STATEMENT OF THE ACTION CONGRESS OF NIGERIA (ACN) GOVERNORSHIP CANDIDATE IN
BENUE STATE, PROF STEVE TORKUMA UGBAH, ON THE JUNE 8, 2012 RULING OF THE
SUPREME COURT ON HIS ELECTION PETITION.
PROJECT BENUE: THE STRUGGLE CONTINUES
Our country is experiencing the necessary growing pains that all nations that aspire to a relatively decent form of democracy must go through. The path that other great nations took to that destination was always checkered. Our path has been no different, but with the right injection of concerned patriots, willing and able to chart the course of the future history of our nation, we will build a country we can all be proud of.
Within the confines of the resources that were available to us, we did the best we could. I refuse to engage in any post mortem analysis as that would indeed trivialize the unbelievable sacrifices that were made by ordinary citizens to see the “Benue Project” succeed. I will never forget:
- the old women who would come up to me during the campaigns and squeeze all sorts of modest denominations of naira into my palms and say “Ishor Chenji, use this and buy petrol;"
- the okada riders who would see us on the road and suspend their original drop destination (passenger and all) to escort us where we were going before continuing on;
- the young children who gyrated to the sounds of “Ishor Chenji” as if there was no tomorrow;
- the many people who believed in us and walked with us by faith on Facebook and everywhere virtual communities could be found.
If I live to be a hundred, these images will forever be vivid in my mind.
Following the April 26, 2011 governorship election in Benue State, the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) declared Rt. Hon. Dr. Gabriel Torwua Suswam of the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP), as winner, despite our overwhelming majority of lawful votes cast at the election.
2. Dissatisfied with the outrageous declaration by INEC, we dragged Suswam, PDP and INEC to the Benue State Governorship Election Petition Tribunal sitting in Makurdi on May 17, 2011, challenging the declaration on the grounds that Suswam did not score majority of lawful votes cast in the election; that the election was void in some Local Government Areas due to non compliance with the Electoral Act 2010 (as amended) and that Suswam was not qualified and/or disqualified from contesting the election for refusing to present any certificate or presenting forged certificate(s) to INEC.
3. The Tribunals and the courts refused to go into the merit of our case, but rather concerned themselves with technicalities of process and timelines without doing substantial justice to the Constitutional issues raised in our petition.
4. On Friday, June 8, 2012, the Supreme Court of Nigeria finally ruled that we cannot recover our stolen mandate because 180 days as prescribed by Section 285(6) of the 1999 Constitution (as amended) have lapsed since May 17, 2011 when our petition was filed at the Tribunal despite a subsisting retrial order of the Supreme Court made by the Chief Justice of Nigeria; Justice Dahiru Musdapher on November 14, 2011 “that the petition be heard on the merits”. Ariwoola JSC while delivering the judgment also ruled that the issue of qualification and disqualification or non-presentation/presentation of forged certificate(s) to INEC by Gabriel Suswam cannot stand in the face of effluxion of 180 days. The learned justice also concluded that an election tribunal could arrive at a decision without hearing the parties.
5. These pronouncements, if not ridiculous are certainly disheartening. It is only in Nigeria that a petitioner who has done everything within the law is denied justice. The Legislature in their wisdom introduced timelines into the Constitution to discourage situations where election petitions dragged for too long. However, the construction of Section 285(6) on 180 days by the Supreme Court has created more mischief, as litigants are shut out of the temple of justice and not allowed to ventilate their grievances due to effluxion of time. The construction has also rendered the known legal maxim, ubi jus ibi remedium inoperative. The maxim presupposes that where there is a wrong, there must be a remedy. It has also taken away the constitutional right of appeal from litigants and made Tribunals the final court in election adjudication in Nigeria.
6. God knows that in the electoral battles of 2011, we fought diligently and hard. Our methods and weapons were clean and decent and in the best traditions of democratic contest:
- We had limited funds
- We had no structure
- We had no militia
Even the State Security Services wondered if we were serious about playing politics without these staples on the occasion of a pre-election debrief of candidates for the 2011 elections in Abuja. The one thing we did very well was to connect with the people and to show them how much better things could be. Then we put God front and center in everything we did – and for his many graces, we are most thankful.
The people of Benue State overwhelmingly voted for us. It is the shame of the Nigerian system, though, that our obvious victory has not survived the onslaught of the monstrous conspiracies of the Nigerian State, the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC), the ruling People’s Democratic Party (PDP), and the Judiciary.
7. As law-abiding citizens, we have fully kept faith with the legal process. Although we lost the case at the Supreme Court, we have won the moral victory, as the people know whom they actually voted for. Whereas the law has refused or failed to deliver justice to us, we are full of strength on account of our moral and civil convictions that a great deal of injustice has been done to the people of Benue State and indeed, Nigeria.
8. In this wise we believe as a former Nigerian Leader once said “Legal justice is not necessarily social justice.” I therefore, urge you, my teeming supporters to be calm and law-abiding even as you remain committed and glued to our aspirations of bringing positive change to Benue State. Of course, the best we can do for our democracy and for the development of Benue State is to remain a virile and focused opposition that jettisons any evil machinations that aspire to hold Benue State’s development hostage.
9. As we lost our mandate to the grand conspiracy of State and the Judiciary, we also lost some of our comrades such as Charles Ayede and Egbe Nack, and several associates to the roguery and thuggery of the moment that have confronted us. We must solemnly and sincerely mourn their demise and hope that they did not die in vain. The only epitaph to their memory is to continue with the struggle until such a historic day when Benue will see good governance, until such a day when the ordinary Benue State citizen will go to good schools in Benue for free, have functional and affordable health facilities, get potable water to drink, and his or her quality of life will be improved.
10. Let me emphasize that we have come this far because our cause was right and our mission just. We have stood on the truth. We have stood for the oppressed. We have stood for the down trodden. We have given hope to the hopeless.
11. For all those who conspired to truncate the will of the Benue people, we leave them to their consciences, to the judgment of history and to God Almighty. As the Zik of Africa and Owelle of Onitsha, the late Dr. Nnamdi Azikiwe, once said in similar circumstances in the wake of the much-discredited 1983 general elections, “History will vindicate the just, but God will punish the wicked.”
12. As members of the ACN, a political party that evidently believes in the sanctity of peace and the rule of law, we can only let go. However, we affirm our great concern for the people’s mandate, the supremacy of their wishes and their overwhelming quest for change. We also affirm that both hard electoral and legal lessons have been learnt. These lessons will guide us in all our future political-cum-electoral interactions with other parties and institutions involved in the democratic process.
13. Now that the Supreme Court has abdicated its constitutional roles and is making unjust interpretations of the Nigerian Constitution, no justice is expected from the Nigerian judiciary. If democracy must continue to have its intended meaning, our supporters must stand up to defend their votes in subsequent elections. Otherwise, we may fall prey to the warning of General Buhari that further attempts to truncate the will of the people during elections will see “both the baboon and the monkey soaked in blood.”
14. As we recalibrate our position as Benue opposition, I wish to offer my profound gratitude to all who have walked in step with us and believed in a better tomorrow. You must stand tall and proud as you have all been spectacular in your support. You must remain peaceful, calm and respectful of the laws of the land. Benue State has many sunny days ahead. As an incurable optimist, I would love to believe that the awareness we created during these last elections will make it unlikely that the people of Benue will be hoodwinked ever again.
I wish to thank the good people of Benue State, the ACN family worldwide and other progressives around the world particularly, Senator Dr. George Akume; the Senate Minority Leader, Senator Dr. Iyorchia Ayu; Former Senate President, Federal Republic of Nigeria, ACN members in the National and State Assembly from Benue State, ACN National Chairman, Chief Bisi Akande, ACN National Leader, Senator Bola Ahmed Tinubu, the National and State Executive Committee of the party.
15. I wish to also appreciate in a special way, the ACN Deputy Governorship Candidate in Benue State, Alhaji Abubakar D. M. Usman (Young Alhaji) for all his contributions to the struggle; the Director-General of the campaign organization and his team, Prof David Iornem, friends of Prof Steve Torkuma Ugbah in the United States of America, the Mandate Recovery Group based in Abuja, and the Benue Coalition for Change (BCC) group. The support of the National media and the local Press cannot be overemphasized. They were actually refreshing and encouraging.
16. Let me particularly appreciate the small children who thronged the streets and paths of Benue chanting “Ishor Chenji” in acknowledgment of their hope for a better future in our mandate. The appreciation will be incomplete without a mention of the Ugbah Mothers, Ugbah Sisters, Ugbah Angels, Ugbah Babes, Civil Servants, Mbayegh Active Partners in Progress, courageous Benue Students, Okada Riders, Taxi Drivers, Market Women, Widows and Orphans, Benue Family on Facebook, our quintessential singer and composer-Terkura Kyumbur (alias TK Baba and Group), and all others singers who composed various “Ishor Chenji” music that propagated our message, and all the Pastors and Men of God who identified with the Benue cause.
17. I thank you all for your support, your prayers, and your steadfastness. Never in history have a people shown greater commitment and dedication to a cause than your commitment to the “Ishor Chenji” project in Benue State. Never in history has one mandate been stolen from so many by so few. You have not lost; you have won! History will certainly accord you the pride of place.
18. I must also commend the industry of the ACN legal team led by Oluwarotimi Odunayo Akeredolu, SAN. You did your best for the advancement of the justice system in Nigeria and such efforts will not be in vain.
19. Finally, we all must thank and praise God for everything.
I love you all. The “Benue Project” continues.
Prof Steve Torkuma Ugbah
A joint meeting of the movements for the creation of Binda and Gboko States was held at the Makurdi residence of Wantaregh Paul Unongo with prominent Tiv sons in attendance where the following resolutions were adopted.
1. That the Tiv people should unite under one body to pursue vigorously the creation of two states: BINDA and GBOKO States out of the present Benue State.
2. That Binda should be composed of Kwande, Ushongo, Katsina Ala, Ukum and Logo; i.e. Kwande and Sankera while Jerchira and Jemgbagh comprising Vandeikya, Konshisha, Gboko, Buruku and Tarka is to form Gboko State.
3. The meeting also resolved to support the creation of Apa and more Local Government Council Areas in the new states and the remaining Benue State.
4. Coordinationg Secretariate were established in Abuja, Makurdi, Gboko and Katsina Ala. Chief Abu King Shuluwa and Mr. Peter Shande are to coordinate the Binda movement secretariat. Gboko State has Mohammed Gwa and Aondona P. Diwa as the interim secretariat.
The Makurdi coordinating secretariat is manned by Elder Toryima Orga and Kwaghtse Kuma.
Dr. Yima Sen and Barr. Linda Adzuanaga are to coordinate the Abuja office.
5. The various secretariats have been mandated to propagate, enlighten and recuit more people to work towards the creation of these states.
6. Any useful information, suggestions or contributions are encouraged and acceptable and should be forwarded to the nearest coordinating office.
7. The next meeting is scheduled for 28th July, 2012, at Wantaregh Paul Unongo’s residence in Makurdi.
Present at the 1st Consultative Meeting were:
1. Justice A.P.B. Utsaha
2. Chief Abu King Shuluwa
3. Dr. Yima Sen
4. Prof. Steve Ugbah
5. Mohammed Gwa
6. Kwaghtse Kuma
7. Prof. Anongo Lyam
8. Hon. Clement Nanev Uhondo
9. Dr. Aondona P. Diwa
10. Mr. Peter Shande
11. Rev. Peter Ichull
12. Barr. Lynda Sewuese Adzuanaga
13. Bem Iche-Ugoh
14. Agema Gloria
15. Myke Gbe
16. Richard Agwa
17. Prof. Targema Gire
18. Kelvins Dzeremo
19. Elder Toryima Orga
20. Kpamor J.T. Orkar
21. Wantaregh Paul Iyorpuu Unongo(OFR)
Elder Toryima Orga