From Godwin Tsa, Abuja
The Abuja division of the Court of Appeal has declared Mr Francis Agbo as the validly nominated candidate of the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) for the Ado/Okpokwu/Ogbadibo Federal Constituency of Benue State.
In a unanimous three-member panel of the appellate court held that Ms Aida Ogwuche who was declared winner of the PDP primaries by the Independent National Electoral Commission, (INEC) was still a staff of the Federal Inland Revenue Services (FIRS) as at the time of the election.
Agbo, who doubles as the Chairman of the House Committee on Narcotics and Drugs came second at the disputed primary election.
Consequently, the court ordered the Independent National Electoral Commission, INEC, to immediately withdraw the certificate of return issued to her and issued same to Agbo as the validly nominated candidate of the party for the federal seat.
Justice B.I Gafai who led the panel of justices said that Ogwuche ought to have resigned her employment from the service before contesting in the primary election of the PDP.
“The decision of the lower court recognising the participation and election of the first respondent in the election is illegal and unlawful.”
The judge relied on Section 66 (I) (f) of the 1999 Constitution to declare Ogwuche’s election as unlawful and invalid.
The Federal High Court sitting in Makurdi had on November 11, 2022 declared Ogwuche as the duly elected candidate of the PDP for the Ado/Okpokwu/Ogbadibo Federal Constituency.
Agbo had approached the trial court for an order for an order disqualifying Ogwuche’s candidacy on the grounds that she did not resign her appointment before contesting the election.
In his suit, Agbo had prayed the court to disqualify Ogwuche’s on the grounds that she did not resign her employment with the FIRS 30 days before contesting, as stipulated by the 1999 Constitution and the Electoral Act as amended.
The appellant who is the Chairman, House Committee on Narcotics and Drug came second in the PDP primaries for the Ado/Okpokwu/ Ogbadibo Federal Constituency of Benue.
He argued that his opponent only resigned her engagement with FIRS two days after she won the party’s primary election.
According to the aggrieved lawmaker, Ogwuche was also engaged by the Benue government as the principal special assistant to the governor.
The lawmaker in his appeal, asked the appellate court to determine whether the trial judge was right when he held that the primary election was not an election within the definition of that expression in the 1999 Constitution and the Electoral Act.
“Therefore Ogwuche’s qualification to contest the primary election could not be challenged at that stage, the issue being whether a person holding office in the public service as a staff of the Federal Inland Revenue Service such as Ogwuche, must resign from office before contesting the primary election, which she failed to do on the ground that her qualification could only be challenged after the general election.
“Whether the trial judge was right when he held that the appellant has no right whatsoever to challenge the decision of the PDP clearing Ogwuche to contest the primary election in spite of the fact that she was not qualified to contest.
“This is on the grounds of having failed to resign her appointment in the public service as a staff of the Federal Inland Revenue Service.
” Whether the learned trial judge was right when he held, by implication, that Ogwuche was not required to state her employment status in the expression of interest and nomination form.
“Also that the appellant had failed to draw the attention of the court to any part of the forms requiring such information and to that extent failed to discharge the burden of proof placed on him by law.
“Whether the trial judge was right when he held, by implication, that the concealment of information is different from deliberate giving of false information and therefore that
Section 29 (5) and (6) of the Electoral Act is inapplicable to the case of the appellant.