Strange Court Order On Dino’s Recall
Posted: 25/Jul/2017

The interim injunction granted by an Abuja Federal High Court that applied the brakes on moves to recall Senator Dino Melaye [APC, Kogi West] is highly questionable and is the kind of injunction that successive Chief Justices of Nigeria [CJNs] have repeatedly warned judges not to engage in. The court ordered parties involved in the recall process to maintain the status quo, which itself is okay. However, it adjourned to September 29 for hearing, by which time the 90 days limit imposed by the Constitution for the Independent National Electoral Commission [INEC] to conclude a recall process would have elapsed. The petition to recall Melaye was submitted on June 21 so INEC must conclude it by September 18. 

Some registered voters in Kogi West, clearly prodded on by Governor Yahaya Bello and the Kogi State government, initiated Dino’s recall for what they alleged was his portrayal of their senatorial district as hostile to the administrations of President Muhammadu Buhari and Governor Yahaya Bello. 

Senator Melaye was once a staunch ally of Governor Bello but they fell out along the way. In fact, it was Governor Bello’s Special Adviser on Political Affairs, Pius Kolawole who coordinated the collation of signatures of voters which ended on June 17. 

Recalling a senator before his term ends is backed by Section 69 of the 1999 Constitution as amended as well as INEC guidelines for the exercise. Kolawole said 188,588 out of Kogi West’s 360,098 registered voters or 52.3 percent signed the recall petition. This was surprising, given that in the March 20, 2015 senatorial election in that district which has seven local governments, only 118,987 votes were cast for all the candidates. The winner Dino Melaye got 41,120 while his main opponent, PDP’s Senator Smart Adeyemi got 38,148 votes. Senator Melaye scoffed at the figures and said most of the signatures were fake. He said he had already identified some dead persons in the list of signatories. However, rather than wait for the process of verification of signatures for him to prove this point, Dino rushed to court and obtained this strange injunction.  

Before the court order halted the process, INEC had taken the next step in the recall process by pasting the notice of verification on the walls of the local government area office in Lokoja, the Kogi State capital. The notice said, “In accordance with Section 69 of the Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria 1999 (as amended), notice is hereby given that the verification for the recall of the member representing Kogi West Senatorial District shall hold on August 19, 2017.” Some observers accused INEC of showing undue zeal in pursuit of the recall process because almost every day in late June and early July it had one announcement or another to make regarding the recall. This criticism is however unfair when it is remembered that a recall process is wholly constitutional and INEC has a limited time to conclude it under the law.

Senator Melaye’s resort to the court is also within his rights as a citizen. This is especially true because the process is openly driven by Governor Yahaya Bello and his aides so he has reason to be anxious. However, the court ought to be mindful of the constitutionally limited time frame available to conclude the recall petition. Melaye did not wait to exhaust the opportunities afforded in INEC’s guidelines for him to discredit the collated signatures and thereby bring an end to the recall process. Since 1999, no attempt to recall a legislator ever succeeded, and the Achilles’ heel is usually the validity of the signatures.  While this recall attempt is mere intra-APC political power play, the courts should not truncate it as long as constitutional procedure is followed. INEC has already appealed against the court order. The Chief Justice of Nigeria must reiterate his earlier stance against such controversial court orders.