The conflicted relationship between the governor of Kogi state, Yahaya Bello, and the senator representing Kogi West, Dino Melaye, which fed on local political grievances, has snowballed into much wider intriguing webs of mischief that have received the imprimatur of the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC).
Governor Bello, from his latest move, has shown how committed he is to the battle to take out the senator, especially politically. It would appear that the governor has settled for the political option and, as a first step, the recall instrument, following the submission of a signed petition by some voters in Kogi West seeking, at the prompting of the powers-that-be in the state, the recall of their legislator.
I can safely predict that if the recall process fails, the governor’s next move will be to stop Melaye’s 2019 re-election bid at the All Progressives Congress (APC) senatorial primaries. Then, no matter Melaye’s political savvy, it will take a force majeure for him to win the primaries, which will be conducted under the governor’s superintendence. But, I sincerely, perceive that the governor may not be interested in taking prisoner in this bid to recall Melaye.
Therefore, Melaye has two major local battles to contend with between now and 2019. He will be able to fight the second battle if he is able to win the first one: the recall battle. But, he is not shy of taking up challenges. I cannot also rule out the possibility of his getting sucked in some more battles in the national political arena. It is common knowledge that he is already committed to the battle to defend Senator Bukola Saraki’s senate presidency even at great costs to his person and political career.
Consequently, having recently survived the alleged certificate scandal involving his alma mater, Ahmadu Bello University, Zaria, the recall process is Melaye’s present concern even though he has dismissed it as a futile effort. I cannot vouch for Melaye’s confidence in fighting the battle to recall him. One thing I can assure him is that if he treats the action of the state governor and his foot soldiers lightly, he will be committing political hara-kiri.
The INEC had already, in a statement by its National Commissioner and member, Information and Voter Education Committee, Mallam Mohammed Haruna, acknowledged receipt of the signed petition by some voters in Kogi West and sent a letter to Melaye notifying him of its receipt of the petition. The next step, as constitutionally prescribed, is for the Commission to verify the petitioners are registered voters in the senatorial district.
The Commission said that a public notice stating the day(s), time, location and other details for the verification exercise would be issued on July 3, 2017. The INEC response is consistent with the provisions of section 69(a) of the 1999 Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria (as amended) 2011, which states inter alia: (69) “A member of the Senate or of the House of Representatives may be recalled as such a member if (a) there is presented to the Chairman of the Independent National Electoral Commission a petition in that behalf signed by more than half of the persons registered to vote in that member’s constituency alleging their loss of confidence in that member; and which signatures are duly verified by the Independent National Electoral Commission.”
This is the first hurdle which the INEC must satisfactorily scale. And this is where the issue lies. How does the Commission satisfactorily verify the signatures? How does the Commission ensure regularity of signatures? Does it have the machinery to make certain that the integrity of that process is not compromised such that either party will not unduly benefit from the compromised process?
If any of the parties is not satisfied with the verification as supervised by the INEC, can the party seek judicial review of the Commission’s administrative action? If yes, I foresee a possible resort to the court to deal with the dialectics of the political mischief that has crept into political interactions in Kogi state.
And, in case the verification of signatures is not encumbered, the Constitution in subsection (b) of section 69 provides: “the petition is, thereafter, in a referendum conducted by the Independent National Electoral Commission, within ninety days of the date of the receipt of the petition, approved by a simple majority of the persons registered to vote in that constituency.”
This is an election that provides an opportunity for Melaye’s constituents to either pass a vote of confidence or a no-confidence vote in him. One thing he may have going for him is the fact that his fate will be decided by his people in his senatorial district and not the governor and his people. If he has done well in the last two years that he has been in the senate, his people will say so.
Nevertheless, since this is a “yes” or “no” response to Melaye’s continued stay in the National Assembly as their senator, I expect that Melaye will heavily mobilise his people to turn out en-masse to support him. He will need to deploy plenty funds to do that. The governor will do the needful to oil all necessary machinery to ensure that Melaye is rejected. But how far can Melaye go against the state government machinery, especially if it is acting in concert with the Federal Government-controlled INEC to deal with an errant senator whose cup of iniquity, in their estimation, is full and running over?
The question supra is the real McCoy. Both parties are locked in a grudge fight. It is an ego war, which will make or mar political reputation, especially that of the governor if he is unable to use the executive powers at his disposal to deal with a senator that represents only a third of the state.
Bello has crossed the Rubicon in the enterprise to end Melaye’s “nuisance” in the politics of Kogi. The INEC has activated its machinery while Melaye himself cannot but throw his hat in the ring in self-defence. He can no longer wish away the recall process. Recall, in this instant case, has gone beyond mere instrument of threat as happened recently to his colleagues: Senator Andy Uba (Anambra South) and Senator Ali Wakili (Bauchi South).
In both cases, the aggrieved members of their respective senatorial districts did not get to the point of mobilising signed petitions to the INEC chairman as constitutionally provided, thus taking the wind of the sails of their threatened recall. Melaye’s case represents the first time in the annals of Nigerian politics when constituents would successfully, so it seems until verification of signatures proves otherwise, submit a signed petition for recall of their representative in the National Assembly.
The days ahead for Bello, Melaye and INEC are going to be testy and interesting; especially with the involvement of a rambunctious and troublesome activist-Melaye-whose political destiny is under a real threat of decimation. However, time will tell how the battle is fought, won and lost.
*Ojeifo contributed this piece from Abuja via email@example.com