The president of Nigeria’s senate, David Mark, has been
ruled the official winner of a contested senate seat in Benue State in a
complex and bitter legal challenge. As
third in the line of constitutional succession, behind Vice President Goodluck
Jonathan, Senator Mark holds an important key to the political survival of
President Umaru Yar’Adua’s government, which took power a little more than one
year ago. Yesterday’s verdict in an
appeals court in the city of Jos in Plateau State overturns a lower court
ruling and several tribunal challenges by his opponent, Alhaji Usman Abubakar
of the All Nigeria Peoples Party (ANPP).
and legal consultant Emmanuel Ogebe is a managing partner in the Washington
office of the US – Nigeria law group. He says that yesterday’s decision favoring Mark, who is a member of the
ruling People’s Democratic Party (PDP), would also appear to help President
Yar’Adua, who faces an appeals ruling later this year from his two opponents in
last year’s presidential vote, which was widely condemned as flawed.
is a huge sign that Nigeria is on the step towards stability. In March, we had a ‘super Tuesday,’ where
the courts decided in the space of 48 hours on the validity of the elections of
the president, the vice president, and then the third in line of succession,
the senate president. So in essence, if
the courts had kicked them all out, we would have had a power vacuum and a
constitutional crisis. So the fate of
the senate president is actually almost as decisive as the fate of the
president and the vice president,” he said.
to Nigeria’s president, who still faces legal challenges to his own April, 2007
election from rivals Mohammadu Buhari of the ANPP and from former Vice
President Atiku Abubakar of the Action Congress party (AC), Ogebe says that the
crisis facing the senate leader loomed even greater as a danger to the stability
of the nation.
we had gone to a situation where the senate president was not in place, it
would be very difficult for the courts to remove the president and the vice
president because it would be an open invitation to the military to come in and
close a power vacuum. So in a sense,
this has brought relief with regard to the succession,” he explained.
counselor Ogebe points to a peculiar oversight in Nigeria’s constitutional
process, which outlines a line of succession for replacing a president who
departs office due to infirmity, but neglects to spell out the terms
surrounding a departure due to election irregularities.
way the constitution works is with the president and the vice president coming
on the same ticket. So if the election
of the president is invalidated, it would automatically pull the rug from under
the feet of the vice president as well.
Now the constitution does not foresee a situation where both the
president and the vice president are ruled out of office because of bad
elections. So you see we actually have a
problem on our hands,” he notes.
Tuesday’s court ruling averted an impending constitutional crisis, Emmanuel
Ogebe says it also restores an orderly functioning to the senate, which is
currently enjoying a two month summer recess.
senate would have been thrown into a frenzy, with people trying to replace
him. There are people in the senate who
want to be senate president because they believe that they will be
president-in-waiting if anything happens at the supreme court. And this is why Senator Mark’s battle was a
very tough one. It was a local
senatorial seat, but it was nationalized,” he said.
police officials in Benue State went on alert to restrain any trouble from
citizens displeased by the appeals court decision, Ogebe said that local input
over Senator Mark’s case was overshadowed by the national challenges being
posed by a coalition of civil society organizations that was speaking out on
behalf of Nigerian voters.
you have in Nigeria now is the equivalent of a litigation insurgency against
the last elections. Instead of taking
to the streets, the people are taking to the law courts. Now it’s bad only in the sense that it’s
overwhelming the judiciary and it’s distracting from the business of
governance,” he said
predicts that Nigerians are going to continue to have verdicts and election
rulings over the rest of the year, including a final take on President Yar’Adua’s
entry into office, which is expected after the end of the summer.
"President Yar’Adua has said that
he wants to see electoral reform happen in his time. Now if Senator David Mark as senate president will see through an
agenda of constitutional and electoral reform, we have a chance to ensure that
future elections are free and fair,” says Ogebe.