Thursday, 5 May 2016

Nigeria: Dogara's Dilemma Over 'Two Friends' Claiming Benue Rep Seat

Rep Hassan Saleh and Adabah Abah Christian, all of the PDP, are still locked in legal battle over the Ado/Obadigbo/Okpokwu federal constituency of Benue State one year after the elections. Our correspondent, Ibrahim Kabiru Sule, looks at the issue in the litigation.

More than two months since the Appeal Court ruled in favour of Adabah Abah Christian, the incumbent member from the constituency, Hassan Saleh, is still in office.

More confusing in the whole saga is the position of the National Assembly website, which recognises Adabah Abah as the representative of the constituency, with his name and bio-data reflected on the website by Daily Trust.

Still, the same website that has been replete with mistakes and errors accommodates Hassan Saleh somewhere. The website says Hassan Saleh, with his bold picture and bio-data, is presently representing Eti-Osa federal constituency of Lagos.

This is even as the Lagos constituency has a duly elected member, in person of Akinloye Hazeez Babajide of APC. His own picture and bio-data, too, is reflected for same constituency on the website.

The struggle between Abah and Saleh for the House of Representatives seat had its roots at the Independent National Electoral Election (INEC) in January, 2015, months before the general polls in the country.

Daily Trust exclusively reported at the time that INEC had ordered for the declaration of the PDP's sole candidate for Ado/Obadigbo/Okpokwu federal constituency, Adabah Abah as winner of the election for being the sole candidate.

In other words, as the candidate of the PDP for the seat, there was no other candidate(s) from other parties that contested for the seat, and therefore, was returned elected by INEC.

INEC's decision, signed by a director in the commission's secretariat, Ishiaku A. Gali, said "the commission has approved that the House of Representatives election in Ado/Opokwu/Ogbadibo federal constituency of Benue State, being uncontested, the nominated candidate should be declared elected on the day of the election by the Returning Officer."

The decision of INEC was in sync with the Electoral Act's provision that says "if after expiration of time for delivering of nomination papers, withdrawal of candidates and the extension of time as provided for in this Act there is only one person whose name is validly nominated in respect of an election, other than to the office of the president or governor, that person shall be declared elected."

Adabah Abah was consequently returned winner of the seat with no opposition. But, in May 2015, one month before the inauguration of the National Assembly, a Federal High Court in Abuja nullified the victory of Abah on grounds of "forgery and perjury."

Both Saleh and Abah are PDP members, but Saleh rushed to court soon after losing the PDP ticket of the election to his rival.

The High Court nullified Abah's election on grounds that he had forged his Ordinary National Diploma (OND) certificate in Accountancy, purportedly obtained from the Federal Polytechnic, Mubi in 1985.

This paved the way for Saleh to be inaugurated along with other 359 members of the House on June 9, having earlier got the Certificate of Return from INEC.

Eight months later, an Appeal Court in Abuja, restored the seat to Abah and quashed the earlier verdict of the High Court. It ordered for his swearing-in by the speaker as the duly representative of the constituency.

However, till date, the speaker is yet to swear-in Abah and Saleh has continued to be in office, owing to his further appeal at the Supreme Court, seeking "interpretation" of the Appeal Court's ruling.

Although court cases over National Assembly election terminated at the National Assembly the Appeal Court Saleh appealed to Supreme Court since the matter was a pre-election one, and therefore falls outside electoral dispute circle.

It is based on this reason that the speaker continues to tarry on the order of the appeal court, an action that had not gone well with those in Abah's camp.

Sources in the speaker's office told Daily Trust that it would be "prejudice" for the speaker to swear-in Abah, since Saleh had served the leadership of his appeal notice.

But, this has remained the source of consternation from the other camp.

For example, hundreds of Abah's supporters, a fortnight ago, thronged the National Assembly and barricaded entrance with convoy of vehicles, which forced entrants to divert to exit gate to have access to the premises.

The protesters, under the aegis of Concerned Legal Practitioners of Ado/Okpokwu/Ogbadibo from Benue State, accused the speaker of complicity and taking side with Saleh, who was the constituency's representative in the last assembly.

Leader of the group, Ochene Sunday, alleged that there was conspiracy in the lower chamber that led to "disrespect" of the Appeal Court's ruling.

He said there was a judgment that set aside the Federal High Court judgment which had been communicated to the National Assembly, particularly the speaker of the House of Representatives.

"INEC has issued a Certificate of Return to Christian Adabah Abba and we are requesting that he should be sworn in as member representing Ado, Okpokwu and Ogbadibo Federal Constituency."

Reacting to the protesters' claims, Saleh, through his legislative aide, Obochi Steve Okwori, said there was no clear-cut order by the Appeal Court vacating his stay in the green chamber.

He told journalists that the Appeal Court ruling remains, since it did not order for Hassan to leave office, hence his rush to Supreme Court for clarification.

"The Appeal Court in its ruling stated clearly that Hon. Christian Adabah Abah's appeal on certificate forgery and perjury 'partially succeeds'. Our lawyers told us categorically that 'partially succeeds' in law cannot be properly situated.

"There is no order from Appeal Court that Christian Adabah Abah should be sworn in. If there is, let them show us. Hon. Hassan Saleh has gone to the Supreme Court to seek clarification on the matter," he said.

Sources close to the two candidate confided in Daily Trust that the two politicians had been lifetime friends, hence Saleh's knowledge of the certificate issue.

Unlike court victories in the governorship polls, where a fresh four-year term is always sacrosanct, the concern for Abah is that there is no going to be remedy of the time lost, even if victory comes on the last day of the 8th Assembly.

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