Ashiru’s petition dead on arrival, by Ibraheem Musa

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Poet, playwright and essayist, Professor Wole Soyinka’s literary works defy easy comprehension. Truly, his turgid texts and serpentine cadences, task many a reader. However, in real terms, legalese takes the cake of obscurantist lingo and not Kongi’s literary harvests.

At last, the Election Petition Tribunal, after months of sitting, delivered judgement last Thursday in Kaduna. The verdict, in terms of clarity, has been generating more heat than light. In fact, both laymen and the learned have been giving diverse, conflicting and somewhat confusing interpretations of the verdict. The media, like echo chambers, have added to the general din.

Consequently, both APC and PDP supporters are claiming victory, rolling out drums and toasting to their parties’ accomplishments. However, beyond the rigmarole, what the law states matters but above all, the judgement is more paramount than narrow partisan viewpoints.

In April, Alhaji Isa Mohammed Ashiru, the PDP gubernatorial candidate, petitioned the March 18 election results of Kaduna state, alleging irregularities. The election, according to Ashiru, was substantially marred and for this reason, some results should be cancelled and he should be declared winner. However, Governor Uba Sani’s lawyers, in their reply, asked the Tribunal to dismiss the petition for non-compliance to the Electoral Act. First, the petition was filed out of time, overshooting the 21 day-window by 24 hours. Similarly, they kicked against the witnesses lined up for the trial. Likewise, the governor’s learned counsel, without mincing words, pointed out another deficiency in Ashiru’s reply. The Petitioners, contrary to the Electoral Act, didn’t file their Pre-Hearing Notice within seven days, as prescribed by law. The counsel, based on these technicalities, asked the Tribunal to dismiss the petition.

However, the Tribunal didn’t rule on the matter owing to a judicial precedent. The Supreme Court, in a landmark judgement, has mandated Election Petition Tribunals to delve into the merit of petitions, in spite of technicalities and outcomes. Indeed, the ruling on preliminary objection and judgement, lasting several hours, were delivered on September 29, 2023.

Significantly, the ‘simultaneous verdicts,’ in my humble opinion, sowed the seed of the current confusion, misinformation and selective reading of the judgement.

The Tribunal, in a 2: 1 split decision, dismissed Isa Ashiru’s petition on technical ground at the beginning of the judgement. ‘’Ordinarily, the case would have ended at the point,’’ according to Barrister James Kanyip, a senior member of the bar. However, it didn’t because election petitions are time-bound and for this reason, he further argued, the Tribunal had to give verdict on the substantive matter, assuming that the petition hadn’t been dismissed. Indeed, this convoluted explanation is laced with common-sense.

Peradventure, the Appeal or Supreme Court overrules the pre-election technicality, the substantive matter can still be determined. So, in a 2:1 split decision, the Justices yet again declared the March election inconclusive, ordered a re-run in seven wards, four local governments and 24 polling units, comprising 16,300 voters.

Specifically, both the APC and PDP celebrated this ‘dual judgement’, picking and choosing which one suits it. However, the first ruling had technically knocked off Ashiru’s petition ab initio. The Tribunal, in the first place, has dismissed the petition and the second verdict was like medicine after death. So, the PDP is actually bemoaning the Tribunal’s judgement and not celebrating victory, as their posturing seems to suggest. Indeed, that explains why Ashiru wants to appeal the judgement.

Ibraheem was the Director of Strategic Communication of Kaduna APC Campaign Council