By Abdulkareem Haruna
Two separate Federal High courts, one sitting in Abuja, the federal capital of Nigeria, and the other in Maiduguri, Borno state, had on Monday, Jan 9, and Tuesday, the 10th, passed their judgment in the ongoing court dispute within the People Democratic Party (PDP) on who should be the candidate for Borno Central senatorial district.
Mustapha Jibrin Tatabe and Barrister Umara Kumalia are at the center of the controversy.
Mr. Tatabe won the May 2022 primaries to emerge the party’s candidate ahead of the February national Assembly election. But months after his emergence, the party approached the national electoral body, INEC, with signed documents indicating that Tatabe had willingly withdrawn from the race and Barrister Kumalia was his replacement. INEC did not hesitate to acknowledge the decision of the PDP officials as they immediately affected the relief in their list of candidates.
The Humanitarian Times understood that the PDP had to change its mind on the candidate for Borno Central, having realized that the current seat occupant, ex-governor Kashim Shettima, would no longer be contesting the office having been picked as the running mate to APC’s presidential candidate, Bola Tinubu.
Shortly after that, Mr. Tatabe went to the INEC to deny being part of the decision that led to his replacement. He alleged that his signature was “forged” to effect his replacement. But INEC said they could only listen to him through his party officials, or he should go and seek redress from the courts.
Tatabe immediately activated his legal team to file a suit against the PDP, Barrister Kumalia, INEC, and four others.
Part of his claims in the suit he filed at the federal high court, Abuja, was that his signature was forged to validate the documents that determined his replacement; as such, he wanted the court to criminalize the defendants action and declare him as the authentic candidate.
Tatabe is a barely known face in Borno politics, but his moves continued to astonish those who personally know him. There were insinuations that he could be acting the scripts of some interests in the ruling APC, especially those who would prefer a political weakling like him on the ballot. But that allegation remains a rumor and unsubstantiated.
However, it is said that in politics the business of the opponent is the headache of the other.
The APC along with its Candidate for Borno Central Senatorial District, Kaka Shehu Lawan, have approached the Federal High Court Maiduguri Division to determine the propriety or otherwise of the acceptance of nomination of one Muhammad Umara Kumalia as the Candidate of the PDP for Borno Central Senatorial District in the forthcoming 2023 General Election by the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) in gross violation of the combined provisions of Section 285(14) (c) of the 1999 Constitution (as amended) and Sections 29(1) and 84(1) of the Electoral Act 2022.”
Barrister Abdulwasiu Alfa, APC’s legal counsel told The Humanitarian Times that “the above provisions of the laws allow the APC, in exercising its right as provided by the Constitution, that the APC, as a registered political party, and its Candidate challenged the publication of the name of one Muhammad Umara Kumalia as the Candidate of the PDP for Borno Central Senatorial District on the 20th day of September, 2022, on the grounds that he (Kumalia) did not emerge from any valid primary or rerun election as contemplated by law.”
The APC had told the court that the acceptance of Kumalia’s name by INEC and subsequent publication of his name as Candidate of the PDP by INEC was “illegal, null, void and of no legal effect based on the provision of the Constitution and the Electoral Act 2022.”
The two courts took their time to adjudicate the matter before them, and at the end of the day, they delivered their judgment on the matter on Monday and Tuesday.
In Maiduguri, the Judge said Barrister Kumalia, the PDP, and INEC had committed a legal fallacy with their action because fielding a candidate that did not participate in the primaries violates the Electoral Act and the 1999 Constitution of the federal republic of Nigeria.
The Court,, therefore, issued an order of perpetual injunction restraining Kumalia from parading himself as the Senatorial candidate of the 1st Defendant for Borno Central Senatorial District in the forthcoming 2023 general elections.
But the court did not indicate who is to replace Mr. Kumalia as the candidate – and by implication, both Messrs Tatabe and Kumalia are not favored by the Monday court ruling.
About 24 hours later, in Abuja, Justice Nwite of the Federal High court also delivered his judgment on the suit filed by Mr. Tatabe, where he ruled in favor of Kumalia on the grounds of technicalities, jurisdiction, and faulty approach to the process of filing a case that especially involved alleged forgery of signature.
The judgment dismissed Tatabe’s case and upheld the candidacy of Barrister Kumalia.
The Legal Conundrum
Looking at the two judgments, one would see that it may have shot the PDP below the belt. The Maiduguri ruling had sacked Kumalia but did not say Tatabe be brought back on the ballot. And in Abuja, Barrister Kumalia, who the Maiduguri High Court barred from parading himself as a candidate, has now been told to remain on the ballot as the PDP candidate for Borno central senatorial election.
This situation, if not appealed, may have rendered the PDP in Borno without a ticket to field a candidate for the said election.
“The court, in Maiduguri, has barred barrister Kumalia from parading himself as the PDP senatorial candidate for Borno central while it was silent on the issue of his replacement; while on the flip side, the Abuja High Court had thrown out Tatabe’s suit in favor of Kumalia,” said Barrister Abdulrahman Alfa, a lead legal counsel to APC in Borno.
According to Alfa the two judgment advantages the candidate of APC “because. the party has no candidate in effect.”
“If the court bars Kumalia in Maiduguri from parading himself as the candidate of the PDP, that court decision remains binding,” he declared.
The lawyer inferred as long as there is no ruling on the matter from a superior cour, no other decision of another analogous court can vacate the judgment of the High Court in Maiduguri.
But Barrister Kumalia sees the implications of the two cou rts judgments differently.
“The judgment we got here in Abuja invalidates what happened in Maiduguri because there, the Judgment said I should cease parading myself as a candidate of PDP for the Borno Central election, but it did not say Tatabe should replace me,” he said. “But at the Abuja ruling, I was upheld as the candidate because Tatabe failed in his suit.”
Whatever happens going forward the Borno Central contest would be more controversial than any of the editions that precede it since 2011.
Mr. Atom was an underdog that came to the political limelight in 2019 when he sought to contest the governorship of Borno on the APC platform. Though he seemed to be one of the most organized mobilizers in Maiduguri, he lost abysmally at the primaries. He would later exhibit rare sportsmanship by donating all his campaign structures to the 2019 APC candidate, Babagana Zulum.
If the PDP fails to get around the legal gymnastics that bedevil its quest to challenge the dominance of APC in Borno central, the battle, now made easier, dwill be left between a formidable Barrister Lawan of the PDP, and a political rabble router, Atom Magira Tom, of the New Nigerian People’s Party (NNPP).
Atom remained in the party as a top stakeholder despite no visible patronage. He later dumped the APC mid-2022 to become the leader of the NNPP, a new party where he is currently contesting the senatorial seat. It is assumed that the majority of the NNPP crowd are disgruntled supporters of both APC and PDP.
If the above legal cri sis concerning the PDP in Borno central doesn’t change, then the contest will undoubtedly be a lopsided bout between APC and NNPP.