what we are doing now, immediately after the election, we started what we call restructuring; we will continue with our restructuring to make sure that we get Nigerians to know more about the NNPP ahead of 2027.

But your party appears divided. How do you intend to handle that?

Yeah, it is difficult for a big party to have what you call relative peace. It’s just like what is called a storm in a teacup. Some years back, the NNPP was a small party. But we thank God that in the past one and a half years or two years when Senator Kwankwaso came in, the image of the party blossomed, and when you have a party growing day by day, a lot of interest will come in. There will be contending forces, struggling for this, struggling for that.

As I told you, after the election, we discovered that many of our members worked against the party not because they were callous but because they considered their economic interests above every other thing. We discovered that many of them were transactional chairmen.

Then as a serious party that wants to look into the future, we said, ‘No, let us stay in this party and rebuild it towards 2027’. So, you cannot rebuild the party by still harbouring those transactional chairmen. When we concluded that we must do it, we started the restructuring; some of the chairmen who felt that they had removed their pot of soup from their hands decided to come together and said they had formed a faction. We cautioned them and told them that they could only have a faction when there were members of a political party breaking into two.

But when you have some people who have been expelled or suspended coming together to say they have formed a faction, you can’t call that a faction because they have lost every right that accrued to them as members. But in politics, there is no permanent enemy, and there is no permanent friend. What we consider is interest. You can fight today and come back tomorrow in the interest of the party. So, the windows are still there for the party to reconcile. But we need to purge ourselves of some of the things that we were doing in the past. This is now a serious and united party.

Talking about 2027, there is so much talk about coalition, especially among the opposition parties. Has the NNPP been contacted?

Anytime we open the television or radio, we hear people talking about the NNPP coming to join them because I am the National Secretary of the NNPP today, and I can’t remember any day we went to a meeting where we discussed the merger of political parties. Yes, about a month ago or a little about that, there were stories in the newspapers that about six, or seven political parties were coming together to form a coalition; but it is not about 2027. Immediately after the tribunal judgment and the Court of Appeal judgment, the parties in the opposition discovered that there was a grand design by the ruling party to snatch some of the states they lost through the ballot box through the court. So, we decided to come together. That was the only coalition we formed. It wasn’t a coalition against the president of the ruling party ahead of 2027 as they say. Maybe that will come later, but as of today, that was the only thing that brought the political parties together, and we thank God that reason prevailed.

If contacted, will your party be willing to work with the likes of Atiku in the PDP, and Peter Obi in the Labour Party?

No, the NNPP does not believe in opposition. We believe in what we call constructive partnership. Elections are gone; governance is the in-thing now. To us, any party we are going to work with, even with the APC, because if the APC is failing as they are failing, that is if they have not failed, the brunt is going to be on every Nigerian.

As a political party, we cannot open our eyes and allow Nigerians to suffer. If the APC and Tinubu fail, then all of us, the political parties, fail Nigerians. So, we must cooperate with the government, engage in constructive criticism, and provide alternatives when the need arises in the interest of Nigerians.

Do we allow them to fail and Nigerians will be suffering? You go to the market and see what Nigerians are going through. So, we must cooperate with the government. We (the NNPP) will work with anybody and even the party in government to make sure that at least with the remaining three and half years for them, they don’t subject Nigerians to suffering. We will offer advice; if they like, let them take it. If they like, let them but we will not fold our arms. So, everybody must cooperate with the government in power in the interest of the country.

“The President should have known that the moment you take petrol from N195 to N650, it is going to have repercussions”

This current administration has spent almost eight months. How would you assess President Bola Tinubu’s administration?

They have to change direction. Maybe the President needs to overhaul his pool of advisers, and maybe there is a need for him to listen more to his advisers. You go out there, tell Nigerians, compare their lives before May 29, and now, you will hear tales of woes. The President should have known that the moment you take petrol from N195 to N650, it is going to have repercussions. You don’t need any economic experience to tell you that. It is not something you do with arrogance. ‘I will remove it. You can protest from now till tomorrow, I won’t change it.’ Is that how you run the government? You have to consider the plight of the people and the consequences of your actions.

So, the government needs to change direction. They need to change focus. Government is not about arrogance. There should be compassion because we are ruling over the people. This government is acting as if, ‘Oh, you people didn’t vote for me, I will punish you’. That is what it is presenting to Nigerians. We pray that they will listen. They still have about three and a half years to redress the situation. We pray they will listen because the essence of government is security and welfare. In all these, they have failed woefully because the point is that in the past six months, you ask yourself, is the government engaged in governance? They are not.

Instead, they are politicking, preparing for 2027. There is insecurity everywhere. To me, I don’t blame the security agencies if there are any lapses. Rather if they are failing and the failure is due to their incompetence, I would think the person who employed them only five months ago should be blamed because it was expected that you would have done your due diligence.

There have been many mind-boggling revelations about alleged corrupt practices under President Tinubu’s administration. Do you think this administration has what it will take to manage Nigeria’s resources?

That’s a very broad one because when you look at President Bola Tinubu’s antecedent, by his training, I mean education, his experience, where he’s coming from. He was once a chartered accountant with Mobil, a former governor. I don’t think we should be in doubt whether he has what it takes to deliver. But Nigeria is not Lagos State. Nigeria is a bigger entity that has various diversities, and you need to underline these diversities because some diversities can be positive. Unfortunately, Nigeria’s diversity, because of the way we carry ourselves, more often than not, is to the negative.

So, if you look at all these things, I think if the President came with the mindset that Nigeria is Lagos or Lagos is Nigeria, I think he is going to have problems. If he manages Nigeria the way he managed Lagos, he will run into problems. Unfortunately, if you look at his appointments, I am a Yoruba man; they are mainly Lagos ‘boys’. And you don’t run a country as diverse as Nigeria in that kind of manner.

In the area of corruption, what I think the President should do is let them do a thorough investigation that will know exactly what happened. It’s not only for the benefit of Nigerians, but it is also for the benefit of his image because if after he spends four years or he spends eight years and they want to refer to his government, nobody will mention the ministers, nobody will mention the heads of agencies; they will mention Tinubu’s administration.

What is your advice to Nigerians out there about your party?

We just want Nigerians to keep an eye on our party and Kano State because we pledged to them for the reason that Nigeria fought for the NNPP in Kano State. Anywhere the government of the NNPP is derailing in Kano State, they should not hesitate to point it out because we owe them that obligation to work for Nigerians. I can assure Nigerians that they will see Kano as a model of governance by 2027 and they will support our party.