Godwin Tsa, Abuja
The Abuja division of the Court of Appeal has set aside the judgment of a Federal High Court which had declared Muhammed Sani as the candidate for the Niger East senatorial seat on the platform of the All Progressive Congress (APC).
The court consequently nullified the certificate of return issued to Sani by the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) and ordered same to be withdrawn.
The judgment of the appellate court followed an appeal filed by senator David Umar, also of the APC, whose nomination by party was nullified by the trial court.
Musa had in a pre-election suit marked FHC/ABJ/CS/1210/2018 challenged the powers of the APC to allegedly handpick Senator David Umar to replace him as its candidate in Niger East Senatorial District.
He listed the All Progressive Congress, the Independent National Electoral Commission and Senator David Umar as defendants.
Justice Folashade Ogunbanjo of the Abuja division of the Federal High Court had in her judgment delivered on February 7 agreed that Musa was the declared winner of a primary election the APC conducted in the Senatorial District on October 2, 2018.
Consequently, the court granted an order setting aside the nomination and/or submission of the name of Senator David Umar by the APC to the Independent National Electoral Commission as the candidate to represent the party for the office of Senator representing Niger East Senatorial District at the general elections slated for 2019.
The court declared that the 1st Defendant (APC) lacks the power and the vires to nominate, sponsor or forward to the 2nd Defendant, the name of any candidate for election in the platform of the 1st Defendant to the office of the Senator representing Niger East Senatorial District, at the 2019 general elections, other than as mandatorily provided by the relevant provisions of the Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria, 1999 (as amended), the Electoral Act, 2010 (as amended), as well as the Constitution and Guidelines of the 1st Defendant.
Justice Ogunbanjo had further declared that the Plaintiff, (Sani), having secured the highest number of votes at the primary election conducted by the 1st Defendant, and monitored by the 2nd Defendant on 2nd October, 2018, to nominate a candidate to represent the 1st Defendant for the office of Senator representing Niger East Senatorial District, at the general elections scheduled for 2019.
“Instead of forwarding the name of the applicant to the 2nd respondent as the candidate of the 1st respondent as mandated by the law, 1st Defendant has purportedly forwarded the name of the 3rd Defendant to the 2nd Defendant.
“The Applicant, apart from securing the highest number of votes at the primary election of the 1st Defendant on 2nd October, 2018, by a very wide margin, is also the popular candidate accepted by the electorate of the Niger East Senatorial District.”
The court also declared that the APC (1st Defendant) does not possess the vires, power or authority to forward to the 2nd defendant any other name (particularly, that of the 3rd Defendant) than the name of the Plaintiff who secured the highest number of votes in the primary election organised by the 1st Defendant, and supervised by the 2nd Defendant on 2nd October, 2018, to contest on the platform of the 1st Defendant for the office of Senator representing Niger East Senatorial District, at the general elections scheduled for 2019.
Dissatisfied with the judgment of the lower court, Senator Umar approached the Abuja division of the Court of Appeal via a notice of appeal premised on 18 grounds, in urging the appellate court to set aside the judgment.
Delivering its judgment on the appeal, the Court of Appeal agreed with the appellant that the trial court erred in law to have assumed jurisdiction over the suit brought by Musa and to have granted the reliefs sought by him despite the appellant’s objection to its jurisdiction.
Justice Stephen Adah, who read the unanimous judgment of the Court of Appeal, held that the suit filed by Musa was statute barred and caught up by section 285(9) of the 4th alteration Act of the 1999 constitution, therefore, the trial court lacked the requisite jurisdiction to have entertained it.
On this, the court further held that the suit was not filed within the mandatory 14 days period after the cause of action, as provided for by section 285 (9) of the 1999 constitution.
“The suit was caught up by the prescribed constitutional time limit of 14 days having been predicated on the event that took place on the 2nd October, 2018. The originating summons was dated and filed on October 26, 2018 while the subject matter of the suit centered on the event of October 2, 2018,” Justice Adah held.
Before proceeding with judgment on the substantive appeal, the Court of Appeal dismissed the preliminary objection raised against the appeal by the respondents.
Specifically, Musa had challenged the appeal on the ground that the appellant had no locus standi to have filed his appeal without the name of his political party, the All Progressive Congress.
In addition, he had further argued that the appeal has become an academic exercise since the election had been conducted and a winner had emerged.
However, the preliminary objection was dismissed by the appellate court for lacking in merit.
In his suit before the Federal High Court, Musa, whose certificate of return was nullified by the Court of Appeal, had prayed for a declaration that the submission by the 1st Defendant to the 2nd defendant, of the name of the 3rd Defendant, to contest election in the platform of the 1st defendant to the office of Senator representing Niger East Senatorial District, at the general elections slated for 2019, is unconstitutional, illegal, ultra vires, oppressive, undemocratic, arbitrary, null and void, and of no effect.
The Plaintiff argued that under section 87(4) (c) (II) of the Electoral Act, the 1st Defendant (APC), is mandated to forward his name as its candidate for the 2019 Senatorial election in Niger East.
Among other reliefs, the Plaintiff, had prayed the court to determine whether “considering the combined provisions of sections 221,222, paragraph 15(c) of the Third Schedule, as well as other relevant provisions to the Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria, 1999 (as amended); Articles 7(viii) (ix), and 20 of the Constitution of the APC; and Paragraph II of the 2014 Guidelines for the Nomination of Candidates for Public Offices of the APC, whether the 1st Defendant can or has the right or latitude to nominate or sponsor any candidate, or forward to the 2nd Defendant, the name of any candidate for election to the National Assembly (Senate), other than as mandatorily provided by the combined effect of the aforestated provisions of the Constitution, the Electoral Act, the constitution and guidelines of the 1st Defendant.
“Whether the 1st Defendant can or has the power to substitute or change the name of the Plaintiff, who in conformity with the afore-stated provisions of the relevant laws and Guidelines, secured the highest number of votes at the primary election conducted by the 1st Defendant on 2nd October, 2018, to nominate a candidate for the office of Senator representing Niger East Senatorial District, with that of the 3rd Defendant, who did not score the highest number of votes at the said primary election.”