FELIX NWANERI reports on the failed bid by Senator Dino Melaye to turn the table against his political archrival, Senator Smart Adeyemi, following the dismissal of his suit challenging the outcome of the November 2019 Kogi West Senatorial District election by the Court of Appeal
The legal battle over the Kogi West Senatorial District seat was settled on Tuesday as the Court of Appeal, Abuja, struck out the appeal brought before it by former Senator Dino Melaye, challenging the election of Senator Smart Adeyemi. Adeyemi of the All Progressives Congress (APC) defeated Melaye, who was the candidate of the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) in the rerun poll of November 16, 2019 for the Kogi West seat in the upper legislative chamber. Adeyemi polled 88,373 votes to defeat Melaye, who secured 62,133 votes.
However, the PDP candidate headed to the tribunal with a prayer for a fresh election on the grounds that the election was marred by irregularities and noncompliance with the Electoral Act. Delivering judgement on his suit in June, the National Assembly Election Petition Tribunal that sat in Abuja, affirmed Adeyemi as the senator representing Kogi West District.
The three-man panel unanimously dismissed the petitioner’s prayers on the ground that he failed to prove that the election was marred by inconsistencies, over-voting, violence and noncompliance with the standard of the Electoral Act. Not satisfied with the judgement, Melaye approached the Court of Appeal, but the three-man panel of appellate court headed by Justice Ibrahim Saulawa, in its judgement, struck out the appeal on the ground that it was filed out of time. All seven issues raised by Melaye and the PDP were resolved against them.
The court also awarded the cost of N50,000 against the appellants, and in favour of the respondents – Adeyemi, APC, and INEC. “The instant appeal grossly fails and it is hereby dismissed. We have protocol and we cannot go outside the purview of the law,” said Justice Ibrahim Saulawa who delivered the judgement. The judgement consequently sealed Melaye’s hope of returning to the Red Chamber as the appellate court is the final arbiter on petitions arising from National Assembly elections.
It would be recalled that Kogi West senatorial election was keenly contested between Adeyemi and Melaye as both candidates proved their worth in an election a winner was determined after a supplementary poll. The supplementary election became necessary because INEC declared the November 16, 2019, senatorial rerun poll inconclusive. INEC had on November 17, 2019, declared the election, which was held simultaneously with the Kogi State governorship poll as inconclusive because the margin of lead between the frontrunners was less than total cancelled votes.
While announcing the results of the November 16 senatorial poll, INEC’s Returning Officer, Prof. Lawal, said Adeyemi scored a total of 80,118 votes, while Melaye polled 59,548 votes. He also declared that the margin between the APC candidate and that of the PDP was 20,570. Declaring the election inconclusive, Prof. Lawal said he decided not to declare a winner because of the slim margin between the two leading candidates, noting that the margin between both candidates was lower than the 43,127 registered voters in 53 polling units of 20 registration areas in the zone, where elections were canceled. Voting in the 53 polling units, which spread across the seven councils in the senatorial district, was cancelled as a results of violence, killings, ballot snatching, snuffing of ballot boxes and other electoral malpractices, which forced INEC not to reckon with results from some of the polling units. Kogi West Senatorial District is made up of seven out of the state’s 21 local government areas.
The councils are Kabba/Bunnu, Ijumu, Lokoja, Kogi/Koton Karfe, Mapomuro, Yagba East and Yagba West. According to results announced by INEC on November 17, Adeyemi won in five local government areas, while Melaye won in two. The APC candidate won in Kabba/Bunu, Ijumu, Lokoja, Kogi/Koton Karfe and Mapomuro, while his PDP counterpart won in Yagba West and Yagba East.
In Lokoja, Kabba/Bunu and Kogi/Koton Karfe, Adeyemi polled 19,788, 15,037 and 14,168 votes, respectively against Melaye’s 12,712, 8,974 and 9,978 votes in the three councils. The APC candidate also won in Ijumu Local Government Area with 11,627 votes to defeat the PDP candidate, who scored 7,647 votes. Adeyemi also coasted home to victory in Mapomuro council by polling 4,874 votes against Melaye’s 3,704 votes.
Melaye defeated Adeyemi in Yagba East Local Government Area with 7,745 to 6,683 votes. He also won in Yagba West council, polling 8,980 votes as against APC’s 7,941 votes in the area. The outcome of the election and its declaration as inconclusive led to accusations and counter-accusations between the two main political parties and their chieftains, who blamed each other for disruption of the process and cancellation of results. While some believed that the election was credible, free and fair, others were of the view that it was fraudulent and not a true reflection of the wishes of the electorate.
But in order to ensure that the process was completed for a winner to emerge, INEC in a statement by its National Commissioner and Chairman, Information and Voter Education Committee, Barr. Festus Okoye, on November 21, said the commission has fixed November 30 for the conduct of a supplementary election. INEC’s directive returned Melaye, Adeyemi and about 20 other candidates to the trenches for votes in the 53 polling units of 20 registration areas across the seven local governments in Kogi West Senatorial District.
Adeyemi won in Lokoja, Kabba/ Bunu and Yagba East with 4,649, 1,901 and 580 votes, respectively as against Melaye’s 920, 546 and 135 votes in the councils. The APC candidate also won in Mopamuro and Yagba West with 309 and 165 votes to defeat the PDP candidate, who scored nine and 22 votes in the councils.
Melaye, however, defeated Adeyemi in Ijumu Local Government Area with 577 to 364 votes. He also won in Kogi/ Koton Karfe council, polling 376 votes as against APC’s 287 votes in the area. The outcome of the supplementary poll settled the scores between Melaye and Adeyemi, who have been squaring against each other since 2015 for the Kogi West Senatorial District seat. Adeyemi, a former President of the Nigeria Union of Journalists (NUJ), was first elected to the Senate in April 2007 and was appointed to committees on Privatization, Industry, Federal Character and Inter-Government Affairs (Chairman), Federal Capital Territory and Appropriation. He was also appointed vice chairman of the Northern Senators Forum.
Adeyemi won the PDP primary to compete for re-election in the April 2011 elections and won the poll, but his aspiration to remain in the Senate beyond 2015 was stopped by Melaye, who contested under APC platform. Adeyemi later defected from PDP to APC and served as the Director-General of the Bello/Onoja Campaign Organisation during the Kogi State November 16 governorship election.
Melaye, on his part, was elected into the House of Representatives in 2007 to represent Kabba/Ijumu Federal Constituency and was re-elected in 2011. In 2015, he ran for Kogi West Senatorial District seat on the platform of APC and defeated Adeyemi, who then was the incumbent. Due to internal wrangling in APC, which led to massive defection of some of the party’s chieftains at the federal and state levels, and having fallen out with Governor Yahaya Bello of Kogi State, Melaye defected to PDP and contested for a second term during the 2019 general election and was declared winner by INEC.
He also contested the Kogi State PDP governorship primaries but lost the party’s ticket to Engr. Musa Wada. While in the Senate, he served in many committees and is a former chairman, Senate Committee of the Federal Capital Territory (FCT). But the Court of Appeal, in its judgement on an appeal brought before by Adeyemi, not only sacked Melaye from the Senate on October 11, 2019, but ordered for a fresh election that saw the former turning the table against his political archrival.
Melaye, who has accepted his fate, in a tweet shortly after the judgement of the appellate court, said: “I lost my election petition in the Court of Appeal this afternoon. God is always right. He will do a new thing in His own time. There will be a new order and the judgement did not in any way erase the rigging, bloodletting, killings and violence that dominated the election. “I thank the ever courageous people of Kogi West who truly voted for me. I love you all and God bless you. God be praised forever and my faith in Him remains constant.”