#Opinion: Election Petitions: Between Taraba and Abia By Barr. Evans Ufeli
After the April 11th Gubernatorial Poll, there were upsurge of expressed dissatisfaction that characterized the results announced by the Independent National Electoral Commission INEC that resulted in several election tribunal cases. I shall focus my attention here on the Taraba and Abia elections respectively to espouse the legal implications of the tribunal’s verdict and that of the Court of Appeal as both cases are now before the Supreme Court. The circumstances’ surrounding the cases unfold as the judiciary look into the law books to interpret the laws vis-à-vis facts and evidence before it.
In Taraba State, INEC after the elections declared Mr. Darius Ishaku of the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) the winner of governorship election and subsequently swore him in as the Governor of Taraba State. Senator Aisha Jumai Alhassan of the All Progressive Congress APC went to the tribunal to challenge the result of the election declared by INEC. The Tribunal, which sat at the Abuja Division of the Court of Appeal, in a unanimous judgement by a three-man panel of judges declared Aisha of the APC as the winner of the poll.
The Independent National Electoral Commission INEC had concluded the Taraba State Governorship Election on the April 25th, 2015, after the initial poll was declared inconclusive.
In its judgement, the Justice Musa Danladi Abubakar led tribunal said it was satisfied that Ishaku was not validly nominated by the PDP to contest the election. The tribunal maintained that there were overwhelming evidence that the PDP in Taraba sidelined the provisions of the electoral Act 2010, and the 1999 Constitution as amended, when it decided to hold the primary election that produce Ishaku as its candidate in Abuja instead of Jalingo, the state capital. It held that the purported nomination of the governor for election without a valid primary election monitored by INEC was in breach of Section 85, 87 and 138 (1) of the Electoral Act 2010, as well as Section 177 of the 1999 Constitution as amended.
The Tribunal stressed that the Governorship Primary Election the PDP held at its National Headquarters in Abuja, on December 11th, 2014, was not known to the law and was therefore invalid. The panel also held that the PDP failed to give cogent and verifiable reasons why it decided to hold the said primary election in Abuja without the consent of INEC.
According to the Tribunal, it is a fundamental law in Nigeria that a candidate for an electoral position must be duly nominated and sponsored by a registered political party before the candidature of such a person could be deemed to be legally valid. Besides, the tribunal noted that INEC confirmed that it was not the primary election that produces Ishaku as PDP candidate, saying Section 85 of the Electoral Act made it mandatory that PDP must give the electoral body 21 days notice before it could hold a convention or primary to nominate its governorship candidate.
Declaring all the votes Ishaku secured at the election as invalid, the tribunal orders that the APC candidate, Aisha Alhassan, having scored the second highest votes at the poll, be sworn in as the winner of the Governorship Election in Taraba State.
However, Ishaku appealed the judgement of the tribunal to the Court of Appeal. The legal implication here is that Ishaku had 21 days within which to go on appeal by Section 143 (2) which says
“if the Election Tribunal or Court, as the case maybe, determines that a candidate returned as elected was not validly elected, the candidate returned as elected shall not withstand the contrary decision of the Election Tribunal or the court, remain in office pending the expiration of the period of 21 days within which an appeal may be brought”
Dariu Ishaku brought an Appeal within the 21 days stipulated by law that was why he was he remained in office.
The Appeal Court of Abuja Division reversed the judgement in favour of Ishaku on the 31st December, 2015 by a five-man panel of judges of the Appeal Court. The appellate court maintained that the Danladi Abubakar – led tribunal, “grossly misdirected itself”, when it not only nullified Governor Ishaku’s election, but went ahead to declare the candidate of the All Progressive Congress APC, Senator Aisha Alhassan – winner. The Appellate Court held that the tribunal acted outside its jurisdiction when it invalidated Ishaku’s election on the premise that he was not validly nominated by the PDP. The Appellant Court went further to say that the issue of nomination of a candidate by a political party is clearly a pre-election matter which no tribunal have the jurisdiction to entertain.
According to the Court of Appeal neither the APC nor its candidate, Alhassan, had the requisite locus-standi to query the outcome of the PDP Governorship Primary Election that produces Ishaku. It emphases that under Section 87 (9) (10) Electoral Act, only those that participated in the said PDP Primary Election, has the statutory right to challenge its outcome at the Federal High Court or State High Court. Section 87 (9) (10) states as follows:
“Where a political party fails to comply with the provisions of this Act in the conduct of its primaries, its candidate for election shall not be included in the election for the particular position in issue.
Notwithstanding the provisions of the Act or rules of a political party, an aspirant who complains that any of the provisions of this Act and the guidelines of a political party has not been comply with in the selection or nomination of a candidate of a political party for election, may apply to the Federal High Court or the High Court of a State, for redress”.
The Appellate Court held that the contention on whether the PDP rightly or wrongly conducted it Governorship Primary Election, did not fall within matters that could be entertained by an Election Petition Tribunal.
The Appeal Court further held that the important question to be asked here is, was the appellant a member of a political party or sponsored by a political party to participate at the election? The court concluded that all evidence before the tribunal pointed to the fact that the appellant was sponsored by the PDP and INEC duly received his nomination.
INEC did not at anytime queried his eligibility to participate in the election. Senator Aisha Alhassan has since appeal to the Supreme Court for the determination of the case.
However, in the Abia State Governorship Election Tribunal first affirm Dr. Okezie Victor Ikpeazu as the duly elected governor of Abia State dismissing the petition filed against him by Mr. Alex Otti of the All People’s Grand Alliance APGA. Otti had sought five reliefs including the cancellation of the election result and for the tribunal to declare him the winner of the Governorship Poll.
The chairman of the three-man tribunal Justice Usman Bwala had said that “At one breath the petitioner asked for cancellation of the election and at another breath asked to be declared the winner of the election. You cannot approbate and reprobate. You cannot say yes and say no at the same time”. The petitioner had asked for the cancellation of election result from Obinwa, Osisioma and Isiala Ngwa North Local Government citing irregulations but the tribunal said the allegation were not proven beyond reasonable doubt as the eye witness brought by the petition were a bundle of contradiction.
Mr. Otti however appeals against the judgement of the tribunal to the Court of Appeal. The Court of Appeal on the 31st of December, 2015 allowed the appeal and declares Alex Otti the Governor of Abia State. Being dissatisfied with the judgement of the Court of Appeal Mr. Ikpeazu has appealed to the Supreme Court for the determination of the case. It must be noted here that by law once a party is dissatisfied with the judgement of a court like this in this manner. The party has an unimpaired and unfettered constitutional right to appeal against the judgement of the court of Appeal to the Supreme Court under and by virtue of Section 233 (2) (e) (vi) of the Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria, 1999 as amended under Section 143 (2) of the Electoral Act as amended. Therefore the governor here has the statutory right to remain in office pending the expiration of the period within, which an appeal will be filed, assuming without conceding that the party affected do not even want to lodge an appeal against the decision of the Court of Appeal. And upon filing an appeal the affected party is also constitutionally entitled to remain in office until the Supreme Court decides and pronounce its judgement.