By Hamed Suleiman
There is a very fascinating history of legal duel between Segun Oni and Kayode Fayemi that will make interesting study in some legal scholarly work in not-too-distant future. Ekiti politics especially among the elites has been typified by this legal entanglement between these two. It turns out that so far, Fayemi has always won the battle essentially on technicalities while Oni remains and continues to consolidate his status as the moral icon of the people of Ekiti State.
INEC declared Oni the winner of the governorship election in 2007. Both Oni and Fayemi had been supported by the dominant group of the time, Ekiti Eleven (E-11). Both belong to the group and both were endorsed by the group to guarantee that the group, E-11, won either way. E-11 had played the lead role in the process that culminated in Fayose’s impeachment on October 16, 2006. An agreement was put in place by E-11 that whoever won the race then would be acknowledged and the loser will respect the decision. The loser would still have a chance in the future. It was a bold attempt by E-11 to focus more of personality instead of parties in a circumstance where the political parties were not ideologically differentiated. Fayemi broke the accord and went to the Tribunal.
Oni won at the Tribunal. At the Appeal Court, a strange element crept into the picture. Red biro was suddenly discovered to have been used by the INEC officials during accreditation. Curiously, the red biro was found to have been used at polling units in which Oni won the election. Curiously too, the use of red biro was limited to the governorship election; it did not affect the legislative election that was conducted same day, same time! The Appeal Court rejected the use of red biro in its infamous RED BIRO judgement and ordered rerun elections in those places.
In what is fast emerging as historical irony, Fayemi had engaged the services of Ayo Fayose in his battle against Oni to win the rerun. In spite of the combined forces, Oni again won and Fayemi went back to the Tribunal. On the night of the rerun, INEC office in Ido-Osi Local Government, Oni’s LGA, was burnt down completely after the collation exercise. The perpetrator of that criminal act, a leading member of the opposition party at that time, has since gone to answer before his maker. The Tribunal upheld Oni’s victory. At the Appeal Court, then Justice Salami ruled that the results of Ido-Osi LGA cannot be guaranteed since there were no document to back the results, the documents having been destroyed by the fire. He therefore canceled Ido-Osi results and deducted them from Oni’s votes which technically gave the victory to Fayemi on October 15, 2010, six months to the end of Oni’s tenure as Governor.
Two remarkable events occurred that day that till today portrays Oni as the epitome of humility and moral champion. Oni called his aides after the judgement was pronounced, went to the government house chapel to give praise and thanks to Almighty God for his grace thus far and the fact that no one in his group had to shed his/her blood for this cause. Then Oni had just collected two months security vote. Most politicians will walk away with such booty. Oni’s aides suggested to him he could use part of the money for his immediate needs. He flatly refused and insisted that the money belongs to government and Kayode will need it for his initial take-of! Oni would not touch a kobo of it. Till today, Ekiti people love him for that gesture in honesty and integrity.
Now the table has turned and we have moved full 180 degrees. The Ekiti governorship primary election of APC was held on May 12, 2018. Fayemi was a serving Minister while Oni was the Deputy National Chairman (South) of APC. Oni had moved to APC following PDP’s adoption of Fayose as their governorship candidate in 2013/2014 in very questionable circumstance. Oni gave full support to the candidacy of Fayemi and really worked hard to ensure Fayemi’s victory. Unfortunately, the then federal might was too awesome to surmount. Fayemi lost to Fayose in what has come to be known as the “photochromatic election”. It was after this that Fayemi went on to become a Minister in the Buhari government while Oni secured his position in the party.
Fayemi did not resign his position in government prior to the primary of 2018 in clear violation of the Party’s guideline which required that any employee in the public service should resign at least 30 days prior to participation in an electoral contest. Fayemi won the primary with what has been rumored to be N300,000 per delegate! Oni’s camp might not have known of Fayemi’s failure to resign if not for the widely reported press conference Fayemi held on May 29 or so during which he actually debunked the need for him to resign, relying on Section 182 of the Nigerian Constitution. Some saw it as another of his acts of impunity. He boasted that he would soon resign but that he was not required to. He subsequently resigned as Minister around May 30th, 2018, several weeks after the primary.
At the Federal High Court, Fayemi won on the grounds that a Minister is not a public servant, a most ridiculous and embarrassing judgement from a Federal Hight Court. Oni went on appeal. The Appeal Court ruled that a Minister is a public servant but he is not on salary and not an employee in the public service as he/she can be fired at any time by the President. They relied on the Chambers dictionary definition of employee. Interestingly and curiously, the Appeal Court questioned the validity of the APC guideline which was not a matter before them, having not been raised at all by either party. The matter has now moved to the Supreme Court and judgement is expected on Thursday, April 17, 2019.
The outcome of this case would be very interesting as it is widely awaited. It will finally answer the question: should a Minister resign his office before contesting in an election? If the answer is yes, then Oni wins and the position of the law becomes very clear. If the answer is no, then Fayemi wins and indeed it would mean Generals in the military, Police Commissioners, the IGP, all would not need to resign their commission before engaging in electoral contest. But if that were to be so, where then would be the level playing field for all aspirants for office? A level-playing field is known to be a sine-qua-non to internal democracy in political parties. How do we put an end to impunity in public engagement? These are what is on trial here.
Mr Suleiman writes from Abuja