IT is when tragedies, such as the sudden demise of Abubakar Audu, occur that some people start reassessing their lives and thinking about death. Ordinarily, it is not in the nature of man to always remember that this life will expire someday. Strangely too, man even thinks that he is the controller of the universe by the way he does things and reasons. He makes plans for the next 100 years – how he is going to conquer the remaining planets and build castles in the air. Some humans weirdly see themselves as indestructible – too powerful to be challenged by any mortal. But the unpredicted exit of the Prince of the Niger has jolted many back to the realities of this ephemeral life.
How many people would still have such voluptuous and vain mindset about life after Audu’s passage into eternity? I doubt. This was a man on the threshold of fulfilling his dream of becoming governor the third time! He was governor first in 1991/92, again in 1999-2003, and the third attempt this time did not eventually materialise.
What else could have stopped him from mounting the podium the third time to be sworn in as governor if not the long hand of death? At the last count, he was leading in the Kogi State governor- ship contest by as many as over 41,000 votes. Just when everybody that tallied the results as they were being collated had already concluded that Audu had won, the Returning Officer, Prof. Emmanuel Kucha (Vice Chancellor of Federal University of Agriculture, Makurdi), punctuated it with the announcement that the election was inconclusive.
The cancellation was occasioned by the cancellation of 49,000 votes in 91 polling units across the state, which was higher than the number with which the late Audu led his main challenger, Governor Idris Wada.
Sources had rumoured that it was the news of the inconclusive election broken to Audu that precipitated a change in his health condition, leading to uncontrollable perspiration; and before anybody knew what was happening, he had died on the way to the hospital. I am sorry to state here that there was no truth in the rumour. Prince Audu died at 6 a.m. on Sunday – several hours before the commencement of the collation of the results.
For me, this is the worst and strangest piece of news I have ever heard in recent times: That a man was leading in an election and about to be declared the winner and he died! Nobody believed the news of his death when it first broke. Some thought it was fairytale. I thought the same way too. But as the minutes led to hours and nothing changed people started believing the news was true.
I know many people doubted the news because they never ever thought Audu whom they saw probably a few hours before his death could die just like that. But that is life for you! Nobody is sure when his or her time would come. It is all in the hands of God.
For anybody who knew Abubakar while alive it would be impossible to think he would die the way he did. He was a kindhearted man – full of life. He cherished life and led it in full. One would have thought that the way he led life with all the opulence and candour at his disposal that, at least, death would have been merciful unto him.
I must confess that even as I wrote this piece, before his burial on Monday at 1.15 p.m., I was still thinking that somehow something would have happened to change the news. At a point the social media came up with a story that Audu was not dead, after all. Many in their frustration believed it and started jubilating.
There was drama at his residence at Ogbonicha where cleric spent hours praying for him to rise from the dead as Christ did. In their desperation, hundreds chorused ‘Allah Akbar’ as the cleric delivered his supplications to God to do a miracle. Nonetheless, in the end he could not come around. And that was when it dawned on them that the situation was irreversible.
Who had the powers to blame those that still prayed for him to rise when it was clear that once one sets out on the journey to the world beyond nothing would ever reverse it? I do not blame anybody because the suddenness of his death was enough to cause such hallucination.
The crowd at his burial was huge. People came from all walks of life to witness the interment of one of the greatest sons Igarra land had ever produced. They looked disconsolate and inconsolable. The atmosphere around the place was somber and melancholic. Women and children wept uncontrollably. The youth were irate and threw their hands into the air, as if asking God to send thunder to consume the ‘wicked’ that might have caused the death of their illustrious son.
In all that happened that fateful Monday, one thing stood out: Audu had gone and gone forever. If it had been possible to raise him from the dead the outpouring of emotions would have done that.
But God knew why it happened the way it did. And nobody can question him.
Audu’s death has raised many questions already. One of these questions is: Was his demise a mere coincidence or was it premeditated? Anybody that asks this kind of question is not mistaking at all.
Many Nigerians are befuddled and stupefied by this sad incident. I, for one, am speechless and heartbroken.
I spoke with the late Abubakar Audu a day before his death. Yes, I did. After all, he had been a close friend long before he became governor of Kogi in 1991/92 under the National Republican Convention (NRC). We were together in NRC. While he was governor I was at the House of Representatives. It was a friendship that transcended ethnic and religious boundaries.
I was in Lokoja last week – precisely on Tues- day, a few days to the election – on a private visit and paid him a courtesy call. We exchanged pleasantries and reminisced on our past together. He was his usual warm and friendly self, exuding some vivacity as we threw banters. He recounted his plans for the people of Kogi and how he would transform the state into a 21st century Eldorado.
I believed every word he spoke, because I could feel and see the passion and sincerity in his eyes. His mission statement was explicitly captured by his manifesto.
Nonetheless, there was nothing to belie the fact that death lay some four days away, as we dined and wined! Nothing, I repeat! He did not tell me of any debilitating condition or ill-health that would have signposted his sudden death.
Many people may not know this: Audu was a very jocular and lively person. There was never a dull moment whenever one met him.
He looked forward with eager expectation to his return to Lord Lugard House in Lokoja. I am sure he had put everything in place to make the return if his dreams had not been cut short. Death where then is your sting? This ubiquitous death, why did you take away our beloved Audu the way you did?
My greatest worry now is what happens to the impending mandate freely given by the people of Kogi? I refer to it as ‘impending’ because if not for the inconclusiveness of the election, he would have been declared the outright winner; and everything pointed to it. If this had happened, Section 181(1) of the 1999 Constitution as amended would have taken effect. The section states: If a per- son duly elected as governor dies before taking the Oath of Allegiance and Oath of Office, or is unable for any reason whatsoever to be sworn in, as governor, the person duly elected with him as deputy governor shall be sworn in, as governor and he shall nominate a new deputy governor who shall be appoint- ed with the approval of a simple majority of the House of Assembly.
By this provision, his deputy would have taken over the mandate and nominated his own deputy who must be approved by a simple majority of the vote by the state House of Assembly. As it stands now, it will be difficult for that provision to be applied in this circumstance.
So, what happens next? I have asked this question because I am worried that we might have a constitutional crisis on our hands. The present constitution or any law for that matter did not envisage what had happened in Kogi. Who would have thought that a candidate would have died the same day his victory in an election was to be announced? It is only God that would have envisaged that.
In my assessment, the situation is graver than many people think. What if the man that came second in the election claims victory, what will happen? Is it not possible that Governor Wada, after the seven-day mourning his government declared to honour Audu, could lay claim to the mandate? In fact, anything is possible.
But if I were asked, I would advise that the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) goes ahead and conclude the election. If in the end All Progressives Congress (APC) emerges victorious, then Audu’s deputy should be allowed to hold the mandate and let Section 181(1) apply. What if Wada wins, will APC accept defeat? Would it not be blamed on the death of Audu?
The situation, in all intent and purpose, is truly dicey. As it stands, both candidates have secured the mandatory 25 per cent in two-thirds of the local governments in the state. What either of them needs now is out- right majority.
I am afraid of Section 141 of the Electorate Act, which does not allow anybody that did not fully participate in an election to be returned duly elected. In this case, what hap- pens if APC decides to substitute? This section, if applied, strictly would make it difficult for APC to do so.
What of Sections 33 and 36 of the Electoral Act? Section 36(1) deals with the death of a candidate, while Section 33 sets out the right of a political party to substitute its candidate who has withdrawn his candidacy or has died. These are undisputable obstacles that must be surmounted by APC.
INEC is under the imperativeness of the law to conduct the Kogi governorship supplementary election 14 days from the date it was declared inconclusive by the Returning Officer. What this means is that INEC can go ahead and stage the election oblivious of the fact that Audu is dead.
This places a huge burden on APC: Has it duly informed INEC officially about the death of its governorship candidate? At the time of writing this piece, APC is yet to do so. Probably it was waiting for Audu to be buried first before embarking on this process.
It is important at this juncture to ask if the Doctrine of Necessity could apply in the present circumstance. It was applied when President Umaru Yar’Adua died in office to make way for then Vice President Goodluck Jonathan to assume office. The circumstances differ this time round, but there is an urgent need to do something very fast to avoid the creation of unnecessary lacuna in Kogi State.
I know that the Doctrine of Necessity was a creation of the Military Junta in the then Rhodesia (now Zimbabwe). It is strange that it is being used in a democratic system as ours. So, I do not think it can be used this time round.
Some commentators have also advocated that the Attorney-General of the Federation should approach the Supreme Court for advice on how to resolve the intricate situation in Kogi, occasioned by Audu’s death. However, this is not as easy as some people look at it in view of Sections 232 and 233 of the 1999 Constitution (as amended). The limited spectrum of Section 232 makes it impossible for the Supreme Court to assume original jurisdiction in the matter. It cannot, in a simpler form, hear the matter directly as it is not the court of first instance. The only three instances where the Supreme Court can assume such a jurisdiction are in the case of a dispute between the National Assembly and the President; the National Assembly and any state House of Assembly; and the National Assembly and any state of the Federation.
By implication, no case can be taken directly to the Supreme Court without first passing through other courts below, except in the instances given above. So, going to the Supreme Court to seek redress cannot work.
The only option left for INEC is to approach the Federal High Court, in line with Section 251(1)(q) of the Constitution. The Federal High Court can then invoke the referral clause under Section 295 of the Constitution. This is the only way the Federal High Court can refer substantial questions of law to the Court of Appeal for interpretation. From the Court of Appeal it can now progress to the Supreme Court for further adjudication. Anything outside of this is an exercise in futility.
From the foregoing it can now be seen why I stated earlier that the development in Kogi is not as easy as some people would make us believe.
The burden to lead the way in finding legal and constitutional resolution of the is- sues that will arise with the death of Audu lies squarely at the feet of INEC. It must take up the matter as urgently and pragmatically as it can to avoid aggravating the already complex situation.
The leadership of APC should move fast by communicating INEC formally of the death of its governorship candidate. Allowing the matter to drag without notifying INEC will create more problems.
The death of Prince Audu has exposed the insufficiencies in our electoral jurisprudence. For instance, I had expected the crafters of the 1999 Constitution and the Electoral Law to have envisaged what happened in Kogi. Probably, this is the proper time to embark on a holistic review of our laws to nip in the bud the kind of logjam we have seen in Kogi.
I feel for the family of Audu and pray God to grant them the fortitude to bear the loss. Audu is irreplaceable and his place in history has been reserved, considering the circumstances of his death and monumental accomplishments.