By Nathaniel Ikyur
….’though the giants may be on their way to hinder, God will surely give us victory’
On Friday January 15th, 2016, the Supreme Court will rule in the Tarzoor vs Ortom Benue governorship election appeal with reference No: SC/928/2015 brought before it by Hon Terhemen Tarzoor, the candidate of the People Democratic Party (PDP) in the April 11 governorship election in Benue State. The Court of Appeal, Makurdi Division had dismissed his appeal in November last year.
For the governor and the APC, this judgment will stamp the seal on the mandate given to Benue State Governor Samuel Ortom. It will
also put off the noisome buzz from the camp of the PDP in the state. At least till the next elections. The PDP governorship candidate in the April 11th 2015 elections, Tarzoor is challenging the nomination process that threw up Governor Ortom as the candidate of the All Progressives Congress, APC in the April polls.
Interestingly, Tarzoor is at home with the tally of votes from the elections. At the end of count, Gov Ortom of the APC polled 387,753 votes to defeat Prince Tarzoor of the PDP who scored 296,189 votes. And he’s not contesting that.
But how did the governor get to this point? Obviously, it has been a battle royale for this gentleman, cum political strategist. From all indications, the governor was readily armed for this political ‘war’ as could be gleaned from the opening line quoted from his campaign anthem. The song, sang before and after each campaign outing gave life to the campaign of Governor Samuel Ortom for the Benue gubernatorial seat. Curiously, many who sang the whole song did not believe in it but the man at the center of it all was unshakeable in his faith. No wonder, his slogan was and still remains: ‘In God We Trust.’ Many still mock his unwavering faith in his God. Even that has not changed his focus.
From the onset of the governorship contest, Samuel Ortom, one time local government chairman of Guma Local governmnet council, and lately, a federal minister of the republic survived all humanly known tricks to get this far. It was obvious he was up against formidable opponents. It was foolishness to those who heard him always defer to God. No wonder, former Governor Gabriel Suswam reportedly told Ortom that as far as he (Suswam) was concerned, Ortom won’t win the PDP ticket not to talk of the governorship. In fact, that Ortom should forget governorship because he won’t win.
The governor Suswam confirmed this much when Ortom visited him for the first time after he was declared winner of the governorship seat. Inside the expansive governor’s office in Makurdi, Suswam confessed to the governor thus: “Nyamkyume, now I believe in this your God. I did everything humanly possible to stop you but the God you worship has proved me wrong. Today you are the governor and I am now a pensioner. You’ll take care of me.”
Suswam’s elder brother, Terkura was reported to have also told whoever that cared to listen that they don’t know the person to be Governor but they know who will not be. And at all these times, Ortom was marked out. His Radio Station, Ashi Waves was constantly used to malign the governor.
Suswam’s wife and former First Lady, Arc Yemisi Dooshima Suswam was not left out in working against Ortom. She, it is said, had warned gubernatorial aspirants at a public function, whom she accused of seeking the assistance of Pastors in the country to plead with her husband (the governor) on their behalf to be made governor. It is said that this was directed at the governor whose relationship with prominent preachers of the gospel was known to many. Ironically, Yemisi herself is deployimg the same strategy she had criticised. She recently approached a renowned Pastor of a worldwide church to plead with Governor Ortom to save her husband from the long arms of the law.
In the PDP, the arm twisting against Governor Ortom did not end within the political circle. The Tiv traditional council was brought in to nail him in. That was when the partisanship of the Tiv traditional council was heavily compromised. The division within the ranks of the royal father’s ahead of the 2015 general elections was too glaring and dreadful to the unity of the Tiv people. It became a straight fight between Ihyarev and Nongov districts. The governor’s kindred, the Nongov, who are a minority in Guma Local Government were described too insignificant and handful to be given such a high office. Yes, Nongov constitutes only three council wards. This derogatory remark prompted a popular Nongov political folk singer to composed a song. In it, he praised God that, in spite of their negligible number, God honoured them with the governorship seat.
Governor Ortom lost the PDP nomination to Prince Tarzoor with a tinge of external influence. Even at that, he wont be deterred. He scored 111 votes. Ortom had resisted attempts to make him stand down his ambition and support Tarzoor.
By divine design, the APC gubernatorial primaries were stopped midway following an exparte motion secured by Prof Steven Ugbah from a Makurdi High Court on Friday 5th December 2014. The amended constitution of the party at it’s October 2014 convention gave aspirants like Ortom a chance to stand election even when they become members of the party in 24 hours.
Fueled by APC’s amended constitution, Governor Ortom resigned his membership of the PDP after a skewed primary election and crossed over to the APC on December 9th 2014 to pick the party’s gubernatorial form. He was eventually picked as the consensus candidate. But that did not go down well with the other aspirants. Four of the five governorship aspirants of the party went to court in suit No: FHC/ABJ/ CS/1057/14, on the grounds that the Benue chapter of the APC had breached its constitution and the Electoral Act 2010, as amended, for according to them, “in imposing Ortom on the party.”
The PDP planned to cash-in on this as they tabled Jime’s suit at the tribunal as evidence that Ortom was not the lawful winner of the governorship election. They prayed the tribunal to hold that APC had no candidate at the time of the election and as such, its candidate Tarzoor be declared winner of the poll.
Midway, the trio of Jime, Waku and Ugbah succumbed to a political solution, facilitated by the national leadership of the party through the Speaker of the House of Representatives, Rt Hon Yakubu Dogara and assisted by Sokoto State Governor, Rt Hon Aminu Waziri Tambuwal. They withdrew the suit. This was a major victory. And this dealt a deadly blow on the expectations of the PDP and its governorship candidate. Governor Ortom crossed yet another difficult and major hurdle to remain as governor.
Victory was also secured at the Election Petition Tribunal and Court of Appeal. At the tribunal, Justice Elizabeth Karatu, said the petitioner failed to prove that Governor Ortom was not qualified to stand election. She said the respondent (Gov Ortom) had proved that he was an APC member by tendering his membership card and his letter of waiver at the tribunal.
Justice Karatu held that Ortom was duly qualified to contest the April 2015 governorship election in accordance with section 138 (1a) and section 177 (c) of the 1999 constitution. She held that the petition did not provide evidence to convincingly uphold that the governor was not nominated by the APC. And the petition was dismissed.
At the Court of Appeal, Justice Mohammed Garuba who led a panel of five other judges upheld the decision of the tribunal. He had insisted that the appellant failed to prove before the trial court that Governor Ortom was not properly nominated by his party. Justice Garuba held that, “on the issue of burden of proof, the tribunal did not err in law, it is the position of the law that the onus of proof lies with the petitioner who approaches the court. The tribunal was therefore right because where the petitioner fails to discharge that burden it is deemed that he has failed in that responsibility since it is he who alleges that must prove his case. It was the position of the judges at the Court of Appeal “therefore that the appeal is bereft of merit, the grounds of appeal failed and the appeal is dismissed.”
Evidently, this position hasn’t changed. It is the position of Niyi Akintola, Sebastian Hon and Prof Tony Ijohor, all Senior Advocates of Nigeria, SAN who represent Governor Ortom, APC and INEC respectively. They urged the Seven-Man panel of justices at the Supreme Court not to deviate from its earlier judgement in the election petition in Zamfara State with respect to nomination and dismiss the appeal.
Just last week in Abuja, Justice Okoro of the Supreme Court held that: “the appellants (Mahmud Shinkafi/PDP) had no locus standi to challenge the election nomination of the 1st respondent by his political party, the APC at its primary election of December 4, 2014. The simple reason being that they were not aspirants at the said primary election. “According to Section 87(9) of the Electoral Act 2010 (as ammended) only an aspirant, who participated in a primary election can challenge it’s outcome. The provision is restrictive.”
The sequence of all these string of victories means that Governor Ortom’s electoral victory is backed by law. Yes, though the giants may be on their way to hinder, God will surely give us victory. And so this Friday afternoon, we’ll roll out drums and celebrate Governor Samuel Ortom’s victory, yet again. It will be the affirmative action on the mandate, overwhelmingly given him by the Benue electorates. After this, Governor Ortom will be charged to re-engineer his team to deliver democracy dividends to the people. This indeed is the full completion of a victory cycle.