The just concluded general elections in Plateau state came with a lot of surprises for both the ruling All Progressives Congress (APC), its main challenger, the opposition Peoples Democratic Party (PDP), and others such as the Labour Party which put up a strong fight for power.
From the Presidential and National Assembly elections held on the 25th February 2023 to the Governorship and House of Assembly elections of March 18th 2023, winners have been announced while jubilations and protests have greeted the pronouncements by the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC).
As expected, those who lost are already heading to the Election Petition Tribunals, raising grievances on the conduct of the elections. For candidates of the PDP who were declared winners from Governorship, National and State Assembly, their victory appears to be standing on shaky ground owing to the weight of the petitions being filed by the APC and other parties at the tribunals. Apart from the issues of alleged election malpractices, the question of validity of nominations of candidates by the PDP for the election seems to be looming large and may be the game changer at the tribunals.
For the Plateau PDP situation, the trouble started sometime in 2020 when the party conducted its disputed state congress elections that saw the emergence of the Hon. Chris Hassan-led state exco. The exco believed to be supported by former Governor Jonah Jang was rejected by the Jeremiah Useni camp of the PDP, which vehemently cried out that the conduct of the congress elections did not follow the Constitution, the Electoral Act and the Guidelines of the Party.
To register their grievances, Hon. Bitrus Kaze and other members of the PDP instituted an action against the party at the High Court of Plateau State in Jos (Re: Suit No: PLD/J304/2020 Between: Bitrus B. Kaze & 11 Ors V. Peoples Democratic Party & 24 Ors) where they sought the court to order for the proper conduct of another election for the Executive Committee in line with the provisions of the 1999 Constitution, the Electoral Act and the PDP Constitution.
Having listened to the arguments, Hon. Justice S. P. Gang made an order, to wit:
“directing the 1st Defendant to take all steps, actions to conduct election for the PDP Executive Committee Members for Plateau State in accordance with the combined provisions of Section 223 (1) (a) of the Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria, 1999 (as amended) and Section 85 (3) of the Electoral Act (2010) (as amended), Article 49 (1) of the Constitution of the People’s Democratic Party and Paragraphs 5.2 -5.5 of the Guidelines for the conduct of Ward, LGA, State, Zonal Congresses and the National Convention of the People’s Democratic Party.”
Exclusion of PDP from Plateau LG polls
Rather than comply with the Order of Hon. Justice S.P Gang, the PDP went back to compose a so-called “Caretaker Committee” which went ahead to nominate candidates for the local government elections held on 9th October 2021. Again, Hon. Bitrus Kaze & 11 others petitioned the Plateau State Independent Electoral Commission (PLASIEC) asking it not to accept any list of candidates from the so-called Caretaker Committee because the Order of Hon. Justice S.P. Gang was not complied with.
The PDP upon being turned down by PLASIEC, rather than retrace its steps and obey the Court Order, decided to approach another Plateau State High Court to compel PLASIEC to accept their Candidates for the Elections. Hon. Justice Ishaku Kunda who heard the case again affirmed the position of Justice Gang, concluding that the PDP was in contempt of Court by refusing to obey the Order of Justice Gang.
With the local government elections fast approaching, the PDP quickly rushed to the Court of Appeal Jos Division seeking orders of injunction to stop the elections until their case is heard to enable them participate. The Court of Appeal not only refused the Prayers, but the PDP lost the Appeal as the Court of Appeal affirmed the two High Court judgments by Justice S.P Gang and Hon. Justice Ishaku Kunda. Due to their failure to comply with the initial order, the PDP was excluded from participating in the local government elections in Plateau State, which saw the APC clinching all the 17 local government chairmanship and 325 councillorship seats.
Dissatisfied with the judgment of the Court of Appeal, the PDP headed to the Supreme Court against PLASIEC seeking to set aside the Judgment of the Court of Appeal.
Jos North/Bassa Reps bye–election
Shortly after the Local Government Elections in Plateau State, INEC set the date for the bye-Election to fill the vacant seat for Jos North/Bassa Federal Constituency after the death of Hon. Haruna Maitala. Again, the PDP under the leadership of its disputed Chairman Hon. Chris Hassan conducted Primary Elections for aspirants where a then serving member of the Plateau State House of Assembly Hon. Musa Avia Agah emerged as its flag bearer. This happened without the PDP going back to remedy its problem of not constituting a valid Executive Council in the State. INEC nevertheless went ahead with the Election in which PDP’s Musa Agah was declared winner.
Not satisfied with the outcome, Adamu Muhammad Alkali of the PRP, who came second went to the Tribunal and canvassed among other things the fact that based on the Judgments of their Lordships Justice S.P. Gang and Justice I. Kunda, as well as that of the Appeal Court Jos Division, the PDP lacked the capacity to nominate Musa Agah for the election in the first place. The Tribunal agreed with him and annulled the election of Musa Agah. Hon. Agah appealed and lost at the Court of Appeal which is the final court to determine post-election matters of the National Assembly as well as State Houses of Assembly.
PDP national headquarters, Plateau primaries for 2023
For the PDP, the situation continued to deteriorate heading towards the 2023 General Elections. Time was no longer on its side, having failed to cure itself of the ills that led to it being shut out of the local government elections and losing the Jos North/Bassa House of Representatives seat they earlier won. Again, rather than go back to conduct proper elections for its State Exco, the PDP National Headquarters sent another “Caretaker Committee” under the leadership of the North Central Vice-Chairman, Hon. Dakas Shan that conducted the primaries for all the candidates who contested the recent 2023 elections.
Going by this development, the predicament of the PDP in Plateau State could best be described as self-inflicted and a very bad one because a judgment or order of court remains valid and subsisting until the same is set aside by a court of competent jurisdiction. In the case at hand, the order of Hon. Justice S.P. Gang of the High Court of Plateau State remains valid, subsisting and binding on PDP until the same is set aside.
Moreover, the affirmation of the same judgment by Hon. Justice I. Kunda and the Court of Appeal Jos Division also remains valid with no hope of being set aside since the PDP’s appeal at the Supreme Court was dismissed on 7th December, 2022 which legally means the matter has been put to rest.
As the Election Petition Tribunals begin sitting to hear cases brought before them, the Zamfara state scenario may just be loading in Plateau state where all PDP candidates who won elections and those who lost may be declared ineligible to have contested the 2023 elections in the first place.
Comrade Iliya Mark (JP), Chairman, Rescue Monitoring Team, writes from Jos, Plateau state