Eric Ikhilae, Abuja
An air of uneasiness currently envelops Kogi State as parties to the dispute over the last governorship election in the state anxiously await the verdict of the Supreme Court scheduled to be handed down on Monday.
The nation’s apex court is expected to deliver two judgments on the two surviving appeals on the dispute over whether or not the candidate of the All Progressives Congress (APC), the incumbent Governor Yahaya Bello, was lawfully returned by the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) as the winner of the November 16, 2019 election.
The first appeal, marked: SC/CV/388/2020, was filed by the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) and its candidate, Engr. Musa Wada, while the second one was filed the Social Democratic Party (SDP) and its candidate, Natasha Akpoti.
The appellants are among others, praying the court to reverse the judgments of the Court of Appeal, which upheld the decisions of the election tribunal, affirming Bello’s victory at the poll.
There was a third appeal filed by the Democratic People’s Party (DPP) and its candidate, Usman Mohammed. It did not survive the court’s last proceedings on August 25, 2020.
The appellants’ lawyer, M. S. Ibrahim applied to withdraw it on realising that his clients’ case would not fly. The appellants had challenged INEC’s disqualification of DPP’s candidate, who was said to be 31 years old as against the 35 years allowed by law.
Upon Ibrahim’s oral application for withdrawal, the court’s seven-man panel, led by the Chief Justice of Nigeria (CJN), Justice Ibrahim Muhammad, struck out the appeal and awarded N200,000 cost against the appellants and in favour of the APC and Bello.
On the same day, the court entertained arguments from lawyers to parties in the appeals by the PDP and SDP and their candidates, following which it adjourned till August 31, 2020 for judgment in both appeals.
Lawyer to the PDP and Wada Jibrin Okutepa (SAN), while adopting the appellants’ brief of argument, prayed the court to allow his client’s appeal and grant the reliefs contained therein.
Okutepa contended, among others, that the five Justices of the Court of Appeal erred in law when they upheld the majority decision of the election tribunal, which validated Bello’s election.
On their part, lawyers to the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC), Bello and APC – Alex Izinyon (SAN), Joseph Daudu (SAN) and Ahmed Raji (SAN) – urged the court to reject the appeal on the grounds that it lacked merit.
They prayed the court to retain the concurrent findings of the Court of Appeal and the majority decision of the tribunal, to the effect that Bello was validly returned as the winner of the election.
Similar arguments were made in relation to the appeal by the SDP and Akpoti
The PDP and Wada, in their appellants’ brief of argument, raised five issues for the court’s determination. They are:
* Whether the Court of Appeal acted without jurisdiction and in breach of the right to fair hearing of the appellants when it considered and determined the appeal before it on issues that did not arise from the majority judgment of the trial tribunal and or the notice and grounds appeal filed before it.
*Whether the Court of Appeal was right in affirming the decision of the trial tribunal striking out several paragraphs of the appellants’ petition and deeming grounds B and C of the petition to have been abandoned.
*Whether the Court of Appeal was not in grave error in holding that the evidence of PWl9 (the forensic expert) and his report (exhibit P185A) have no evidential value.
*Considering the peculiar facts and circumstances of this case, whether the court below was right in holding that the failure by the appellants to call polling unit agents in the polling units complained of in the seven contested Local Government Areas of Kogi State is fatal to the petition.
*The Court of Appeal rejected the reasons given by the trial tribunal for not according weight to the evidence of PW19 and exhibit P185A as can be seen on pages 5175 to 5176 of the record, volume 12 thereof. But, in breach of the right to fair hearing of the appellants, the court below suo motu (on its own volition) gave its own reasons and discountenanced the evidence of PW19 and exhibit P185A as can be seen on pages 5175 to 5176 of the record, volume 12 thereof.
Izinyon raised two issues for the court’s determination in the first respondent’s brief of argument he filed for INEC. They are:
*Whether the court below was right in law in affirming some of the decisions of the trial tribunal granting the prayers in the various interlocutory applications of the respondents.
*Whether the lower court was right in dismissing the appellants’ appeal, having regard to the state of pleadings and the evidence led by the appellants at the trial tribunal.
In his second respondent’s brief of argument, Bello raised three issues for the court’s determination. They are:
*Whether the court below considered in its judgment, issues raised suo motu that neither arose from the trial tribunal’s judgment nor raised by the second respondent.
*Whether the court below was right to have arrived at the conclusion that the appellants could not rely on facts and particulars pleaded specifically in support of the already abandoned grounds B and C, relating to non-compliance and corrupt practices, to establish their principal and only surviving ground of complaint to wit: that the second respondent did not score majority of lawful votes in the said election.
*Whether, having regard to the ground of majority of lawful votes relied upon by the appellants, the court below was correct when it affirmed the conclusion of the trial tribunal that the appellants failed to prove that the second respondent was not elected by majority of lawful votes.
The PDP and Wada had, shortly after INEC announced the result of the election, filed a petition on December 7, 2019 before the Kogi State Governorship Election Petition Tribunal, which sat in Abuja.
On May 23, 2020, the tribunal, in a split decision of two-to-one, dismissed the petition and upheld INEC’s return of Bello as the winner of the election.
The tribunal’s Chairman, Justice Kashim Kaigama, and a member, Justice Baraka Wali, gave the majority decision, while another member, Justice Ohimai Ovbiagele, gave the minority dissenting judgment, upholding the petition and voiding Bello’s election.
The PDP and Wada appealed the majority decision of the tribunal at the Court of Appeal in Abuja. But in a judgment on July 4, 2020 the appellate court’s five-man panel was unanimous in dismissing the appeal and proceeded to uphold the majority decision of the tribunal.
On the Court of Appeal’s panel were Justices Adamu Jauro, Haruna Simon Tsammani, Onyekachi Aja Otisi, Elfreda O. Williams-Daudu and Mohammed Lawal Shuaibu.
The PDP and Wada again appealed to the Supreme Court, which was heard on August 25 and the judgment scheduled for August 31, 2020.
The case by SDP and Akpoti has a similar history but for the fact that there was no split in the tribunal’s decision given on May 18, 2020. The tribunal was unanimous in dismissing their petition.
On appeal to the Court of Appeal, a five-man panel of the court, in a judgment on July 4, 2020 dismissed the appeal for lacking in merit; a decision the SDP and Akpoti further appealed to the Supreme Court and on which judgment is being awaited.