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S’Court judgement : Confusion as sacked Plateau lawmakers vow to retake seats

 

A political stalemate is brewing in Plateau State following threats yesterday by Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) federal and state lawmakers who were recently sacked by the Court of Appeal to launch a fight for the restoration of their mandates.


Speaker of the State House of Assembly, Gabriel Dewan, threatened to derecognize the All Progressive Congress (APC) legislators who were declared winners by the appeal court, the Nation reported on Sunday.


The sacked lawmakers and Speaker Dewan drew inspiration from Friday’s judgement of the Supreme Court which nullified Governor Caleb Muftwang’s sack by the appeal court.


But some senior lawyers said nothing will change the sack of the PDP legislators.


The Court of Appeal had ruled on November 19,2023 that the failure of the PDP to comply with the order of the Plateau State High Court in Jos directing it to conduct valid ward, local governments and state congresses before nominating its candidates for the various elective posts was a breach of the law.


The earlier sack of two PDP senators, three House of Representatives members and 11 members of the State Assembly by the Court of Appeal was based on the same premise.


However, the apex court while ruling on Muftwang’s appeal on Friday, declared 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.


The court said: “We have held consistently in a plethora of decisions overtime that the validity of 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.”


It held that the Court of Appeal lacked the jurisdiction to have questioned Muftwang’s nomination for whatever reason and that not only was it too late for anyone to query the primary of the PDP and Muftwang’s nomination, being pre-election issues, the petitioners at the tribunal, the APC and its candidate, lacked the locus standi to raise such issues, not being members of the PDP.


Under the Electoral Act, petitions arising from election into state and federal legislatures cannot proceed beyond the Court of Appeal.


Beni Lar, who lost his Langtang North/Langtang South seat in the House of Representatives told The Nation that since their matter is a novel one, they would do everything possible to reclaim their mandates.


“We don’t know what the National Judicial Council (NJC) will say yet because this kind of thing has never happened before. There is no precedence to our case, but there is no harm in trial,” Lar said.


He added: “The Supreme Court verdict is the first of its kind in Nigeria and has restored hope, restored confidence in the judiciary. They have upheld the rule of law.


“The Appeal Court robbed us of our victory. It’s a learning experience. The Appeal Court erroneously robbed us of the people’s mandate.


“It’s a national disaster for an arm of the judiciary to rob 24 lawmakers of their mandates. It is gross abuse of power to do so. It should have never happened at all.


“It means 24 constituencies have been handed over to illegal occupants.”


Mr. Joe Philip Gwom, deprived of his Barkin Ladi seat in the state assembly said: “I am a victim of the Court of Appeal judgement. But as far as I am concerned, I am going back to the House of Assembly, because the pronouncement of the Supreme Court supercedes that of Court of Appeal.


“Not only me but all of us from the state assembly and national assembly. We are going back to our seats because the Supreme Court judgement supercedes that of the Appeal Court. That was injustice meted to us by the Court of Appeal.


“I believe that in the next few days you will see action. I don’t need to talk too much.


“All I know is that the Supreme Court said APC should not have taken PDP to court over an issue that was internal affairs of PDP. It then means that what the Court of Appeal did was an illegality against PDP.


“We are going back to take our seats as law makers based on the mandate given to us by our constituencies.”


Mr. Bala N Fwanje who had won election in Mangu South into the state assembly said: “To God be the glory, the Supreme Court has given us victory. Our victory has been restored.


“The judgement means that my seat is not lost. The apex court has confirmed to us that the Court of Appeal was not supposed to entertain the case.It then means there was no case against us at all.


“In other words, what the Court of Appeal did was to defend an interest, not the law. But now the apex court has come out with the true position of the law. It means our case has to be reviewed and we are coming back strongly to claim our mandate


“Plateau is going to set a precedent for the growth of democracy in this case. That illegality done to us by the Court of Appeal cannot stand because there will be another election in 2027.


“Our cases and that of the governor are similar, hence our own has to be reviewed accordingly because that of the governor has been decided. So I can assure you the NJC will definitely review our cases to correct the injustice.”


Asked to react on the implication of the Supreme Court judgement, Speaker Dewan said the state assembly has only eight lawmakers that he recognizes because, in his view, the Friday judgement overturned the position of the appeal court.


“As it stands now, only eight lawmakers are recognized as members of the state assembly,” he said,stressing that the 16 lawmakers who were declared winners by the Court of Appeal would not be recognised for now pending the interpretation of the Supreme Court judgement.


But the APC insisted that the Supreme Court judgement has not changed the status of its members in the national and state assemblies.


Contacted, spokesman of the party in the state, Mr.Sylvanus Namang said “our members are comfortable as they remain authentic members (of the National Assembly and the State Assembly).”


He said since the Court of Appeal is the final arbiter on legislative litigation, the matter cannot proceed beyond that level.


SANs: No remedy for sacked lawmakers


Four senior advocates of Nigeria (SANs) John Baiyeshea, Akinlolu Kehinde, Tunde Falola and Joseph Nwobike , noted that since the Constitution makes the Court of Appeal the last stage in legislative election litigation, the legislators sacked by the Court of Appeal can no longer be restored despite the Supreme Court’s decision.


Baiyeshea, who expressed disappointment at how the Court of Appeal handled the legislators’ petitions , said it was sad that the appellate court chose to replace elected representatives with selected ones.


Kehinde said what the Court of Appeal Justices did amounted to judicial rascality, while Falola urged the affected legislators not to take the law into their hands but to await the next election circle.


The SANs suggested an amendment to the Constitution and other relevant laws to allow National Assembly election cases terminate at the Supreme Court.


Baiyeshea said: “The Judgment of the Court of Appeal in respect of National Assembly members removed in Plateau State is quite unfortunate.


“This is one of the ugly scenarios in our Nigerian system and one of the irreversible errors in our legal/administration of justice.


“It is obvious now that with the judgment of the Supreme Court on Friday affirming the election of the Governor of that state (who was removed by the Court of Appeal for the same reasons that the National Assembly members were removed), the Court of Appeal’s judgment is a complete travesty of justice to those National Assembly members.


“The governor was lucky that, by our present laws, appeal in governorship matters terminates at the Supreme Court, so he had his case reviewed by the Justices of that court.


“Happily the unjust judgment of the Court of Appeal against him was set aside.


But in the case of the National Assembly members, appeal terminates at the Court of Appeal, so the injustice to them is permanent and irreversible.


“There is no remedy for them now for this monumental travesty of justice to them.


“Our legal system should not, at our present state of development, present citizens with such helpless situation where there is no remedy for such a brutal wrong done to its citizens.


“This is why those who have the privilege of presiding over the affairs of others to determine their fate should be very careful not to abuse such privilege.


“It is quite sad that before our very eyes, the representatives the people of Plateau State, voted for, have been replaced by those ‘selected’ by the Court of Appeal.


“Democracy has been obliterated, bastardised and the people shortchanged. That’s the tragedy of a nation like Nigeria that never gets anything right.



“I hope the National Assembly and other stakeholders in law making will do something to amend the Constitution and other laws to remedy this anomaly against the future because we cannot and must not continue like this,” Baiyeshea said.


Kehinde said in other climes the Justices involved would have been penalised for deliberately ignoring earlier decisions of the Supreme Court on the issues raised in the Plateau cases.


He said it was only an aspirant that participated in the party’s primary that could challenge the outcome and urged lawyers, particularly Senior Advocates, to realise that it is not every case that must be taken to court.


“We have to be sincere to our clients and tell them the whole truth that a particular case will not fly,” he said, adding that lawyers should avoid cases that could ridicule them and subject the whole system of justice to disrepute.


Kehinde added: “I will also encourage, especially the intermediate court – the Court of Appeal – that it has no choice, once a position has been laid down by the Supreme Court, it is judicial rascality to depart from it.


“This was what happened, with respect, in some of these states like Plateau, Kano and a number of other states.


“This was what they did, with respect, I am not castigating the whole bench of the Court of Appeal, but those involved got themselves involved in judicial rascality.


“What is good is good, and what is bad is bad. What they did has no basis in law.


The Supreme Court has condemned it. I am not the one condemning it.


“And, let them also have a rethink that they owe it to this country to ensure the survival of this democracy. This is a responsibility that we all owe to this country.”


On his part, Falola noted that by the provisions of Section 246(1) of the Constitution, the Court of Appeal currently exercises the final jurisdiction on the decision of the election tribunal in respect of all legislative elections cases be it National Assembly or State Houses of Assembly.


He added: “What that means is that once a candidate, who participates in Senatorial, House of Representatives or State House of Assembly elections and loses the election, he petitions the election tribunal.


“And, when he loses the petition, his final destination, in terms of appealing against the tribunal’s decisions, ends at the Court of Appeal, being the final court.


“At that juncture, the only option open to him is to abide by the outcome of the decision of the court of Appeal.


“If he loses the appeal, there is really nothing he can do than to wait for another election period as no further right of appeal exists.


“To address the several complaints against the decisions of the Court of Appeal in respect of the appeals in legislative matters in Plateau State, the option open to our legislature is to amend the Constitution and make the Supreme Court final court in appeals in legislative matters.


“Doing so will give the Supreme Court the opportunity to address the perceived perverseness of most of the decisions of the appellate court in deserving cases.”


In his own contribution Nwobike said: “I think that it must be recognized that the Court of Appeal is the final court for the determination of that level of electoral disputes in Nigeria.


“There are no clear legal or constitutional bases for them to seek for judicial review of those judgements in any manner that will not create a bad precedent in our jurisprudence.


“However, it is left for the lawyers to the persons affected to deeply consider the issues and the extent to which the equitable rule of ibi jus ibi remedium can be of any material help.


“Recall also that similar applications that were made to the Supreme Court recently were met with heavy costs against the counsel who filed the application on behalf of the parties.


“I will therefore advise that the matter should be treated as closed so as not to create confusion in the electoral jurisprudence with respect to the finality granted to the Court of Appeal by the Constitution.”


Election petitions should terminate at Supreme Court, says Ozekhome

Senior advocate of Nigeria (SAN),Chief Mike Ozekhome said the nullification of the election of the PDP legislators from Plateau State was an act of injustice.


He said he is now of the view that all election petitions should terminate at the apex court.


Ozekhome who spoke on ARISE TV said: “If all of these cases had gone to the Supreme Court, all of them would have their seats retained.


“On what grounds were they reversed? The Court of Appeal surprisingly was saying the PDP had no structure in Plateau State.When did PDP structure,membership of a political party,nomination,congresses and primaries become part and parcel of matters that the court can have jurisdiction?


“Injustice has been done to them. What is the remedy now? That is why I’m going to review my stance with all respect and humility as a constitutional lawyer,to say that yes, these cases should go to the Supreme Court as the final court of the land.”


Shittu: We should strengthen judiciary

Another Senior Advocate of Nigeria (SAN),Mr.Wahab Shittu said all that the country ought to do is to strengthen the capacity of the judiciary to perform its responsibility.


He hailed the Supreme Court’s pronouncement that courts are not entitled to dabble into the internal affairs of political parties on nomination of candidates for election as sound.


He said the decision is sound on the index of legal reasoning and justification.


“The justification is that issues of sponsorship, nomination and candidacy remain the prerogative of political parties. The only limitation is compliance with the requirement of internal democracy,” he said.


Shittu, however, argued that the Court of Appeal’s nullification of the elections of the Plateau lawmakers ought to be rationalised based on the peculiar facts of each case.


His words: “The question of validity of nomination has to be examined in the context of provisions of the constitution and the Electoral Act. The court has a duty to ensure compliance with relevant enactments.


“It is necessary to read the facts of the Court of Appeal decisions thoroughly before deciding whether the position of the Court of Appeal contradicted the Supreme Court decisions under reference.


“It is not in all situations that the court will not interfere with internal affairs of political parties. For example, the court will intervene where a political party nominates candidates for an election without organising primaries as stipulated by the Electoral Act.


“The intervention of the court in such situations will be justified because such candidates were not validly nominated because of absence of valid primaries as required by the Electoral Act.”


He noted that there have also been arguments that all electoral matters ought to terminate at the Supreme Court adding that such a position overlooks the fact that the apex court is saddled with heavy dockets of cases and the modern thinking is that not all cases should come to the Supreme Court for resolution.


Shittu said he favoured critique of a judgement on the index of justification after analysis of the peculiar facts, settled principles and the legal reasoning underlying the decisions reached.


He said: “I am unable to whimsically conclude that the decisions of the Court of Appeal run contrary to the Supreme Court’s position without analysing the context in which the decisions of the Court of Appeal and the Supreme Court were arrived at.


“The solution lies in strengthening the capacity of our courts at all levels to ensure only our best brains adjudicate over cases including electoral matters”, he said.


Shittu said agitation for all electoral matters to terminate at the Supreme Court tends to overlook the reality that the apex court as a court of law and policy adjudicates over all matters not just electoral matters.


Electoral Act should be amended

Chief Louis Alozie (SAN) called for an urgent amendment of the Electoral Act to deal with the issue of courts jurisdiction in matters of validity of nomination of candidates.


He said: “In pre-election matters, Section 84 ( 14) has been introduced to vest jurisdiction in the courts to entertain complaints where it is alleged that the constitution and guidelines of the party have been breached.


“By this provision, the arbitrariness of party leaders ought to have been curtailed. But our courts still insist on this principle, founded on the common law that matters arising from nomination of candidates remain the internal affairs of political parties.


“ In this case, they do not interpret the statutes. My understanding of recent decisions of both the Court of Appeal and the Supreme Court is that they have rubbished the innovations introduced in the Electoral Act of 2022.


“What I know to be certain is that election tribunals and appellate courts have no jurisdiction to entertain complaints on issues that occurred before the election. In other words, jurisdiction is limited to complaints on the actual conduct of the election because the election petition tribunals and appellate courts do not function as regular courts, that cannot entertain pre -election issues.


“ What is worrisome is that the courts contradict themselves by the spate of contradictory decisions. It’s unfortunate for justices of the Supreme Court to be saying one thing and the Court of Appeal or even different panels of the court of appeal to saying different things on similar facts. For me, every judge decides cases based on his conscience and extent of knowledge of the law. This can’t be regulated, even by statute.”


 

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