NYAKO CAN'T RETURN-BONI HARUNA
Boni Haruna, a two-term governor of Adamawa state, was one of the ardent followers of former Vice President Atiku Abubakar who abandoned the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) for the Action Congress of Nigeria (ACN) in the run up to the 2007 general elections.
However, while Atiku made a dramatic return to the PDP in his bid to actualize his presidential ambition, the former governor kept fate with the ACN and subsequently emerged the leader of the party. In the last April election, he contested for the Adamawa North Senatorial District election but lost the seat to his PDP counterpart. But undeterred by the recent judgment of the tribunal, he expressed his determination to reclaim his mandate at the Court of Appeal. Excerpts…
How has it been since you left office?
Well, for every situation you find yourself, you must give praise to God for His grace and His mercies. I cannot complain because even if there is something to complain about, there is nobody to complain to. In this country, you only need to be at the right place and at the right time to be relevant. Look at some of us that fought the third term, we are still grappling with the consequences of our choice to be on the other side of the divide.
So, at a point, if you happen to be at the wrong place and at the wrong time, it becomes an endless battle for you to prove yourself even when there are changes in leadership. In the end, you may be kept out of the system on account of your antecedents which may have been noble but may be unacceptable to others. It's really tragic.
As a former governor, many people had thought that your ambition to secure a seat in the senate would be a walkover for you. But surprisingly, you lost the election to your other contender in the PDP. How would you account for this defeat?
You are absolutely right. It was actually a walkover given my accomplishments in the state. To represent that zone in the senate in the past, we have had a professor, a former Vice-Chancellor and a former minister from 1999-2007 who was eminently succeeded by a retired Nigerian army Colonel and a former military governor from 2007-2011. It was in keeping with the tradition of electing quality representatives that the people massively came to vote for me within the short period of my declaration for the senate seat. I could have neatly rigged myself in, having been in a leadership position in this country.
But I resolved to go into the election as a statesman and contribute to free electoral process. I worked for clean votes. But what happened during the election was quite intriguing. INEC for whatever reason chose not to apply the same rule in Adamawa North senatorial district as it did in Anambra Central where it declared the election between Chris Ngige and Dora Akunyili inconclusive and ordered a rerun in some wards because the marginal votes by the leading candidate was less than number of registered voters in the area where election was cancelled or did not hold. Such was the case in Mijilu ward in Mubi North of Adamawa North Senatorial district where election didn't hold. The Senatorial election was declared inconclusive by the same INEC in its report which was mischievously dated April 23, 2011, clearly two weeks after the elections but refused to order a rerun like it did in Anambra Central.
Then, what is your next line of action following the recent verdict of the tribunal upholding the victory of your opponent in the April senatorial election?
I am not new to unpleasant judgments of election petition tribunal. In 2003, I became the first sitting governor in the country whose election was annulled by an election petition tribunal through a ridiculous and unprecedented judgment of over 441 pages. The Appeal court upturned the judgment describing it as scandalous. The judgment of Adamawa election petition tribunal was really very unpleasant.
Here was a tribunal which without any pleading from any party to the petition ascribed to itself the duty to conclude for INEC its inconclusive election by admitting purported form EC8A results of the disputed Mijilu ward which was never included in forms EC8D& EC8E or added to the overall results declared by the INEC. The strange results came through a motion by the respondents which were tendered from the bar after we had closed our case. No witness was called for us to subject the credibility of the evidence to cross examination. Most importantly, the strange result was not frontloaded during the pre-trial hearing.
When the court ordered inspection of all the INEC's materials used in the conduct of the elections which were pleaded for by us, only those of Mijilu ward were not made available to us for inspection. No ballot papers, voter's registers and other election materials in respect of Mijilu ward was given to us.
Earlier, we had sought to tender the INEC's report which we subpoenaed the REC to produce in court. The tribunal rejected our motion to tender the INEC report through the Evidence-in- Chief on the grounds that it was not pleaded in our petition. We decided to use the report at another level. This time, in opposing the motion to tender the strange Mijilu results, we deposed to the Certified True Copy of the INEC report in our counter motion. Curiously, the tribunal ruled against us arguing that rules governing election petitions should not be rigidly applied. We already have an interlocutory appeal pending against this particular ruling.
So, you can see that given the proceedings of the tribunal, their judgment did not come to me as a surprise. If the tribunal's admission of the strange Mijilu results was ridiculous, more ridiculous was their computing of the results and adding same to the overall results of the petitioner and the first respondent when nobody pleaded for or complained about lack of inclusion of Mijilu results.
Secondly, just like in the case of Mubi North, Mubi South and Maiha House of Reps, where INEC didn't call any of the witnesses it had deposed to, so did INEC not call any witness in my own case. The elections were held on the same day by the same INEC and processed to its logical conclusion by the same INEC. Similarly, the same tribunal handled election petitions in the senate and House of Representatives election in the Adamawa North Senatorial district and delivered judgment in straight succession starting with the House of Representatives on the same day. For INEC's 'refusal to call witnesses, it had earlier deposed to, the tribunal in its judgment for House of Representatives described INEC's action as surprising.
The tribunal abandoned our pleas in the face of overwhelming documentary evidence, including our findings of inspection of INEC materials which were effortlessly tendered and admitted without any objection from the respondents. Unfortunately, the tribunal contradicted itself when it said on another page and I will read it. 'It is surprising that the 2nd Respondent which conducted election in Mubi North, Mubi South and Maiha Federal Constituency will fail, refuse and neglect to come up with evidence in defence of the election it conducted. The INEC has a duty to defend the election it conducted by opposing a petition filed against the conduct and result of the elections. The INEC is not at any liberty to decline opposing the petition in which it is the respondent or by supporting the case of the petitioner. To do so would amount to taking the nature of a chameleon which is capable of undermining our democratic process and causing erosion of public confidence and credibility of INEC'
Are you going to appeal the verdict?
We will definitely challenge it. This kind of judgment should not remain in our jurisprudence and serve as a reference document to our younger lawyers especially in election petition. Let me at this juncture pay tribute to my counsels, Emeka Ngige (SAN) and my lead counsel and A.J. Owonikoko (SAN). They were simply brilliant. Even the Chairman of the tribunal acknowledged this, while congratulating Owonikoko on his elevation into the inner bar.
Governor Murtala Nyako has been endorsed by the PDP for a second term. Do you see him winning the election based on his performance in the last four years?
Governor Nyako's strongest point to possibly win election is not his performance. On the contrary, it is his access to and the control of the instrumentalities of power and public fund. This is a governor who doesn't communicate with the very people he governs. This is the 8th week workers have been on strike in the state. Private hospitals and clinics have been overflowing with sick people because public health institutions have been shut. We have less than l000 bed spaces in all the private hospitals in the state for a population of 3.5 million in this crisis situation.
He does not seem to care. Admiral Nyako is the one of these governors who put pressure on the Federal government to deliver them because they belong to the ruling party while ignoring the task of ensuring good governance that would have easily delivered them during election. They always look forward to the Federal Government for its institutional support during elections. If this is not the case, how can a sitting governor who is facing re-election in about two and a half months' time ignore talking to the labour and allow strike to linger for months without possible solution?
Can the ACN wrestle power from the PDP in Adamawa?
The ACN is fast growing in Adamawa. At the risk of sounding immodest, we are the strongest opposition party in the state and we are poised to upstage the PDP in the next gubernatorial election. I know it won't be easy, but we are putting in place structures and we have also learnt from the way the April election was done and we have picked positives from that which we hope to use in future.
Is there any likelihood of teaming up with other opposition parties?
We are contesting the election as a party. We are, however, collaborating with other parties for possible alliance. We are not ruling out the possibility of forming a grand alliance. You must have heard of Adamawa Forum for Change which is made up of Adamawa elite cutting across all the parties. Its inaugural meeting was chaired by Professor Jibril Aminu.
How would you assess the strength of the ACN in Adamawa?
We are doing fairly well as a party. We have two House of Representatives members and four members in the state House of Assembly. But as a party, I must say that the number of our members is not a reflection of our acceptance at the grassroots. ACN is the party to beat any day in Adamawa in an atmosphere where the ground rules are fairly applied.
How will you react to the insinuation that the ACN is a South West party?
That is arrant nonsense; I am not a South Westerner. Attahiru Bafarawa too is not one. Musa Gwadabe, George Akume, Chris Ngige, Saminu Turaki, John Akpanuedoedehe and many others are not South Westerners but we are all in this party. ACN is a national party given our leadership structure which is very important and our membership which is beyond the South West. I will concede that the support base of the ACN is heavier in the South Western part of the country where the party is in control of five states. But the ACN was cheated in Benue and Akwa Ibom.
You are looking very fit even years after leaving office, what is the secret of your good looks?
There is no secret other than the fact that I am enjoying my freedom from the stress of public office. The office of a governor in a state of over 68 ethnic groups like Adamawa is not just about the siren or the paraphernalia of the office. The challenges are quite enormous and very stressful in many respects. So, I have only been freed from that stress since 2007.