*Details of the court verdict
By Collins Ajibola, Oluwole Francis
In a unanimous judgment, the Justice Ibrahim Saulawa-led three-man Special Panel of the appellate court, vacated the 29th June judgment of Justice Okon Abang of the Federal High Court, Abuja, which directed the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC), to recognise Mr. Jimoh Ibrahim as the PDP standard bearer.
Despite this new verdict, Mr Jimoh Ibrahim is still insisting that he is the party’s candidate. However, with the verdict, streets of various communities especially Akure, the state capital, went into bouts of jubilation, for the second day, by PDP members and supporters.
As it stands, the beneficiary of the court verdict, Eyitayo Jegede (SAN) has less than 48 hours to woo the electorates as the INEC, said she will as a law abiding organisation obey the latest ruling, insisted that it will go ahead with the election on Saturday.
Jegede had approached the appellate court to challenge the high court verdict which ordered INEC to only relate with the Ali Modu-Sheriff faction of the PDP. Justice Abang had on 14th October, also re-affirmed his decision, even as he warned the electoral body against accepting any candidate nominated by the Senator Ahmed Markafi-led National Caretaker Committee of the PDP. Acting on the strength of the order, INEC, promptly removed Jegede’s name from the list of candidates for the Ondo governorship poll and replaced it with Mr. Ibrahim.
The appellate court, held that Justice Abang’s refusal to grant fair hearing to Jegede “rendered the entire proceedings before his court a nullity” because “indeed, it is obvious from the records that the appellant’s name had been duly published as the governorship candidate of the 11th respondent (PDP) for the 26th November Ondo governorship election.”
It held that the lower court was in grievous error when it ordered the publication of Ibrahim’s name. It said the decision of the high court was in total breach of the provision of Section 36 of the 1999 constitution, which it said forbade any court from denying fair hearing to a party likely to be affected by final decision of the court.
Justice Saulawa said the action of the court violated the legal doctrine of audi altarem partem (listen to the other side), adding that “the tenets of natural justice entails that a party ought to be heard prior to determination of case against them.”
The appellate court also noted that Justice Abang ordered INEC to “immediately” recognise Mr. Ibrahim who was never a party in the suit that culminated to both the 29th June and 14th October judgments. “The Court below had no jurisdictional competence to make such order. I have no restriction in the circumstance in resolving the second issue equally in favour of the appellant”.
It said that Justice Abang “unilaterally”, raised issues that were not included by the plaintiffs, an action it said amounted to “a violent attitudinal disposition to the rule of law”. Besides, the court said the primary election that was conducted by the Ondo State chapter of the PDP loyal to Modu-Sheriff, which produced Mr. Ibrahim, was a nullity. It said the law was very clear on which organ of a party should conduct governorship primary elections.
“It is worth reiterating at this point that any primary election by state chapter of a party, be it the PDP or any other party, is undoubtedly, in the eye of the law, an illegal contraption that carries with it no legal or equitable right at all. It is in its entirety a nullity”, the appellate court held.
Prior to delivery of the judgment, Justice Saulawa, said the panel was at a time, “subjected to a very intimidating and brow-beating treatment by counsel to the respondents. Most regrettably, the respondents have deemed it expedient to shoot themselves on the foot. Instead of adhering to the wise counsel of the Court to file brief within the time limit, even the extra day that was granted to them, they refused to do so. The consequences of the respondents failing to file their brief by virtue of Order 18 of the Court of Appeal Rules is very obvious and we have made it clear in our judgment.”
Justice Saulawa noted that instead of filing their brief of argument, the respondents insisted that the appellate court had lost its jurisdiction to entertain Jegede’s suit by virtue of the appeal they lodged at the Supreme Court.
“I have most critically appraised the preliminary objection by Nwufor, SAN, and I found that it is most grossly lacking in merit and it is accordingly dismissed. Having effectively dealt with the preliminary objection, I now proceed to determine the appeal on its merit.”
The Appeal court noted that Jegede filed his appeal on 11th November, which raised seven issues for determination. The issues included whether it was proper for the high court to order INEC to jettison Jegede’s name after he had already been nominated by the PDP and his name published. Olanipekun argued that the high court lacked jurisdiction to determine who should be the candidate of a political party. Relying on decided case-law in Lado vs CPC, Olanipekun, stressed that the issue of nomination of candidates for an election is a domestic affair of a political party which no court has the jurisdiction to meddle into.
He said Justice Abang was wrong when he held that he had the requisite jurisdiction to determine the matter. The appellate court, in arriving at its decision, said it was necessary that it determined whether or not the appellant was denied fair hearing by the lower court. It consequently resolved all the seven issues in Jegede’s favour.
“There is no gain saying that this appeal is grossly meritorious and is hereby allowed.” The appellate court held that Justice Abang turned himself into “Father Christmas”, by granting reliefs that were not sought by the plaintiffs.
“It is long abiding principle that a court cannot abide by reliefs not sought by parties. Ruling of the Court below delivered on October 14 is hereby set aside.” The court also awarded N20, 000 cost in Jegede’s favour.