SENATE: MAKARFI BOUNCES BACK
Agabi & Adoke
Among the major surprises of last April's general election in Kaduna was the defeat of the former Kaduna State Governor, Senator Ahmed Mohammed Makarfi, who sought to represent Kaduna North Senatorial District, for the second record ter.
But what many did not however know, and which Daily Sun can authoritatively confirm is that top officials of the ruling Peoples' Democratic Party, PDP, in the State, were actually the mastermind of the grand plot to send Makarfi to political oblivion, for allegedly supporting the CPC governorship candidate, against Yakowa, the PDP's candidate. In fact, at one of the meetings of the top stalwarts of party in the State, a former minister openly disclosed that the party was not bothered about Makarfi's fate at the polls.
Therefore, the moment the Senatorial election was shifted, to hold simultaneously with that of the governorship, many immediately concluded that it would be easier for the horse to pass through the needle's eye, than for Makarfi to return to the Senate. At the end of the senatorial election, Dr. Yusuf Ahmed Datti, a former House of Representatives member, aborted Makarfi's dream, albeit, temporarily.
Once the elections were over, Makarfi, accepted the outcome with a somewhat philosophical calmness. Daily Sun learnt he was reluctant in challenging the outcome in the court.
But his loyalists, Daily Sun further learnt, encouraged the 'boys' that were used to perpetrate the plot against him, to go and confess their 'sins' to the former governor, insisting that the zone and the State would be better off under Makarfi's representation, than under Dr. Datti.
Some of the 'boys' heeded the call, and inundated Makarfi with 'relevant materials' used to plot his fall. Some of these 'relevant materials' Daily Sun learnt, included different versions of results declared at some of the wards and some unsigned and unstamped ballot papers. All these were the push Makarfi needed to approach the court, and he did.
Unlike the governorship petition, which the CPC lost against the PDP, from day one when the petition against Datti was filed, Makarfi showed a 'strong sign' that he was desirous of unseating Datti through the legal means, a firm resolve that forced Datti, to evade service on several occasions, until he was served through a substituted means.
This, saw Datti's lawyers rushing to the tribunal to file their reply. Although, before they could do that, the time frame allowed by the law for them to file a reply had expired, necessitating their filing of an application, to seek the leave of the tribunal to file their reply out of time.
But Makarfi, through his counsel Yunus Ustaz, [SAN], opposed the application. In spite of their opposition to the application, they opted for the petition to be tried based on merit. The tribunal however allowed Datti's application to sail through, thus, setting the stage for the trial of the petition proper.
Earlier, Makarfi, had in his petition alleged non- compliance with provisions of the 2010 Electoral Act and the manipulation of the electoral process through ballot stuffing, the use of fake, unsigned and unstamped ballot papers, all of which he alleged were counted in favour of his opponent.
During the proceedings it was established that there were indeed ballot box stuffing during the April elections in Kaduna, just as there were several 'unsigned and unstamped' votes in most polling units, all of which were used to return candidates as winners during the April 28, 2011 rescheduled Governorship/State Assembly elections and Senatorial elections in the state.
In prosecuting the case, original ballot papers used for the election were admitted in evidence and after their admittance, Makarfi's counsel applied to the tribunal for a recount of the ballot papers.
But this was opposed by counsel to Datti, Abbas Ibrahim.
He premised his opposition on the fact that the boxes were not pleaded in the original petition or the witness statement. But the tribunal disagreed with him and ordered a recount of the content of the boxes, insisting that the outcome of the recount would form part of the judgment of the tribunal.
The recount led to the deduction of 9, 000 votes, from those of Datti, thus setting the pace for the eventual ruling of the tribunal, which was in favour of Makarfi.
The tribunal through Justice Kalio, said about 300 exhibits, including Certified True Copies of Forms EC8A and ballot boxes, were tendered and admitted in evidence during the trial; but that about 97 were rejected because according to him, they were never pleaded by the petitioner in his petition and witness statement.
He also said that the counting of the ballot papers at the tribunal by INEC, in accordance with the orders of the tribunal lasted from October 7 to 20, saying that the genuineness of the ballot papers brought to the tribunal by INEC officials was not in doubt.
The tribunal declared that 'after sorting and recounting of the votes and deducting the number of the unsigned and un stamped votes from the total votes recorded for the two candidates, Makarfi emerged winner with majority of lawful votes of 364, 801 against Datti Baba-Ahmed's 356, 579 votes.
'Makarfi scored the majority votes. Accordingly, the victory of the first respondent is set aside; the certificate of return should be withdrawn and be given to Senator Makarfi as the duly elected senator for Kaduna North Senatorial Zone.'
Dissatisfied with the November 14, 2011 decision of the tribunal, Datti again approached the appeal court, asking it to set aside the verdict of the lower tribunal.
But the Court of Appeal sitting in Kaduna penultimate Tuesday confirmed his sack by dismissing his appeal against the National Assembly Election Tribunal that nullified his election and ordered Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) to issue his opponent, Senator Ahmed Mohammed Makarfi, with Certificate of Return as the senator representing Kaduna North Senatorial Zone.
Ruling on the matter, the presiding judge, Justice Amina Augie said, considering the provision of Section 285, Sub-section 7 of the 1999 Constitution, which stipulated the time frame of 60 days for the hearing of appeal from election tribunal to be filed before the Appeal Court, the court lacked jurisdiction to hear the appeal.
Justice Augie in the 22-minute ruling, said though counsel to the appellant, Mr. Abbas Ibrahim argued that the delay in the hearing of the appeal was not caused by either of the parties involved in the case, the Constitution was very strict about the 60 days.
She further stressed that even if the court was to hear the appeal penultimate Tuesday, the appeal was not yet before the court.
'What is before the court as we speak are applications for extension of time to file the appeal proper and application to regularise the appellant's appeal before the court. 'We can only say the court has an appeal before it when there is an application for appeal and record of proceedings of the previous judgment,' she stressed.
Earlier in his argument, counsel to Senator Datti, Mr. Abbas Ibrahim said the 60 days ought to have lapsed on January 12, 2012 but due to the nationwide strike and the 24 hours curfew imposed on Kaduna State during the fuel subsidy protest, the court had the jurisdiction to hear the appeal, adding that 'If the court looked critically at the provision of Section 285 (7) with the aim of ensuring justice, not merely looking at it technically, the court has jurisdiction to hear the appeal.'
But Makarfi's counsel, had also countered, arguing that in the first place, the appellant was responsible for the delay, considering his failure to file the appeal before the court within the stipulated period of 60 days.
With this development, the Peoples' Democratic Party now has two Senators from Kaduna State, leaving the Congress for Progressive Change, with one seat. But Makarfi's return will no doubt open another struggle for political space in Kaduna, a thing that would help in unveiling the shape of things to come in 2015…