Supreme Court Judgement: Plateau Lawmakers’ Dilemma Reignites Calls For Electoral Act Amendment

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The controversies caused by the sack of all the federal and state lawmakers from Plateau State by the judgement of the Appeal Court has again re-opened demand for an amendment of the electoral act.

The development comes amid heightened public outcry and discontent over the alleged political injustice created by the decisions of the Court of Appeal on cases arising from the 2023 general elections.

DAILY POST recalls that the Court of Appeal sitting in Abuja, had in a wide sweeping judgement in November last year, sacked all 16 members of the Peoples Democratic Party, PDP, in the Plateau State House of Assembly over a pre-election matter bordering on alleged disobedience to a court order and lack of political structure.

Before then, the Appeal Court had also sacked five PDP members of the House of Representatives and two senators from the state, as well as Governor Caleb Mutfwang – a decision that the Supreme Court has reversed.

Mutfwang heaved a sigh of relief on Friday last week as the Supreme Court overturned his earlier sack by the Appeal Court.

The state and the federal lawmakers weren’t as lucky as Mutfwang, as their various cases were terminated at the appellate court.

In its judgement, the Supreme Court took on the Appeal Court, saying, “The issue of nomination is exclusively the internal affairs of a political party. Therefore, it is not justiciable.”

DAILY POST reported that Justice Inyang Okoro, who headed the apex court panel, in his consenting decision last Friday on the Plateau gubernatorial election, apparently referring to the sacked lawmakers, said, “My only worry is that a lot of people have suffered as a result of the Court of Appeal’s decision. It was absolutely wrong. The appeal is allowed.”

Justice Helen Ogunwunmiju, also sitting on the panel, consented that the Court of Appeal overreached itself, saying, “It was very wrong for the Court of Appeal to go into the issue of party congresses. To make matters worse, the party challenging the issue is another political party.”

On his part, Justice Emmanuel Agim said, “We have held in a plethora of cases that the sponsorship of a candidate for election is an internal affair of a political party. The Court of Appeal lacks the jurisdiction to determine the validity of the candidacy of the PDP.”

Commenting on the matter, a senior lawyer, Chief Mike Ozekhome, SAN, accused the Appeal Court of taking away the voting rights of the people of Plateau State.

According to Ozekhome during an interview on Arise TV, the injustice the Appeal Court inflicted on the people would last until the next four years.

The legal luminary noted there could not be a judicial review of an election petition that ended at the Court of Appeal, the court being the final court in such matters.

“In the case of Plateau State, the wrongs had been done. It is irreversible damage because the Court of Appeal is the last court for National Assembly and House of Assembly matters.

“Now that we have a full complement of the Supreme Court, there may be a need to look at the Electoral Act again to say that all such matters should henceforth go to the Supreme Court.

“What it means is that the Court of Appeal successfully took away from the people their voting rights,” he said.

However, not giving up on the matter, a report emerged on Monday that the National Working Committee, NWC, of the PDP sent petitions to the National Judicial Council, NJC, and the Federal Judicial Service Commission over its members in the Senate, House of Representatives, and Plateau State House of Assembly sacked by the Court of Appeal.

The party said its decision was based on the apex court’s judgement reversing the sack of the Plateau State governor and the consenting opinions of the justices.

“Certainly, yes, we have already commenced efforts in that regard. This is because what the Supreme Court justices did was an indictment on the Justices of the Court of Appeal.

“We have always maintained that line of argument. We are going to seek redress on the members of parliament concerned- Senate, House of Representatives and House of Assembly. The redress will focus on their respective offices,” the Deputy National Publicity Secretary of PDP, Ibrahim Abdullahi, told the media.

Also, in a statement signed by his media consultant, Mr. Clinton Garuba, the former governor of Plateau State, Senator Jonah Jang, affirmed the PDP’s decision to go to the NJC to seek a review.

Jang said, “As sad as it is, the damage that has been done to Plateau by the miscarriage of justice at the Court of Appeal is of great proportion because the kind of judgements that the court delivered have robbed the people of their rightful representation both at the state and the National Assembly. But all hope is not lost.

“The good people of Plateau State, through the government of Plateau State and the PDP, have already petitioned the National Judicial Council (NJC) to review all the judgements involving Plateau State that were delivered by the Court of Appeal, which effectively stopped those that have been elected into the national and the state of assemblies from representing their constituencies.”

However, a lawyer, Abiodun Owonikoko, has lent his voice and said the National Judicial Council has no right to review or revise judgment.

Owonikoko spoke on Monday while fielding questions on Arise Television’s Morning Show programme.

He was reacting to the PDP’s petition to the NJC seeking judicial review.

“NJC does not review judgment, cannot review judgment and cannot reverse judgment.

“It does not appear to me as a viable option to pursue, except the whole idea is to simply have the judges affected to be sanctioned and that would not actually address the real issue of justice that the public and the affected people are looking at.

“Judges who are involved in these kinds of things, especially where the Supreme Court had to come out heavily to sanction and excoriate them, should by now be reticent. They should be contrite,” he said.

Similarly, a human rights lawyer, Mr. Femi Falana in a statement, said he does not share the views of lawyers who have advised the affected legislators to accept their fate.

This is even as he urged the Supreme Court to review some of its decisions on political cases.

Falana said, “It is unfortunate that notwithstanding the Supreme Court having validated the primaries conducted by the PDP in Plateau State, the legislators who lost their seats cannot approach the Court of Appeal or any other court to reinstate them.”

He said he had thrown support for a new matter to be filed in the Federal High Court against the Federal Government, who appointed the Justices of the Court of Appeal for the payment of the salaries and allowances of the legislators for their four-year tenure.

Speaking with DAILY POST, the President of the Civil Rights Realisation and Advancement Network (CRRAN), Olu Omotayo, suggested the amendment of the constitution’s provision to allow the Supreme Court to hear cases on state and federal legislative elections.

“The issue is that it is a constitutional provision since the constitution says, ‘This is where the matter ends’. You can only amend it.

“The proper organ to do that is the National Assembly. It is the provision of the constitution that needs to be amended. Let the National Assembly do the needful and allow the case from legislative houses to go to the Supreme Court.”

The lawyer, however, agreed that it might overburden the apex court.

“We only have one Supreme Court, which is already overburdened. One Supreme Court serving the thirty-six states of the country. A lot of matters are pending,” he added.

Also airing his views, a media and communication scholar at Peaceland University, Enugu, Nduka Odo, told DAILY POST that he supports the ousted lawmakers to keep pushing until they exhaust what the constitution permits.

According to him, any impediment to any aggrieved party not seeking redress at the highest court should be removed.

He said, “Yes, according to our constitution, the sacked lawmakers have one last place of call to seek redress.

“If they wish, they should keep going until they exhaust what the constitution allows.

“We all know that the Supreme Court is the highest body of the judiciary, and if there’s any impediment to any aggrieved party not seeking redress at the highest court level, such must be removed.

“I have always believed that what is good for one is good for all. Look at how the governors regained their seats at the Supreme Court.

“The lawmakers, too, could have gotten back their seats. That’s why I support an amendment to the constitution in that vein. Let aggrieved parties exhaust all the possibilities.”

On his part, a chieftain of the All Progressives Congress, APC, Eze Chukwuemeka Eze, called for the urgent reinstatement of the lawmakers.

In a statement made available to DAILY POST, Eze advised that the Plateau lawmakers “should be reinstated as a matter of urgency for the interest of fairness and justice.”

The APC chieftain further noted that the Supreme Court judgement on Kano and Plateau States were necessary respites for Nigeria’s troubled democracy.

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