Governor Abubakar Sani Bello of Niger states insists “We must begin to respect the rule of law in this country”, as he swears in Mallam Safiyanu Yahaya of the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) as the Chairman of Magama Local Government Council.
Law is law, it is often said. But law is what the leader often wants it to be. Some leaders have again proven this to be true. The leader is often seen as being in a position to voice his interests, even if and when such opposes the rule of law and the constitution. Such an attitude may not always be with some executives who feel the law must be respected, irrespective of personal interests and party positions.
There is no better time and avenue for Governor Abubakar Sanni Bello to prove his respect for the constitution and rule of law than the occasion of the upturning of the electoral success of Salihu Ubandoma of the All Progressives Congress (APC) as the elected Chairman of Magama local government in the November 30, 2019 local government election by Minna High Court 5. The court had upturned the election on grounds of pre-election offence, declaring the runner up in the election, Mallam Safiyanu Yahaya as the duly elected Chairman of the Council.
The Court then declared Yahaya of the main opposition, PDP, winner of the election, directing the Niger State Independent Electoral Commission (NSIEC) to withdraw the certificate of return earlier issued to Ubandoma and issue same to Yahaya as the duly elected Chairman of the Council.
Abubakar did not stop at just declaring “We must begin to respect the rule of law in this country”, he personally superintended the 15-minute swearing-in ceremony for Yahaya held at the Government House in Minna. This however came amid protests from his party, the All Progressives Congress (APC).
A source in Government House had clarified “What Governor Bello just did has been what we all know with him. He is always factual, down-to-earth, fair and just all the time. Mallam Safiyanu Yahaya, himself had told declared “This kind of behaviour is unprecedented. No one ever did anything like this before.
But the conduct came to many as a surprise, a revolutionary move which triggered a new age in governance and precept in political conduct of a state chief executive. It opposed all known traditions since the return to democratic rule in 1999. The rule had been that a ruling party would do anything, stopping at nothing to twist and manipulate all processes of local election to have a favourable electoral outing. The party often does this with tacit supports of the state chief executive.
Following Ubandoma’s failure to secure stay of execution from the appeal courts, and complying totally with the verdict of the Minna High Court, Governor Bello saw himself as not only a party leader in the APC, but a leader of all parties, sections and religious groups, insisting “Democracy is all about the rule of law”.
Before the swearing in, the state APC Chairman, Jibrin Imam had personally urged the governor to discountenance whatever pressure to swear in the opposition candidate on the excuse that the APC had appealed against the High Court judgement, noting such a move would jeopardise the interest of the APC.
Imam had contended that former governors had at one time or the other defied court verdicts in related cases without any consequence, to favour their own parties. Imam had equally in a press conference just hours before the swearing in, said the case was already before the Appeal Court seeking a reversal of the judgement, noting: “It will be counter-productive and embarrassing to the party and current administration if the governor did anything contrary”.
The governor had opposed him, noting “The rule of law must take precedence over any party consideration.” He therefore ordered that the Chairman be sworn in, an event which, after about two hours of meeting with stakeholders, he oversaw exactly 4:05pm when he walked into the council chambers where he took his seat as Justice Salihu Alhassan Majidadi administered oaths of office and allegiance on the Chairman.
The governor, opposing both his party and the state chairman, maintained that as a two-time beneficiary of court/tribunal judgements in his quest for political headship of the state, his decision to respect the court verdict was right and proper, adding that although many who similarly enjoyed the grace of law had later turned their backs upon the law upon assumption of the number one position in the past.
The governor was referring to the two times he had had to defend his electoral success at the Tribunal, succeeding at both times, a development which had hinted watchers the likelihood of his committing any illegality to favour party interests.
However, many would believe it would be unfair on the governor to see his latest ‘surprise’as unique. In the preparations towards the primaries of the party to elect candidates for the 25 chairmanship and 224 Councilorship seats for the November 30 local government polls, the governor had similarly resisted all attempts and pressures from individuals and the party to anoint any aspirant.
His refusal to side with or anoint any of the candidates then had occasioned some furore, with violence in almost all the local government areas in the state. But the governor had told all aspirants then to campaign for people’s votes, saying the field should be level for results to represent genuine wishes of the electorate.
At a stakeholders parley with all the candidates of his party (APC) before the election, Governor Bello had clarified that he would not impose any candidate on the party or anoint anyone as his candidate, maintaining “the people must be allowed to make their choice. That is the only way that we can minimize electoral violence in the system”.
He further warned all elements planning to foist trouble to change their decision, as, according to him, government would not tolerate any act of political violence or brigandage in the state, insisting “People want to elect their representatives”. He had urged both candidates and party to put their house in order ahead of the election to ensure desired victory.
But despite his statements, the declarations were still held by many as a mere political statement, until when the governor lost his central ward in Kontagora local government area to the opposition PDP and all attempts by the party to overturn the result in favour of the governo was rejected by him. He had bluntly insisted “if that is what the people want, so be it”. He had also come out to tell all contestants across party divides before the polls that “people’s votes must count”.
In his reaction, Chairman of Association of Local Government of Nigeria (ALGON), Niger State chapter, Alhaji Ibrahim Abubakar Bosso described the governor’s action as highly commendable, noting that “it is high time we began to respect the rule of law and build confidence in the electorate. We cannot continue to reinforce past anti-democratic behaviors.
“We, Chairmen of local government in the state sincerely commended the action of the governor and we respect his decision, because despite pressures from the party for him not to swear in the opposition candidate’s Chairman, he chose to obey the rule of law.
“The governor did what is right even though some governors in the past had disrespected court verdicts in a similar circumstances but we cannot continue to do the wrong thing as a people. We should begin to do things that will make people have confidence in our democracy and the rule of law.
“I strongly appealed to our leaders to emulate the governor and turn a new leaf. We should try to respect the rule of law in this country, the judiciary is the last hope of the common man and therefore we should not rubbish the judicial process”,
Also, the state commissioner for local government, community development and chieftaincy affairs, Alhaji Abdulmalik Sarkin Daji, advised the party executive not to see the action of the governor as a respect for the party, stressing that “the governor is merely respecting the court verdict”.
He explained that the governor just had to allow the swearing-in of the Chairman for now, adding that “if by tomorrow the appeal court decides otherwise, the governor will not hesitate to swear in the party candidate.
“But for now, let us respect what the lower court says. There is no point heating the polity, the party should understand with the governor for his stance on this matter”,
After his swearing-in, the new Chairman described Governor Sani Bello as a man of Justice who had demonstrated an absolute respect for the rule of law by acting in compliance with the directive of the Court, adding despite belonging to another political party, the governor took the best decision by respecting the decision of the High Court.