Residents of Kogi State were still struggling to come to terms with the sudden death of Prince Abubakar Audu, their former governor and the guber candidate of All Progressive Congress (APC), who was on the cusp of returning to Lugard House for a record third stint, following his commanding showing in the November 21 election.
Amidst the mourning and the wailing, tragedy quickly turned into farce. And the whole thing has remained a perfect calendar of farce ever since.
I am not referring to the jubilation that punctured the funereal ambience, following reports that Audu had resurrected, Lazarus-style, on account of a miracle worker’s intercession. Elsewhere, that would be farcical indeed. But in Nigeria, such claims, and even more brazen ones, are made routinely by syndicated charlatans with eyes on the main chance.
This long-running farce began when, without research and without consultation, the returning officer, Professor Emmanuel Kucha, declared the election outcome inconclusive. Audu and his running mate on the APC ticket had built a lead that their opponent, incumbent Governor Idris Wada, could not surmount even if he won every ballot in the constituencies where the voting had to be rescheduled because of logistic problems or election malpractices
The APC, said INEC chair, would have to nominate a candidate to replace Audu. That candidate would then pick a running mate, and together, they would face Wada in a supplementary poll.
The Federal Attorney-General, who had not figured in the matter thus far, weighed in and endorsed INEC’s position.
If INEC stuck to its decision, the bet was that Faleke would replace Audu at the head of a new ticket and then pick a running mate for the final stage of the election. That seemed to be the position of the APC, a position dictated by common sense and backed by some of the nation’s leading attorneys.
Nonsense, thundered Olisa Metuh, the last man standing in a long line of hacks who made the PDP the odious brand that it was and has remained. With Audu’s death, he said, the APC had “crashed out” of the contest and the PDP’s candidate who had the second highest vote tally was the outright winner. For stating otherwise, INEC’s chair and the Federal Attorney-General should resign immediately, he demanded.
Resign, and then what comes next?
But Metuh is not in the business of proposing solutions. With him, nothing succeeds like bombast, and the more sophomoric the bombast, the more he celebrates it as a mark of achievement.
Emboldened by Metuh, Wada who had won in only five of the 21 local government areas compared to the Audu ticket’s 16, found his voice. He proclaimed himself winner of the election.
Meanwhile, a solution that had seemed so commonsensical was vitiated by lawyers and non-lawyers canvassing a solution guaranteed to muddy the waters and generate maximum confusion. Faleke could not replace Audu, they said, because Audu had not been “duly elected” governor at the time he died. Beside, Faleke had not participated in the primaries that threw up Audu. It made no difference that he is joint legatee, with Audu, of the votes cast for the APC.
Then, in a move that baffled and confounded its supporters, and the attentive public, the APC caved in to INEC and the Attorney General and agreed, per its National Chairman, Chief John Odigie-Oyegun, to hold a primary to pick a replacement for Audu. It was like snatching defeat from the jaws of unassailable victory and sowing the seeds of bitter conflict within the party.
In its new wisdom, the APC settled for Yahaya Bello who had come a very distant second in the primaries that threw up Audu, and had contributed nothing to Audu’s campaign. He was even reported to be preparing to defect to the PDP after his loss. It is a measure of his political standing and influence that he lost his ward to the PDP in the November 21 election. In a curious reversal, Faleke was designated Bello’s running mate.
Faleke, insisting that he was the rightful person to step into Audu’s shoes, had made it abundantly clear that he was not available to serve as Bello’s or anybody’s running mate. But the upshot was that Bello who had contributed nothing to the Audu/Faleke ticket stood to inherit the votes the twain had garnered, the very votes they said Faleke could not inherit.
They went to the supplementary poll with that arrangement anyway, and Bello was proclaimed winner. When added to the votes the Audu/Faleke ticket had won, the 6,885 cast for Bello’s dubious APC ticket last Saturday resulted in a plurality of more than 40, 000 votes.
Bello has since been proclaimed governor-elect of Kogi State. But no rejoicing, no dancing in the streets, no victory lap, has followed this strange victory.
When reminded that Faleke had declined to serve as Bello’s mate, the returning officer had replied curtly that Faleke could not do so since it was the APC that had designated him Bello’s running mate. The APC is going to rue this one.
Trust Olisa Metuh to stir things up. Designating Bello governor-elect, he said, amounted to “a waste of time, a waste of scarce national resources and ridiculous shadow-chasing.”
By the PDP’s reckoning, he said, Bello – “one Bello” he called him, with his trademark condescension — had scored only 6,885 votes in the supplementary election, as against Wada’s 204, 877 votes overall in the election. The votes cast for the Audu/Faleke ticket in the earlier election had died with Audu. Wada was, therefore, the undisputed winner.
In a rare moment of sobriety, he refrained from declaring that Wada had won by a landslide. Perhaps the word had escaped him in the heat of composition. Something tells me he will deploy at his next press conference.
So, there you have it.
There are now three claimants to the gubernatorial perch at Lugard House in the Kogi capital, Lokoja: Wada, who lost at each stage of the election, Faleke, who was poised to win with Audu until Audu died at their moment of triumph, and Bello, who was substituted for Audu in a process that cannot pass the test of fairness and equity.
There is even a fourth claimant: None of the above.
And each claimant has a formidable team of attorneys in its corner.
I am here reminded of a quip about lawyers I first heard from the late Chief Bayo Kuku, a corporate lawyer of no mean repute. A lawyer, he said self-deprecatingly, is the one who, when two parties are fighting over a cow, steps in between to milk the cow. I am sure the lawyers will figure out how to proceed with the milking when there are three or more parties claiming ownership of the cow.
The courts are going to have a hard time figuring out this one.
It would be the height of judicial perversity if they found for Wada or Bello. But anything can happen in a judicial system mired in perversity.