The Lagos Division of Court of Appeal has ordered the State Governorship Election Petition Tribunal in Ikeja to resume hearing of two petitions challenging Governor Babajide Sanwo-Olu’s victory at the March 9 gubernatorial election.
A five-man panel led by Justice Hussein Mukthar, in a unanimous decision, allowed the two appeals filed by the defeated governorship candidates of the Alliance for Democracy (AD) in the state, Chief Owolabi Salis, and his Labour Party counterpart, Ifagbemi Awamaridi.
Other members of the panel were Justice O. O. Daniel Kalio, Justice O. F. Ogbuinya, Justice Stephen Adah and Justice B. B. Aliyu.
The appellate court, in two similar judgments, upturned the June 17, 2019 decision of the tribunal which dismissed Salis and Awamaridi’s petitions on the grounds that both petitioners failed to file applications for a pre-hearing conference within seven days as prescribed by the law.
It held that the tribunal erred when it ruled that the appellants had abandoned their petitions.
It noted further that the tribunal failed to check its own record of proceedings before determining that Salis and Awamaridi filed out of time.
“From the record, it is clear that the tribunal was wrong to have declared the petition as an abandoned petition….
“The case is to be remitted to the lower court for expeditious hearing of the matter,” Justice Daniel-Kalio, who read the lead judgment on Owolabi’s appeal, held.
The other justices concurred.
The court’s ruling on Awamaridi’s appeal, read by Justice Ogbuinya and approved by the other members of the panel, was similar.
The respondents in the suit were the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC), Sanwo-Olu, the All Progressives Congress (APC) and the INEC Residential Electoral Commissioner. They were listed as respondents in the petitions.
Other respondents were the Returning Officer for the Lagos State Governorship Election, the Commissioner of Police and the Army.
On June 17, the tribunal led by its chairman, Justice T.T. Asua, dismissed the AD and LP’s petitions.
The three-man panel noted that timely application for a pre-hearing conference was a condition to the hearing of the petitions.
It held that without the application for pre-hearing conferences, the petition cannot begin or get to the stage of judgment.
The panel also held that Section 285(4) of the Fourth Alteration to the 1999 Constitution was inapplicable because of the timely application for a pre-hearing conference was a precondition in election petition matters.