Newly Inaugurated Plateau Lawmakers And Matters Arising

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BY DR GOLU TIMOTHY

It’s quite unfortunate what happened that has painfully brought us to where we are today. If nothing had happened from the beginning, the Plateau State House of Assembly would have been at ease and at peace with itself and all accusations and counter-accusations would not have arisen. If the Court of Appeal had not tried to set a weird and dangerous precedent in our democracy, the crisis in the state assembly would have been needless. It took the intervention of the Supreme Court to save democracy on the Plateau, even though some were bruised and became casualties at the lower court.

A man who goes to equity must go with clean hands, but that was not the case with the All Progressives Congress (APC) on the Plateau, The party went to court with issues that were exclusively the internal affairs of another party and, surprisingly, got judgement in its favour. The immorality behind this is the death of 16 PDP state legislators, five members in the House of Representatives and two senators who were thrown out of the red chamber of the National Assembly. Why should people who won elections be robbed of their victories and thrown out on flimsy technical grounds, especially when those technical issues are hinged on party internal affairs?

The Supreme Court later did justice to the whole matter by saving the office of the governor. If the governorship litigations were to end at the Court of Appeal, certainly a dangerous precedent would have been created and elections would no longer be interesting anymore. Politicians would just pick forms and wait at the Appeal Court based on ‘whom we know’ and that will be the end. But thank God for the Apex Court that saved democracy by reversing what the Court of Appeal did in Plateau. The apex court had queried the APC interest in what was purely an internal affair of the PDP, describing the party as a meddlesome interloper. Why was the Apc prognosing itself in the affairs of the PDP after it lost the elections? Their grouse was not that they won the seats and were denied, but that the PDP was not qualified to field candidates in the same elections they were contesting. What a lazy act of cowardice! Even though many believed there is no morality in law, certainly there should be sense in it. You cannot be imposed by the Court of Appeal and begin to look down on democracy itself by seeking to dictate what happened in governance.

Most of the APC legislators did not hide their intentions when they openly declared that they would impeach the validly elected Governor Caleb Mutfwang once they were sworn in, just because of the window provided for them by the Court of Appeal. If the hunter has learned to shoot without missing, certainly the bird must learn to fly without perching. If that was their mission, then it was a very wrong one. The PDP was not afraid of such threats because it was dead on arrival, but the distractions it will cause to the governance process. You can imagine what would have happened to the ongoing performance of the 10-month-old Mutfwang administration. The issue of not being inaugurated as at when due had nothing to do with the state governor and government as it was due to the litigation of the 13 Labour Party (LP) legislators who went to court to challenge their exclusion by the Independent National Electoral Commission (NEC) before the election. No one seems bothered about their case, not even the columnists and public commentators whose sole interest was just the protection of the APC in the state. The APC propaganda was so vehement and overwhelming that the entire nation almost bought in their falsehood. That added weight to their issues until the Supreme Court intervened.

The LP went back to court, while all attention was on the Appeal Court tribunal and in the process of seeking to enforce the judgement of the Federal High Court, obtained an injunction that restrained the Speaker from swearing in the 16 new legislators. The LP candidates are still in court pursuing their matter and only God knows where and how it will end. Aside this, the 16 PDP legislators sacked by the CA are also in court seeking the interpretation and implication of the 12th January SC judgement which held very loudly that the judgement of the CA was fraudulent and perverse. The apex court also declared emphatically that the state high courts which caused the problem in the first place had no jurisdiction over the matter and that the CA tribunal also lacked the jurisdiction to entertain pre-election matters.  With the final court making this pronouncement, it behooves the Court of Appeal to have reviewed itself and revised its judgement on the 16 sacked members by returning them to office. Instead, the court angrily dismissed their suit and fined the legal representative of the litigants. Now, the swearing in of the nine legislators was a stakeholder intervention applying a political solution to the whole matter. This is because of the concern to have a full legislative house and not because the government wants to subjugate the due process of law.

Political solutions are known principles in a democracy, especially when complex situations like this arise. This is not unmindful of the fact that both the LP and the sacked 16 PDP candidates are still at different courts of the land. It’s a matter of time and protocol that the remaining seven will also be sworn in. Many public commentators and political analysts don’t really understand the issues surrounding the crisis in the Plateau State House of assembly. Commentators choose what to believe, depending on which side of the partisan divide they find themselves. What many fail to understand is the fundamental error of judgement inherent in the issues which started at the state high court and culminated at the Supreme Court. No one is making reference to the error of judgement of the Plateau High Court in creating the problem in the first instance, but beneficiaries of the error of judgement are only interested in what the Appeal Court said being the final Court of Appeal for both state and federal legislative litigations. The Appeal Court had sacked not only the 16 state lawmakers, but also five House of Representatives and two senators were sacked in a judgement nationally believed to be flawed even by many members of opposition parties. The court hinged its position on the misleading judgment of the state high court which said the PDP in Plateau state had no structure to sponsor any candidate in any election.

The technical manipulations at the lower court, aided by the immediate past APC government in the state were pushed to the Appeal Court which also held that the PDP had no executive leadership to midwife an electoral transition by sponsoring candidates to vie for positions under its platform.  The conflicting verdicts of the Court of Appeal judgements at the tribunal when the two panels deployed to the state to attend to the litigations delivered two separate judgements was another dimension to the legal misnomer. One panel agreed with the PDP that there was a solid structure, following a repeat state congress that was held in September 2021 after the state high court nullified the earlier congresses, while the second panel blindly insisted that the party had no elected leadership. The judgement of the Appeal Court finally nullified the valid elections of the state and federal legislators of the PDP and also that of the governorship. But because the governorship litigation ended at the Supreme Court, the Apex Court descended heavily on the Court of Appeal describing the judgements of the lower court as perverse and fraudulent.

The Apex Court deeply sympathized and joined in mourning the untimely demise of the PDP state and federal legislators and went ahead to loudly affirm the governorship election. The court lambasted the state high court for lacking jurisdiction in the whole matter and for creating the crisis that resulted in the present debacle. No wonder, no one from the state high court has come out to say a word on the matter. Politics and democracy are not assumptions. They are physical games played by human actors guided by rules and regulations, both moral and legal. And because the games involve human beings (flesh and blood) emotions must be expressed. If not for the spirit of democracy, it was better imagined than described, the reaction of the PDP as a party towards the judgement of the court of appeal. The APC folks did not go to court because they won the polls. Their position was that the PDP guys were not qualified to contest the election. Their pre-election concern, which was supported by the Appeal Court, was that the PDP should be disqualified because of the absence of a structure.

It will be unfair for anyone to seek to give full support towards the controversial jurisprudence of the 16 victorious APC legislators who were helped by the appellate court against the Supreme Court finality which addressed the fundamental issues. The Governor has done well to create a seamless bridge between the executive arm which he presides and the legislature which he can only advise. To accuse Governor Mutfwang of conspiracy in any way is to demonstrate crippling ignorance of political permutations needed for understanding the dialectics of politics. Such cannot be said to be a display of pride. The Plateau situation can never be compared with the happenings in Rivers State. No one in his right senses can say the governor is afraid of the APC legislators who were roundly defeated in the first place.

If anyone is saluting the victory of democracy in a manner of the Plateau Apc legislators, then much is left to be seen of the much talked about integrity of the electoral process. It is instructive to note that whatever the Speaker, Dewan and the 8-plus, the 9 do are characteristics of legislative machinations obtained across all civilised parliaments which is not peculiar to Plateau. Admitting that some APC lawmakers broke ranks in a conspiratorial manner tells of the unique politics conversant with legislators in legislatures.

Dr Golu is Special Adviser on Strategic Communications To Plateau State Governor

 

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