The Supreme Court was usually busy last week when it heard 21 governorship election appeals and delivered 10 judgments. Assistant Editor ERIC IKHILAE relives the proceedings.
Last week was arguably one of the busiest weeks at the Supreme Court in recent times.
Within the first four days, the court heard 21 appeals the outcome of the last governorship election held in nine states on March 18, 2023.
The states are Ebonyi, with three appeals; Benue, with two; Plateau, with three and Delta with three.
Also, Adamawa had two; Abia had two; Ogun had two; Cross River had one; while Akwa Ibom had three.
On Friday, the apex court did what many lawyers, who were present, described as unusual when it delivered 10 judgments.
The court’s session on that day was also unusual because eight Justices sat at the same time, with each delivering judgments on an appeal relating to each of the eight states.
The court commenced the week by hearing five appeals concerning Ebonyi and Benue states.
The Supreme Court first dismissed two appeals by the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) governorship candidate in Benue State, Uba Titus, seeking to void the victory of Governor Hyacinth Alia of the All Progressives Congress (APC).
A five-member panel, presided over by Justice John Okoro, said issues raised in the appeals did not qualify as post-election matters.
Appellants’ lawyer, Sebastine Hon (SAN), attempted to explain the basis of the appeal.
He said the appellants challenged the sponsorship of Alia and his deputy, Samuel Ode.
According to him, while the APC failed to submit Ode’s name to the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) before the election, Alia’s name was submitted out of time.
Hon was still explaining his client’s case when a member of the court’s panel, Justice Emmanuel Agim, intervened.
Justice Agim said there were no post-election issues in the appeal, adding: “You are dealing with pre-election matters here.”
Another member, Justice Helen Ogunwumiju, noted that there were no serious issues of law raised in the appeal requiring the court’s intervention.
Justice Okoro added: “This is not the kind of case that should come here. On a very serious note. We have a lot of work to do. We are unanimous on this matter.”
The Justices then prevailed on Hon to withdraw the first appeal, which he did, following which the court dismissed it in the absence of objection from the respondents’ lawyers.
Earlier, the court heard three appeals seeking to void the election of Ebonyi State Governor Francis Nwifuru of the APC.
One of the appeals, marked: SC/CV/1156/2023 was filed by Odoh Benard of the All Progressives Grand Alliance (APGA), while two, marked: SC/CV/1212/2023 and SC/CV/1218/2023 were by Chukwuma Odii Ifeanyi of the PDP.
With the agreement of all parties, the court heard the one marked SC/CV/1212/2023 and said the judgment on the one heard would be applied to the other two.
Upon the court’s pronouncement, Governor Alia, who sat close to his Deputy, Sam Ode, turned to him and asked: “Is that the end?” Ode said: “Yes”, following which both men shook hands and smiled broadly.
The proceedings of the day were not without some shared light moments as all sides occasionally exchanged banters.
When the Benue appeal was called, Governor Alia, dressed in a black suit, rose to his feet. And, upon sighting him, Justice Okoro asked if he was the Reverend Father, to which his lawyer, Mamman Usman (SAN) answered in the affirmative.
Justice Okoro then turned to lawyers in court and said: “Thank God the Reverend Father is here. You will not need to travel far to confess your sins.
“Once we are done with the cases, you can just go to him for your confessions.”
He then suggested that Hon, who withdrew his clients’ case against the governor be the first to approach him for confession, a remark that drew laughter from all in court.
Shortly after the court rose and everyone was exiting the courtroom, a lawyer, who was in court in respect of the Benue case, slumped at the foot of the entrance door to the courtroom.
But, for the efforts of those around, he would not have survived the fall. For over 10 minutes, he lay motionless despite efforts to revive him.
Moments later, and with persistent pressure applied to his chest region, the lawyer suddenly jerked up, let out some pee and opened his eyes.
He was then taken from the floor and placed on a chair, where health officials attended to him by administering some first aid treatments and later evacuated him to their facility for further attention.
On Tuesday, five-member panel of the court, presided over by Justice Okoro, entertained six appeals -three relating to Plateau State while the other three were concerning Delta State.
Out of the three filed in respect of Plateau, the court heard the one filed by Governor Caleb Mutfwang of the PDP, marked: SC/CV/1190/2023, with an agreement by parties that the decision in the one heard shall be applied to the appeal filed by the governor’s party, marked: SC/CV/1191/2023.
The third appeal, marked: SC/CV/1192/2023 filed by INEC, was withdrawn by its lawyer, Samuel Atung (SAN) when the court made him realise that the other appeals were sufficient to resolve the dispute.
The court, on Wednesday, heard four appeals, two relating to Adamawa State, while the other two sought to unseat Abia State Governor, Alex Otti of the Labour Party (LP).
At the mention of the appeal filed by the candidate of the Social Democratic Party (SDP), Dr. Umar Ardo and his party, marked: SC/CV/1219/2023, members of the court’s five-member panel, observed that the appeal did not raise any novel issue, requiring the court’s consideration.
Ardo and the SDP had, in the appeal, prayed the court to among others, set aside the concurrent judgements of the election tribunal and the Court of Appeal, affirming Governor Ahmadu Fintiri’s election.
Appellants’ lawyer, Sylvester Imahnobe, argued that his clients, who scored over 6,000 votes in the said election, would have won had the election been free and fair, and not marred by corrupt practices and non-compliance with relevant laws.
Also on Wednesday, the apex court heard and reserved judgments in two appeals against Otti.
The first appeal, marked: SC/CV/1250/2023 was filed by Okechukwu Ahiwe and his party, the PDP.
The second marked: SC/CV/1252/2023 Ikechi Emenike and his party, APC.
The court heard six appeals on Thursday. Two were in respect of Ogun State, one relating to Cross River State while the other three were directed against the election of Akwa Ibom State Governor, Umo Eno of the PDP.
Concerning Ogun, the court heard the appeal marked: SC/CV/1221/2023 filed by Oladipupo Adebutu and his party, the PDP, seeking to void the election of Governor Adedapo Abiodun of the APC.
The court said its judgment on the appeal heard shall be applied to the cross-appeal filed by Abiodun, marked: SC/CV/1222/2023.
Also on Thursday, the court dismissed the three appeals that sought to sack Akwa Ibom State Governor, Umo Eno of the PDP.
Friday’s elaborate security
Given the volume of judgments scheduled for the day and the unusual interest generated by some of the cases, particularly those of Kano and Plateau states, the court’s management ensured an elaborate security arrangement.
Besides the usual private security guards present around the court, there was a heavy deployment of police personnel and officials of the State Security Service (SSS).
Movement in and out of the court premises was strictly restricted, while only those with the accreditation tags issued by the SSS were allowed in and around the courtroom.
As part of a crowd control measure, each party to the appeals had only five lawyers accredited, while few of the litigants were allowed into the court. Many journalists were also accredited and issued tags.
Besides possessing the accreditation tag, to be allowed into the court building, one was compelled by the SSS officials to go through the huge metal detector/scanner stationed right at the foot of the court’s main entrance.
Many lawyers, politicians, their supporters and other interested parties were denied access to the court.
Governors, top politicians storm court
Governors Bala Mohammed of Bauchi, Dauda Lawal of Zamfara, Francis Nwifuru of Ebonyi, Caleb Mutfwang of Plateau and Kabir Abba Yusuf of Kano were in court to witness proceedings.
Also, former Plateau State Governor and now a member of the Senate, Senator Simon Lalong; Secretary to the Lagos State Government, Mrs. Bimbola Salu-Hundeyin, and the state’s Attorney General and Commissioner for Justice, Lawal Pedro (SAN) were also in court.
At about 10 am, the traditional knock from behind the Justices’ entrance door was heard, following which a court official shouted, “Court!!!”
The door swung open. Eight Justices walked into the courtroom and took their seats on the Bench, signifying the commencement of the day’s proceedings.
The first set of judgments to be delivered was on Lagos.
Justice Okoro, who presided, had announced that the court planned to begin from the nation’s commercial Capital.
When the appeal by Gbadebo Rhodes-Vivour, the candidate of the LP and his party, marked: SC/CV/1152/2023 was called, Justice Okoro announced that the lead judgment was prepared by Justice Mohammed Lawal Garba, who was available to read it.
Justice Garba reviewed the submissions by parties to the appeal and concluded that it was unmeritorious and dismissed it.
He faulted the appellant’s challenge of the qualification of Governor Babajide Sanwo-Olu and his Deputy Femi Hamzat.
Rhodes-Vivour had claimed that Hamzat renounced his Nigerian citizenship by acquiring the citizenship of the United States.
Justice Garba held that the acquisition of the citizenship of the US by Hamzat did not rob him of his Nigerian citizenship, being a citizen of Nigeria by birth.
The judge added that a person who is Nigerian citizen by birth, who acquires the citizenship of another country cannot be disqualified from contesting an elective position in Nigeria, except where the person renounces his Nigerian citizenship in a manner provided for under Section 29 of the Constitution.
He said: “There is no provision in the Constitution that takes away a citizen of Nigeria by birth. The acceptance of another country’s citizens by a Nigerian, who is a citizen by birth, does not take away his Nigerian citizenship.
“Renunciation of Nigerian citizenship must be done as provided for in Section 29 of the Constitution.
“I find that the court below was right in affirming the decision of the tribunal that the second and third respondents (Sanwo-Olu and Hamzat)were qualified to contest the election”
He proceeded to affirm the judgment of the Court of Appeal, which earlier upheld the election of Sanwo-Olu.
Justice Adamu Jauro read the lead judgment in the appeal marked: SC/CV/1155/2023, filed by Abdulazeez Adeniran, who was the candidate of the PDP and his party.
Adeniran, who came third in the election, and the PDP had, by their appeal, sought to disqualify Sanwo-Olu and Rhodes-Vivour, claiming they were not qualified.
They accused Sanwo-Olu of among others, submitting a forged WAEC certificate to INEC.
In dismissing the appeal, Justice Jauro found that the appellants did not establish the basis on which they had prayed the court to disqualify Sanwo-Olu and Rhodes-Vivour (who came second in the election)
The judge held that the appeals were a mere academic exercise that would yield no utilitarian value to the appellants, having failed to establish the basis for the disqualification of the two candidates, who came first and second in the election.
In affirming the election of Governor Bala Muhammed of Bauchi State, the apex court held that the appellant, Sadique Abubakar of the APC failed to prove his allegation of noncompliance with the Electoral Act and that the PDP candidate was not elected with a majority of lawful votes cast.
Justice Ibrahim Saulawa, who read the lead judgment, held among others, that while the appellant claimed that Forms EC 25B, EC40A, EC40B, and EC40C were either not filled or properly filled in polling units located in seven LGAs of Bauchi State, he was unable to show that the non-filing of the forms substantially affected the validity of the election.
Justice Saulawa said: “We do not agree that the non-proper filling of the forms in the required form is enough to cancel the election in the area affected.”
While resolving all the six issues, identified for determination, against the appellant, the judge held that contrary to Abubakar’s claim, the two lower courts properly evaluated his evidence.
He proceeded to dismiss the appeal and affirmed the judgment of the Court of Appeal delivered on November 17.
The apex court, in affirming the election of Governor Yusuf of Kano, faulted the November 17, 2023 judgment of the Court of Appeal, which sacked the governor.
The court allowed the appeal by Yusuf, marked: SC/CV/1179/2023, and set aside the judgment of the Court of Appeal describing it as perverse.
Justice Okoro, in the led judgment, held that the Court of Appeal was wrong to have affirmed the decision of the election tribunal to cancel and deduct 165616 votes from NNPP’s total votes because the ballot papers were not stamped, dated and signed by the polling units presiding officers.
Justice Okoro further held that the tribunal wrongly relied on Section 71 of the Electoral Act 2023 to declare the ballot papers invalid, when that section only talked about results forms and not ballot papers.
He noted that Section 63 of the same Electoral Act, which relates to ballot papers did not say that all ballot papers without the mark of the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) were totally invalid.
The judge held that it was wrong for the tribunal to have held that the ballot papers were invalid when the petitioners – the APC and its candidate, Nasiru Gawuna – did not prove that the ballot papers were not supplied by INEC and that it was the appellant that induced presiding officers not to sign, stamp and date the ballot papers as required.
Justice Okoro also faulted the Court of Appeal for holding that Yusuf was not qualified to have contested the election on the grounds that he was not a member of the NNPP at the time of the election.
He held that the issue of nomination and sponsorship were internal to a party, which could not be contested by another party or a person who is not a member of the party.
Justice Okoro noted that, as against the position of the Court of Appeal, “the tribunal never found that the appellant was not qualified to contest election as erroneously held by the lower court.”
He added that issues of nomination and sponsorship are exclusively within the prerogative of the party, provided the nomination is done under the law, is not justiciable, and as long the person participated in all the processes leading to his/her nomination.
Justice Okoro added that Section Section 177(c) of the Constitution, which the Court of Appeal relied on, did not provide an opportunity for any court to question the process of nomination and sponsorship of a candidate by a party.
The judge held Section 177(c) only frowns at the independent candidate, adding that the law does not concern itself with the issue of membership of a party.
“It does not matter if he is a foundation member or just joined before the election. It does not matter as long as he is nominated and sponsored by the party,” Justice Okoro said.
On Zamfara, the apex court allowed the appeal by Governor Dauda Lawal of the PDP and set aside the judgment of the Court of Appeal, which it equally found to be perverse.
Justice Agim, who delivered the lead judgment, held that the trial tribunal was right to have affirmed Lawal’s election and that the decision of the Court of Appeal was given without evidential foundation.
He noted that the petitioners at the tribunal – APC and its candidate, Bello Matawalle – relied on Forms EC8A of the disputed polling units in Maragun Local Government in support of their claim of overvoting, alteration of results, non-voting and related malpractices.
Justice Agim said: “What was needed to prove their case was the duplicate copies of the Forms EC8A, which the petitioners did not produce.
“The duplicate copies which the petitioners relied on to claim to have won the election, were not tendered.
“It was only the INEC copies which were disputed that were before the tribunal, but the INEC copies did not show over-voting. So the claim of over-voting failed.
“This court is of the view that the tribunal was right in holding that the petitioners did prove their claims of overvoting, non-holding of the election and cancellation of results,” he said.
In the case of Ebonyi, the apex court’s panel of five Justices unanimously dismissed the appeal by the candidate of the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) in the last governorship election, Ifeanyi Odii Chukwuma and his party on the grounds that it was without merit.
In the lead judgment, Justice Tijjani Abubakar held that the appellants failed to prove their case before the trial court that the election was marred by non-compliance with relevant laws and that Nwifuru was not a member of the All Progressives Congress (APC) at the time of the election.
On the appellants’ contention that Nwifuru was not qualified at the time of the election, Justice Abubakar said as against the argument by appellants, Section 177(c) of the Constitution did not contain a provision to inquire about how a party nominate or sponsor its candidate.
He noted that the section made sufficient provisions on the qualification requirements for contesting the post of governorship, while Section 182(1) of the Constitution contains factors that can make a person not qualified.
The judge held that “if a person meets the requirements of Section 177 and is not disqualified by Section 182 of the Constitution, the person is qualified to contest the election.”
Justice Abubakar affirmed the judgment of the Court of Appeal delivered on November 24, which upheld the tribunal judgment that allowed Nwifuru’s election.
In affirming the election of Muftwang, the apex court also faulted the decision of the Court of Appeal, in which it was held that the governor was not qualified on the grounds that he was not properly nominated.
In the lead judgment, Justice Agim, was of the view that the Court of Appeal erred when it set aside the decision of the election tribunal that affirmed Muftwang’s election.
Justice Agim held that the election tribunal had no jurisdiction to determine the validity of the primary election conducted by the PDP and the nomination of Muftwang as its candidate because they were issues internal to the party, which APC and its candidate Nentawe Yilwatda could not question.
He said: “We have held consistently in a plethora of decisions over time that the validity of the primary election and nomination of a candidate by his party is not a valid ground for an election case.
“Once a person’s name is submitted by his party to INEC as its candidate, he is thereby sponsored by the party and therefore satisfies the requirement of sponsorship by a party under Section 177(c) of the Constitution as he is not an independent candidate,” the judge said.
He further held that the Court of Appeal lacked the jurisdiction to have questioned Muftwang’s nomination for whatever reason.
Justice Agim added that not only was it too late for anybody to query the primary of the PDP and Muftwang’s nomination, being pre-election issues, but the petitioners at the tribunal – the APC and its candidate – lacked the locus standi (the legal right) to raise such issues, not being members of the PDP.
He held that, as against the finding of the Court of Appeal, the judgment of the Plateau State High Court, which the lower court claimed was not complied with by the PDP, was actually complied with by the party when it conducted fresh congresses ordered by the court.
He added that even if the order was not complied with, it ought not to affect the primary that produced Muftwang, which was conducted by a committee set up by the National Executive Committee (NEC) of the PDP.
The judge said the order of the state High Court was directed at the state Executive of the PDP in Plateau State and not the national PDP, which conducted the primary under the party’s constitution and the Electoral Act.
He added: “I have looked at this case and I have continued to wonder why it came to the court at all.
“The legal profession should wake up or it would render itself irrelevant in society with these kinds of cases.”
In his contribution, Justice Okoro expressed concern about the manner the Court of Appeal treated the case.
He said: “My only worry is that a lot of people have suffered because of what happened there (at the Court of Appeal).
“The proper thing is that since it is the national executive of the party that conducted the primary, whatever order was made against the state executive does not bind the national Executive. Why did they not see it that way?”
Also, another member of the panel, Justice Ogunwumiju faulted the Court of Appeal for holding that the PDP did not comply with the order of the Plateau High Court when there was evidence of compliance.
She said the situation was worsened by the fact that it was outsiders who were querying the validity of the primary conducted by the PDP.
In affirming the election of Governor Alex Otti, the apex court dismissed the two appeals filed by PDP and its candidate, Okechukwu, Ahiwe PDP, and Ikechi Emenike of the APC.
In the lead judgment, Justice Uwani Abba-Aji held that the claim by the appellants that Otti was not a member of the LP at the time of the election and that his name was not in the party’s members register were issues that predated the election and ought to have been taken before a Federal High Court.
Justice Abba-Aji held that issues of membership and nomination are internal to every political party that an outsider cannot query.
“The issues raised are about events that predated the election. They ought to be challenged at the Federal High Court because they are pre-election issues that predated the election,” she said.
The judge noted that the case “was unnecessary and ought not to have got to this court.”
Justice Abba-Aji also held that the appellants did not prove their claim of non-compliance, adding that she did not discover any perverseness in the concurrent judgments of the tribunal and the Court of Appeal, which affirmed Otti’s election.
The apex court also affirmed the election of Governor Bassey Otu of the APC by dismissing the appeal filed by Professor Sandy Onor of the PDP.
Justice Helen Ogunwumiju, who read the lead judgment, held that the appellants failed to prove their case that Otu and his Deputy were not qualified to have contested the election.
While the appellants claimed that Otu was not educated up to the school certificate level, they alleged that his Deputy was not a member of the APC at the time of the election.
Justice Ogunwumiju noted that there was evidence that Otu was a graduate, that he worked at the National Assembly for over 10 years, he was a member of the National Assembly for many years, and yet the appellants claimed he was not educated up to school certificate level.
She held that there was no merit in the allegation that Otu gave false information about the secondary school he attended and that he was not educated up to school certificate level
The judge also held that it was not the business of the appellant to challenge the validity of the Deputy Governor’s membership of the APC.
She held that the appeal “is without merit and it is a waste of judicial time and resources.”
Justice Ogunwumiju dismissed the appeal and affirmed the concurrent judgments of the two lower courts, which earlier upheld Otu’s election.