By Hassan Sani Indabawa
We have a Hausa adage which says that,” if you plan to dig a hole for your enemy to fall in, dig a shallow one, as you may likely be the one to fall in.” This adage perfectly suits the current imbroglio surrounding the defection of Senator Ibrahim Shekarau from the New Nigeria Peoples Party (NNPP) to the Peoples’ Democratic Party (PDP).
Senator Ibrahim Shekarau is the current senator representing Kano Central Senatorial District. He won the seat during 2019 election under the platform of APC. However, he ditched the party and defected to (NNPP) in August, 2022. Since his defection to PDP from NNPP and resigning the senatorial candidacy offered him by the NNPP, the issue remained intractable, with the recent declaration by Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) that Senator Shekarau was the actual winner of 2023 Senatorial election. Shekarau according to INEC, polled 456,787 votes to emerge the winner of the February 25th election.
Shekarau dumped NNPP because of what he described as “breach of trust” and “betrayal” by the NNPP Presidential candidate, Dr Rabiu Musa Kwankwaso. In a largely publicized defection, Shekarau had declared that “I, Ibrahim Shekarau, inform you that from Monday, August, 2022, my supporters and I have dumped the NNPP and joined the PDP. I have written to the NNPP National Chairman, chairmen at state, local government, and ward levels of the party that I have dumped the NNPP. I have equally written to INEC Chairman and to the Kano State Resident Electoral Commissioner of INEC that I am no longer contesting the senatorial position on the platform of the NNPP,” he said. And yet, INEC still went ahead to declare him the winner of the just-concluded election. Why?
The Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) had consistently explained that Shekarau had not formally notified the electoral umpire of his defection from NNPP. According to INEC, Shekarau did not follow proper procedure in his notification. “The new Electoral Law said once your name was initially displayed, before displaying the final list, a candidate will write INEC officially, attach his photos, notifying the INEC (his/her) withdrawal from the contest, or in the event someone dies. These are the only two instances one can withdraw once his name was initially displayed. Mr Shekarau did not do any of the above”, an official of Kano INEC said. Was it deliberate, or was it a political vendetta or a mischief carefully orchestrated by Shekarau to maximally harm NNPP’s chances for “betraying” him?
Reinforcing the INEC stand was a well-articulated and an informed legal opinion prepared by Barrister Abdul Adamu Fagge, a former Chairman of Kano NBA. In a 4-page document dated 2nd September, 2022, and submitted to INEC, Barrister Fagge brilliantly analyzed the provisions of the newly enacted 2022 Electoral Act, juxtaposing it with constitutional provisions and some subsisting judicial interpretations. The legal opinion dwelt on some key legal provisions, especially the relevant sections of the Electoral Act dealing with time table, guidelines and schedule of activities regulating “All political parties’ activities.”
The legal opinion, in its attempt to interpret the INEC powers, opined that INEC time table, guidelines and schedule of activities have same force with any enabling law and they run pari-pasu and all political parties are under obligation to comply with the said timetable, guidelines, and schedule of activities and it is in that regard all political parties sold their nomination forms, conducted primaries and forwarded the names of their candidates to INEC within the stipulated period as contained in the time table. In concluding his analysis, the former Kano NBA Chairman foreclosed any window for “replacement or substitution” of any political parties’ candidates since the lapse of 15th July, 2022 and 12th August, 2022 being the last day of the 90 days provided for a withdrawal of candidate, and the 150 days allowed before the date of the General Election respectively. These were the provisions of sections 31, 32(1) and 33 of the Electoral Act and explicitly dealt with withdrawal of candidate, date of final display of candidates and changing candidates respectively.
Incidentally, Barrister Abdul Adamu Fagge is a former associate of Senator Ibrahim Shekarau. He parted ways with Shekarau in May, 2022 when Shekarau moved to NNPP from APC. He is one of the hundreds of resourceful political associates Shekarau had lost for his well-known attitude of serial decamping from one political party to another since his political misadventure started in 2014. Shekarau had so far changed parties four times for reasons he often alleged to be “injustice” done to him in his characteristic manner to justify his action.
Despite being a founding member of the APC, Shekarau had, in 2014, defected from APC to the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP). Again, in the buildup to the 2019 election, Shekarau rejoined the APC in 2018 after the National Working Committee of the PDP dissolved the Kano State Executive Committee of the party and constituted a caretaker committee allegedly favouring Kwankaso, who returned to the PDP. In May, 2022, Shekarau again dumped the All Progressives Congress (APC), a party on which he won the senatorial seat for New Nigeria Peoples Party (NNPP) led by Kwankwaso. He was thereafter offered an automatic ticket to the senate after his defection, a ticket his actions now threatened to invalidate.
Surprisingly, both Kwankwaso and the NNPP failed to grasp the damage Shekarau had done to them. Instead of understanding the situation and do the needful, before and after Shekarau’s defection, NNPP blames the INEC at every turn of events, leading to the current quagmire. What the NNPP failed to understand is that Shekarau had sealed their fate by refusing to follow a simple procedure in his defection and notification of withdrawal. Sections 31, 32, and 33 of the Electoral Act dealt with the processes of withdrawal of candidates, date of final display of candidate and changing of candidate. The question is did Shekarau and NNPP strictly comply with those provisions? INEC has consistently maintained that Shekarau is yet to formally notify the Commission of his withdrawal. And they may be correct. What the Act stipulates is that, a person withdrawing his candidature must adhere to the INEC time table, guidelines, and schedule of parties’ activities. Simply put, the law required Shekarau to write and personally submit his notification of withdrawal to the INEC Chairman, and within the time frame provided by the INEC time table, but had he done that?
In its attempt to wrest back the senatorial seat, the NNPP has gone to court, which is the right democratic move. In a recent interview with the Radio Deutshe Welle Hausa Service, Senator Rabiu Musa Kwankwaso said that “we have taken the matter to court because INEC did not understand the process. The court will make them understand.” This illustrates our position that both Kwankwaso and NNPP were not correctly guided. They missed the point by unnecessarily blaming INEC while it must be understood that INEC, as an impartial umpire and independent body, is legally hamstrung and strictly guided by the powers vested in it by the Electoral Act and other extant laws and principles.
Many legal pundits have voiced their opinions by describing the current imbroglio as uncalled for and was driven by excessive political vendetta and egocentrism. The blame is on the politicians for refusing to observe simple rules. Had Shekarau conducted himself in a dignified manner, the current fiasco might not have even arisen. Similarly, NNPP has made some avoidable mistakes by skipping some fundamental stipulations of the Electoral Act. Obviously, Senator Rufa’i Sani Hanga, the replacement for Shekarau, did not fulfill all the stages of nomination as prescribed by the 2022 Electoral Act. This is a great undoing of NNPP‘s chances at the Supreme Court, where the matter is going to be determined soon.
Speaking on this, a law Professor and a Kano based SAN, opined that both NNPP and Shekarau may not benefit from the case. “The Supreme Court may award Shekarau the senate seat if the arguments proffered by INEC is considered. This case is novel, the 2022 Electoral Act had some innovations, barring non-parties to challenge or initiate litigation. Even though the 2022 Electoral Act has some identifiable lacuna, INEC had ampfully demonstrated substantial non-compliance of the Electoral Act by both Shekarau and NNPP”, he said.
If this turns out to be true, that Supreme Court could eventually award Shekarau the NNPP Senate seat, he cannot accept it on moral ground. In my opinion, he is not even qualified to accept it for not participating in the remaining electoral processes. In the end, still, Shekarau will emerge as the greatest loser. After obtaining automatic ticket to vie for the senate, Shekarau moved to the PDP where he hoped to gain some personal benefits but ended up winning a senate seat he cannot claim, while the PDP ended up losing its last chance to regain some political relevance.
On the other hand, the 456,787 votes won by the NNPP, may become a waste due to deliberate mischief of Shekarau. In his descent to an obvious political oblivion, Shekarau had added a sizable number of aggrieved electorates and politicians, whose purpose is to prepare for him a political payback for denying NNPP to enjoy its win, after Shekarau was offered an automatic ticket by the NNPP leadership.
Meanwhile, the APC may likely reclaim the Kano Central Senatorial seat, having become second in the just concluded election, if they obtain a sound legal opinion and file their processes at the Elections Tribunal.
Now, tell me a pit deeper than this. Shekarau had left APC in anger and dumped NNPP in outrage, but ended up rewarding APC with a senate; while retiring into an obvious political oblivion. That’s another name for Karma!