Writing about the situation in Taraba today reminds one about what happened to Rome many, many years ago. It all started in the night of July 18, 64 AD, when fire broke out in the merchant area of the city state. Fanned by summer winds, the flames quickly spread through the dry, wooden structures of the Imperial City. Soon the fire took on a life of its own consuming all in its path for six days and seven nights. When the conflagration finally ran its course, it left 70 percent of the city in smoldering ruins.
Rumors soon arose accusing the Emperor Nero of ordering the torching of the city. It was also added for effect that the Emperor was seen standing on the summit of his palace playing his lyre as flames devoured the world around him. The veracity of this rumour is very much in doubt. Still, the popular picture of Nero even today is that of an unfeeling leader who entertained himself with music while his city state swooned in inferno.
Today, Taraba is sitting on a time bomb. This state is called “Nature’s Gift to the Nation” because it is rich in human and natural resources. It has many ethnic groups, including Jenjo, Kuteb, Chamba, Mumuyes, Mambila, Wurkums, Fulanis, Jukun, Ichen, Tiv, Kaka, Hausa and Ndola. A striking historical fact about the State is that it encompasses part of the Mambilla Region which is famed as the Bantu cradle, having been occupied for some five millennia to date. A large portion of the state, the former Sardauna Province, was also incorporated into Nigeria in 1962; two years after Nigeria became an independent nation in 1960.
It is mandatory for a commentator on current happenings in the state to take into consideration these historical complexities. These are further aggravated by the fact that Taraba is located in the North East zone that is currently wracked by the Boko Haram insurgency. This is one state that needs to be treated with caution.
The Taraba election tribunal appeared to have thrown this caution to the wind when it nullified the election of Architect Darius Dickson Ishaku as governor of the State and in an unprecedented judgment declared the All Progressives Congress candidate, Senator Aisha Jummai Alhassan, who polled the second highest votes as the winner of the election.
The tribunal equally directed the Independent National Electoral Commission to withdraw the certificate of return issued to Ishaku and swear in Alhassan, as the duly elected governor of the state.
Hajiya Aisha had approached the tribunal giving grounds for which she felt Mr. Darius Ishaku was not qualified to be declared winner of the election into the office of governor in Taraba State held on April 11, 2015. She complained that Darius Ishaku did not qualify to contest the election because he did not meet the constitutional requirement of being sponsored by a political party and that the elections in some local governments of the state were marred by corrupt practices. She thus wanted to be declared winner of the elections or fresh elections held.
As a politician seeking political office, that declaration made Hajiya Aisha happy. But as a trained lawyer, I know that deep in her heart of hearts, she knows that the tribunal erred. Evidently, section 140 (1) and (2) of the Electoral Act, 2010 (as amended) provides that if a candidate is not qualified for an election, then an order should be given for a fresh election to be held.
There is no provision in the law to declare that the victory of one candidate should be donated to another candidate for alleged non-qualification. But the tribunal ruled that Darius Ishaku who got the majority of votes was not a candidate at the election and the votes cast for him were wasted. In the opinion of the Tribunal, Darius was not qualified to be a candidate because his party the Peoples Democratic Party, PDP did not validly return him after primaries.
What makes the decision of the Taraba State Tribunal most bizarre is that Darius was not only very qualified to contest the election, he contested and won. He was nominated and his name forwarded to the Independent National Electoral Commission INEC as required by law and was declared as a candidate of the PDP by the electoral body. When the first round of election was declared inconclusive, he was declared by the same INEC as the candidate of the same party by the same INEC for the run off which was held on the April 25 in the 13 disputed local governments. At the end of it all he was declared the winner.
In fact, even Aisha the petitioner deposed in her petition before the same tribunal that Darius was sponsored by the PDP.
On the vexed issue of primaries which the tribunal hinged its final judgment on, there was evidence before the tribunal to show that the PDP had notified the electoral body of its primaries which was scheduled to be held in Jalingo and when this was later suspended, INEC was also informed, when the primaries were held in Abuja due to the security situation in Jalingo, the name of Darius was forwarded to it as the candidate of the PDP.
If Darius was not the candidate of the PDP, where did the INEC get his name to put him on the ticket, not once but twice in the gubernatorial elections, it conducted in Taraba this year? In any case, there is no provision in the law to say that INEC must supervise the primaries of a political party before they are accepted as valid.
Ironically, too, the same tribunal, which ruled that there was no basis to move the primaries of the PDP from Jalingo to Abuja, was itself sitting in Abuja because of security concerns. Is it not easier to arrange security for a few members of the tribunal than to arrange security for the primaries of a mass party in Jalingo, which is violent prone because of its location in the North East?
Throughout the judgment, there was nowhere it was argued at Darius did not win the election nor was it in contention that he was the candidate of the PDP. None of the other aspirants on the ticket of the PDP, and there were many, came forward to complain that they were denied their fundamental human rights to participate in the primaries of their party. For the Tribunal to invalidate the votes of a popular candidate and award victory to candidate who was roundly rejected at the polls is a glaring act of injustice.
Given its location in the North East, issues affecting Taraba should be handled with judicial care. People who feel aggrieved and have lost hope in the judiciary may resort to self help. The outbreak of violence in Wukari which is the second largest town in the state leading to a loss of 20 lives immediately the unfair judgment was pronounced should serve as warning to the judiciary that somebody may be playing Nero in Taraba.
Danjuma Duniya writes from Bali in Taraba State and can be reached on firstname.lastname@example.org