Human rights activist and Senior Advocate of Nigeria (SAN), Femi Falana, has raised concerns over recent judgments by the appellate court that sacked Governor Abba Yusuf of Kano State, Governor Caleb Mutfwang of Plateau State.
Falana, in an exclusive interview on Channels Television’s Sunday Politics, called for a thorough review of these rulings, emphasizing the need to protect the sanctity of voters’ rights and the integrity of the electoral process.
Falana’s comments come in the wake of growing controversy surrounding the conduct of elections in Nigeria, particularly issues related to the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) and its role in ensuring free and fair elections.
In the interview, Falana pointed out that INEC had failed in its duty to conduct proper elections in the country. He argued that the court should not nullify the votes of Nigerian citizens due to the alleged negligence of the electoral umpire, which allowed candidates to participate without proper primaries and failed to ensure the proper stamping of ballot sheets.
According to Falana, the judiciary’s intervention should not come at the expense of the electorate’s voice, emphasizing that election-related matters should be resolved before the inauguration of any administration. He expressed his concern that the credibility of elections was being compromised due to procedural errors by INEC officials.
The recent rulings by the appellate court have had significant political ramifications, as all three governors who were removed from office belong to opposition parties. In Kano State, the court ousted Abba Yusuf of the New Nigerian Peoples Party (NNPP) and declared Nasir Gawuna of the All Progressives Congress (APC) as the winner of the March 2023 poll.
In Zamfara State, Governor Dauda Lawal of the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) was removed from office when the appellate court declared the election inconclusive after nearly eight months. The court ordered INEC to conduct a fresh election in three local government areas of the state, with Lawal and APC’s Bello Matawalle as the major contenders.
On Sunday, the appellate court also sacked PDP’s Caleb Mutfwang of Plateau State and directed INEC to issue a Certificate of Return to APC’s Nentawe Goshwe. The court held that the party had violated the court order by failing to conduct valid congresses in all 17 local government areas of the state.
Falana acknowledged that the circumstances leading to these judgments varied in each case, citing the need for adherence to court orders and proper conduct of primaries. He called on all parties dissatisfied with the appellate court verdicts to seek recourse in the Supreme Court for a final resolution.
“If you look at what happened in Lagos is different from what happened in Plateau. You are being told in Plateau that there was a judgement of the high court to the effect that primaries have to be conducted. The judgement, as usual, was dishonoured and disobeyed and the election went on,” Falana said.
He stressed the importance of the political class complying with court decisions and warned against punishing voters for errors made by electoral officers.
“It is different from Kano where you are being told that voters can be punished. It is a very dangerous judicial policy to sanction voters for the mistake of electoral officers. We are being told that 165,000 votes are wasted, they are invalid because some electoral officers committed an error by not stamping them.
On how that affect the validity of election, Falana said, “I do hope that this time around the Supreme Court will resolve these needless controversies surrounding the non-stamping of ballot papers by INEC officials who have not been recommended for any sanction. This is why these judgements will have to be reviewed,” Falana added.
As Nigeria grapples with the aftermath of these court rulings, the call for a comprehensive review of election-related processes and the role of INEC in safeguarding the integrity of the electoral system has gained momentum, with Femi Falana leading the charge for transparency and justice in the country’s political landscape.