All was set for the APC candidate in the gubernatorial election in Kano, Malam Yusuf Gawuna, to be sworn in as the new governor of Kano State on January 12, 2024. This was the expectation of all APC faithful and other political observers. Their optimism stemmed from the fact that Governor Abbah Yusuf of the NNPP, who had defeated Yusuf Gawuna in the March 2023 Gubernatorial elections, faced removal by the Supreme Court after already being ousted by both the Tribunal and the Court of Appeal. There were reports of APC members in the state sharing aso-ebi with the inscription “Gawuna is coming,” and the state APC secretariat underwent renovations in anticipation.
In September, the Kano Election Tribunal deducted 165,653 votes from the 1,019,602 recorded for Yusuf because the ballot papers were not signed, stamped, and dated as required by the law. Governor Yusuf still lost at the Court of Appeal after appealing the tribunal’s ruling. The Court of Appeal, in its judgment, ruled that Abba Yusuf was not qualified to contest the elections due to his non-membership in the NNPP.
However, expectations were shattered, hopes dashed, and doom averted on the afternoon of January 12 following the Supreme Court’s unanimous ruling.
Supreme Court Ruling in Kano: Upholding the Integrity of the Electoral Process
The apex court, in a unanimous decision by a five-member panel of Justices, vacated the concurrent judgments of the Kano State Governorship Election Petitions Tribunal and the Court of Appeal in Abuja, which had sacked Governor Yusuf and declared Nasiru Gawuna of the All Progressive Congress, APC, as the winner of the gubernatorial poll.
It held that the 165,663 votes deducted from Yusuf and the NNPP on the premise that the ballot papers were not signed, stamped, or dated were valid. The court determined that 146,292 of the ballot papers were confirmed to have been signed and stamped, although lacking a date. It held that by section 63(1) of the Electoral Act 2022, ballot papers with the official mark and duly issued by INEC were not totally invalid.
Additionally, the court criticized the lower courts for nullifying Yusuf’s election based on his alleged non-membership in the NNPP, emphasizing that the issue of sponsorship of a candidate in an election falls within the domestic affairs of a political party.
Supreme Court’s Ruling in Plateau: A Blow to APC’s Initial Victory
Similarly, the hope of APC faithful in Plateau state was dashed following the Supreme Court’s ruling on the Plateau state gubernatorial election. Governor Caleb Mutfwang of PDP won at the tribunal but lost at the Court of Appeal.
The Court of Appeal, led by Justice Elfrieda Williams-Dawodu, in a unanimous decision in November 2023 ruled that Muftwang was not validly sponsored by the PDP because the party lacked a structure. The court nullified his election and declared the candidate of the APC, Yilwatda, as the governor of the state. To worsen matters, the appellate court also nullified the victories of nearly all the candidates of the PDP elected into the state and National Assembly on the same ground of alleged invalid nomination, a pre-election matter.
The decision prompted Muftwang to approach the Supreme Court.
Supreme Court’s Verdict: Emphasizing Party Autonomy and Jurisdictional Limits
Delivering the lead judgment of the Supreme Court’s five-member panel, Emmanuel Agim referenced APC’s contention that the appellant was not qualified to contest the election. Mr. Agim held, “We have held in a plethora of cases that the sponsorship of a candidate for election is an internal affair of a political party.”
He ruled that the Court of Appeal lacked jurisdiction to determine the validity of the candidacy of the PDP, reiterating that Mr Yilwatda of the APC had no right to challenge the emergence of Governor Mutfwang as the candidate of the PDP. Besides, the Supreme Court held that the APC and its candidate lacked the locus standi to challenge Muftwang’s candidature.
It held that under section 84(18) of the Electoral Act 2022, only PDP members who participated in its primary election could challenge the outcome in court.
These two rulings have restored some credibility to the judiciary. Unfortunately, the PDP in Plateau state has already lost more than 20 seats at the Court of Appeal.
However, there is a fear that the ruling in the Kano state election, which revolves around stamped, signed, and dated ballot papers, might create an avenue for desperate politicians to circumvent the electoral system.
Overall, the rulings serve as a wake-up call to judges to discern what kind of cases and appeals to prioritize. Perhaps the miscarriage of justice experienced on the Plateau by PDP state and federal lawmakers will be averted in the future.