Plateau PDP in danger as another Zamfara scenario looms

The just concluded General Elections in Plateau State came with a lot of surprises for both the ruling APC, its main challenger, the opposition Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) and others such as the Labour Party who put up a strong fight for power.

From the Presidential and National Assembly Elections held on the 25th February 2023 to the Governorship and House of Assembly Elections held on March 18th 2023, winners have been announced while jubilations and protests have greeted the pronouncements by INEC.

As expected, those who lost are already heading to the Election Petition Tribunals raising various grievances on the conduct of the Elections. For Candidates of the PDP who were declared winners in the Elections from Governorship, National and State Assembly, their victory appears to be standing on shaky ground owing to the weight of the Petitions being filed by the APC and other Parties at the Tribunals.

Apart from the issues of alleged Election malpractices, the question of validity of nominations of Candidates by the PDP for the Election seems to be looming large and may be the Game changer at the Tribunals.

What started as a small fire or what politicians will call a “family affair” might be the albatross of the PDP in Plateau State possibly leading to the Zamfara State Scenario where all Candidates that won Elections under the APC were declared ineligible because of the fact that the process that brought them up to contest was said to be faulty. The PDP on that occasion was the major beneficiary.

For the Plateau PDP situation, the trouble started sometime in 2020 when they conducted their disputed State Congress Elections that saw the emergence of the Hon. Chris Hassan-led State Exco. The Exco believed to be supported by former Governor Jonah Jang was rejected by the Jeremiah Useni Camp of the PDP which vehemently cried out that the conduct of the Congress Elections did not follow the Constitution, the Electoral Act and the Guidelines of the Party.

To register their grievances, Hon. Bitrus Kaze and other members of the PDP instituted an action against the Party at the High Court of Plateau State in Jos (Re: SUIT NO: PLD/J304/2020 BETWEEN: BITRUS B. KAZE & 11 ORS V. PEOPLES DEMOCRATIC PARTY & 24 ORS) where they sought the court to order for the proper conduct of another election for the Executive Committee in line with the provisions of the 1999 Constitution, the Electoral Act and the PDP Constitution.

Having listened to the arguments, Hon. Justice S. P. Gang made an order, to wit:
“directing the 1st Defendant to take all steps, actions to conduct election for the PDP Executive Committee Members for Plateau State in accordance with the combined provisions of Section 223 (1) (a) of the Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria, 1999 (as amended) and Section 85 (3) of the Electoral Act (2010) (as amended), Article 49 (1) of the Constitution of the People’s Democratic Party and Paragraphs 5.2 -5.5 of the Guidelines for the conduct of Ward, LGA, State, Zonal Congresses and the National Convention of the People’s Democratic Party.”

Rather than comply with the Order of Hon. Justice S.P Gang, the PDP went back to compose a so-called “Caretaker Committee” which went ahead to nominate Candidates for the Local Government Elections held on 9th October 2021.

Again, Hon. Bitrus Kaze & 11 others petitioned the Plateau State Independent Electoral Commission (PLASIEC) asking it not to accept any list of candidates from the so-called Caretaker Committee because the Order of Hon. Justice S.P. Gang was not complied with.
The PDP upon being turned down by PLASIEC, rather than retrace its steps and obey the Court Order, decided to approached another Plateau State High Court to compel PLASIEC to accept their Candidates for the Elections. Hon. Justice Ishaku Kunda who heard the case again affirmed the position of Justice Gang, concluding that the PDP was in contempt of Court by refusing to obey the Order of Justice Gang.

With the Local Government elections fast approaching, the PDP quickly rushed to the Court of Appeal Jos Division seeking orders of Injunction to stop the Elections until their case is heard to enable them participate. The Court of Appeal not only refused the Prayers, but the PDP lost the Appeal as the Court of Appeal affirmed the two High Court judgements by Justice S.P Gang and Hon. Justice Ishaku Kunda.

Due to their failure to comply with the initial order, the PDP was excluded from participating in the Local Government Elections in Plateau State which saw the APC clinching all the 17 Local Government Chairmanship and 325 Counsellorship seats. Dissatisfied with the judgment of the Court of Appeal, the PDP headed to the Supreme Court against PLASIEC seeking to set aside the Judgment of the Court of Appeal.

Shortly after the Local Government Elections in Plateau State, INEC set the date for the bye-Election to fill the vacant seat for Jos North/Bassa Federal Constituency after the death of Hon. Haruna Maitala. Again, the PDP under the leadership of its disputed Chairman Hon. Chris Hassan conducted Primary Elections for aspirants where a then serving member of the Plateau State House of Assembly Hon. Musa Avia Agah emerged its flag bearer. This happened without the PDP going back to remedy its problem of not constituting a valid Executive Council in the State. INEC nevertheless went ahead with the Election in which PDP’s Musa Agah was declared Winner.

Not satisfied with the outcome, Adamu Muhammad Alkali of the PRP (popularly known as Dan London) who came second went to the Tribunal and canvassed among other things the fact that based on the Judgments of their Lordships Justice S.P. Gang and Justice I. Kunda, as well as that of the Appeal Court Jos Division, the PDP lacked the capacity to nominate Musa Agah for the Election in the first place. The Tribunal agreed with him and annulled the Election of Musa Agah. Hon. Agah appealed and lost at the Court of Appeal which is the final court to determine post-Election matters of the National Assembly as well as State Houses of Assembly.

For the PDP, the situation continued to deteriorate heading towards the 2023 General Elections.

Time was no longer on its side having failed to cure itself of the ills that led to its being shut out of the Local Government Elections and losing the Jos North/Bassa House of Representatives seat they earlier won. Again, rather than go back to conduct proper Elections for its State EXCO, the PDP National Headquarters sent another “Caretaker Committee” under the leadership of the North Central Vice-Chairman Hon.Dakas Shan that came and conducted the Primaries for all the Candidates who contested recent 2023 Elections on the platform of the PDP in the State.

But the questions many have asked are: where did the PDP NWC derive such powers to post a delegation not to “supervise” but “conduct” primaries for aspirants in the State? Have they now replaced the State EXCO which the Court Ordered to be properly constituted? Did the coming of the Hon. Dakas Shan delegation change anything on the ground as per the Judgements of the High Court and Court of Appeal? Who eventually submitted the list of PDP Plateau State Candidates since only the State Chairman and Secretary are empowered by law to submit list of nominated Candidates to the National Headquarters and INEC? Who submitted the list of Party Agents for the PDP during the last General Elections? Was it Dakas Shan or Chris Hassan? Why did the Plateau PDP not participate at the National Convention which saw the emergence of Senator Iyorchia Ayu-led NWC ? Did they also participate in the Presidential Primaries where Alh. Atiku Abubakar emerged? Were the Court Orders earlier issued against PDP Plateau State Chapter or PDP National Body since there is just one registered PDP in the eyes of the Law? Several renowned Legal Experts agreed that it made no difference that it was a PDP National Delegation that came and conducted the Primary Elections for the Candidates that contested in the recent General Election.

There is a Consensus of Legal opinion that if the PDP National had any role as such, it should have been to come to correct the error by conducting EXCO Elections as ordered by the Court, not to come and conduct Primary Elections for aspirants!
The PDP and its Elected Candidates’ last hope was hinged on the slim possibility that the Supreme Court would at least consider their Appeal in SC/CV/1341/2022, PEOPLES’S DEMOCRATIC PARTY VS PLATEAU STATE INDEPENDENT ELECTORAL COMMISSION and reverse the Judgments of the Plateau State High Courts and the one by Court of Appeal Jos Division all of which found and held that the Party not only lacked a competent Exco in Plateau State but was in contempt of Court Orders.

However, because they failed to file their Appellant’s Brief within time and were lackadaisical about the prosecution of the Appeal, the Supreme Court, on 7th December 2022 dismissed the Appeal for want of diligent prosecution, pursuant to Order 6 Rule 3 (2) of the Rules of that Court! The Appeal was among the 50 Civil Appeals and 6 Political Appeals that were disposed of.

Going by this development, the predicament of the PDP in Plateau State could best be described as self-inflicted and a very bad one because a judgment or order of Court remains valid and subsisting until same is set aside by a Court of competent jurisdiction. In the case at hand, the Order of Hon. Justice S.P. Gang of the High Court of Plateau State remains valid, subsisting and binding on PDP until same is set aside.

Moreover, the affirmation of the same judgment by Hon. Justice I. Kunda and the Court of Appeal Jos Division also remains valid with no hope of being set aside since the PDP’s appeal at the Supreme Court was dismissed in 7th December, 2022 which legally means the matter has been put to rest.

As the Election Petition Tribunals begin sitting to hear Cases brought before them, the Zamfara State scenario may just be loading in Plateau State where all PDP Candidates who won Elections and those who lost may be declared ineligible to have contested the 2023 Elections in the first place. PDP’s perpetual disobedience of the Orders of Court may be their undoing as Political Disaster of monumental proportions looms very large on the Plateau.