The judgement of the Court of Appeal in Ibadan over the Oyo State governorship election dispute has continued to draw reactions from lawyers.
As a result of the confusion created by the judgement, the All Progressives Congress (APC) and the ruling party in the state, the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) are both claiming victory.
The assistant publicity secretary of the APC, Ayobami Adejumo, hailed the judgement, saying it is a confirmation that Governor Makinde did not win the March 9 governorship election in the state.
“The verdict given on Monday was unambiguous, apt and sound enough to convince any informed mind about the genuineness of our claim that Makinde’s declaration as the winner of the March 9 poll was done in error by the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC),’’ he said.
On his part, Governor Makinde, through his chief press secretary, Taiwo Adisa, said the judgement upheld the mandate given to him by the people of Oyo State.
“There is no ambiguity as to the state of things in our Pacesetter State as far as the election of March 9, 2019, is concerned. Our party, the PDP won the election. The victory was reaffirmed by a ruling of the election petitions tribunal sitting in Ibadan, the state capital,’’ he was quoted as saying.
The appellate court, on Monday ordered status quo of the verdict of the Oyo State Governorship Election Tribunal, which returned Governor Seyi Makinde of the PDP as the winner of the March 9, 2019 election.
Also, the court said it would have ordered a retrial of the findings of the tribunal in some areas of the state, which were challenged by the APC candidate, Adebayo Adelabu.
However, a dissenting judgement by one out of the four judges on the appellate court’s panel held that the panel could not nullify Makinde’s election.
Lawyers who spoke to Daily Trust on Sunday said substantial justice ought not to be sacrificed on the altar of the need to retain the timeframe for election petitions.
With electoral reforms in Nigeria, the timeframe for determination of election matters has been drastically reduced. Section 134 (2) and (3) of the Electoral Act 2010 provides for a time limit for election petitions within 180 days. Similar provisions are contained in Section 285(6) and (7) of the 1999 Constitution (as amended).
The provision reads: “An election tribunal shall deliver its judgement in writing within 180 days from the date of the filing of the petition.” And subsection (7) of Section 285 of the constitution provides that: “An appeal from a decision of the election tribunal or court shall be heard and disposed off within 60 days from the date of the delivery of judgement.”
Reacting, Dayo Akinlaja, a Senior Advocate of Nigeria (SAN), said the judgement was based on the law that election petitions must be disposed of within 180 of the announcement of the results of the election.
“By reason of that position, everything that has to do with election petition must be concluded at the tribunal level within the stipulated time. Whatever is done outside that period becomes a nullity in law.
Since I have not had the benefit of the judgement proper, I cannot tell why the Court of Appeal came to the conclusion it reached. But one thing that appears certain and beyond disputation is that the Court of Appeal could not have remitted the petition back to the tribunal for hearing after the expiry of the 180-day timeline prescribed by the constitution.
“The only area that is hazy at the moment is why the Court of Appeal chose not to do what the tribunal was expected to have done at the trial of the petition to effectively wholly dispose of the matter. Until one has gone through the judgement proper, it is unsafe and improper to assay a final opinion on the issue at stake.” he said.
An Abuja-based lawyer, Shereef Mohammed, said the verdict, which avoided revisiting some aspects of the tribunal ruling because of the time limit provided by the law, had its merits and demerits.
“It confines us to a limited time, given the chequered history of our judicial system, where time is usually abused. This is the fundamental advantage of it. You must finish something within the limited time,’’ he said.
He said the law had corrected the situation in the past, where the tribunal would not have finished when the tenure of the office in dispute would lapse, with the attendant loss of money and status.
He explained that the judgement in Oyo was one of the demerits of the law, which is now left for the Supreme Court.
“The question is: If they conduct retrial, would that aspect be fundamental to change the result? Also, why did the Court of Appeal not utilise Section 16 of its Act to assume original jurisdiction to conduct a retrial? If they make a finding in the interest of fairness and justice, there is nothing wrong for them to have assumed jurisdiction,’’ he said.
Also reacting, Nureni Suleiman said the judgement was rash because it was not based on any previously decided case. He said the appellate court ought to have quashed the election if it found that there were areas time did not permit them to review. Why did they not quash the election?
“Of course, the court has an unfettered discretion, and if you didn’t ask certain things, they would not give. They are not Father Christmas,’’ he added.
Nnamdi Ahaiwe also said the tribunal ought to have returned the petition to the chief judge if the time to determine it had expired, rather than leave it to the Court of Appeal.
Furthermore, E.M.D Umukoro said the judgement of the Court of Appeal resolved issues against the incumbent governor and his party, and the decision of the election petition tribunal was set aside. He added that the governor remains in office because the decision was statute-barred.
“What we must understand is that what the appellant took to the Governorship Election Petition Tribunal was to challenge the victory of the governor; hence status quo is that it was the incumbent that was declared winner by the INEC.
“What the tribunal did was to agree with the issues raised, but the facts were not enough to declare either party winner; hence a retrial to evaluate the evidence would have been an alternative, but unfortunately, time had lapsed.
“What the court did was to avoid a situation where there would be vacuum; hence the status quo before the petition was filed was the option available as it is assumed that INEC did their job in the eye of the law until proven otherwise,’’ Umukoro said.