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Court reserves verdict in Agbaje’s appeal against Ambode’s victory




THE Court of Appeal, Lagos Division, has reserved judgment in an appeal filed by Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) candidate, Jimi Agbaje, against Akinwunmi Ambode of the All Progressives Congress (APC) in the last governorship election in Lagos State.

Also, the court reserved verdict in cross-appeals filed by Ambode and APC against some aspects of the lower tribunal’s judgment. The three-man Lagos State Governorship Election Petition Tribunal led by Justice Muhammad Sirajo had, on July 1, upheld Ambode’s victory in the April 11 governorship election.

The tribunal had struck out Agbaje’s petition seeking to nullify declaration of Ambode as winner. Ambode polled 811,994 votes against Agbaje’s 659,788. Justice Sirajo said the petition by Agbaje and the PDP was defective because it failed to pray for conduct of a fresh election.

The tribunal, in a ruling on the consolidated preliminary objection by Ambode and APC, said: “In the instant petition, apart from seeking an order nullifying the election of the second respondent, the petitioner did not ask for an order for fresh election.

So if, for instance, the election is nullified, the people of Lagos State will be left in anarchy as no order can validly be made for the conduct of fresh election, same having not been sought for.  “Where such a prayer is lacking, the petition will be incompetent and academic as even the resolution of such a petition in favour of the petitioner will not confer any utilitarian value on the petitioner(s).”

Ambode’s counsel, Chief Wole Olanipekun (SAN), ‎arguing his cross-appeal against Agbaje, PDP, the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) and the Resident Electoral Commission (REC), said the petition by Agbaje and PDP was ‘irredeemably defective’ because it raised an issue that had no relationship with the reliefs they sought.

He said the petitioners claimed there were corrupt practices during the election, which he said differed from what they pleaded.  “There is no nexus between this particular ground and the reliefs being sought,” Olanipekun said, urging the court to allow the cross-appeal.

Olanipekun’s contention is that the petition by Agbaje and PDP was incompetent because, according to him, there was nothing in the petitioners’ papers directly challenging Ambode’s victory.

He said the reliefs they sought were in conflict with Section 285(2) of the Constitution as the grounds and particulars are in opposition to the facts and reliefs being sought.

Olanipekun contended there were no grounds challenging Ambode’s election as provided under Section 138(b)(c) of the Electoral Act 2010.

Opposing the cross-appeal, Agbaje’s counsel, Mr. G.O Giwa-Amu, said the fact that the election was peacefully conducted does not mean that there were no irregularities. “In the circumstance, we urge the court to dismiss the cross-appeal,” he said.

PDP’s counsel A.M Kotoye and Chief Richard Oma Ahonaruogho urged the court to dismiss the cross-appeal because Ambode was not qualified to contest the election in the first place.

Ahonaruogho added that the appeal should be dismissed for being unmeritorious. In the second cross-appeal by APC against Agbaje, PDP, INEC, Ambode and REC, APC’s counsel, Kunle Adegoke sought an order setting aside a part of the tribunal’s judgment, as well as an order striking out the petition for being incompetent having not been based on any ground recognised by the Electoral Act, 2010 (as amended).

Adegoke said the tribunal was wrong to hold that Paragraphs 14 and 13(b) of the petition, which deal with nomination, are valid grounds for challenging Ambode’s election.

According to Adegoke, the tribunal erred in law when, having held that Paragraph 14 of the petition is a challenge against Ambode’s nomination, went ahead to hold that it is a valid ground for presenting a petition. He argued that any complaint about invalid nomination is a pre-election issue.

His words: “Only the Federal or State High Court has jurisdiction to entertain all pre-election matters and the tribunal ought to have declined jurisdiction in respect thereof. “The tribunal ought to have held that Paragraph 14 of the petition containing a purported ground is a pre-election matter in respect of which the tribunal has no jurisdiction.”

PDP, in its appeal, is contending that the tribunal was wrong to hear and rule on the consolidated preliminary objection by Ambode and APC without dealing with the merits of the substantive petition.

Kotoye urged the appellate court to dismiss preliminary objections raised by INEC and Ambode against the appeal. “I urge your lordships to allow our appeal in the interest of justice,” he said. Counsel for INEC and REC, Mr. E.R. Emukpoeruo, urged the court to dismiss PDP’s appeal for lacking in merit.  “It is not enough to pray to nullify an election.

There must be an order directing us to conduct a fresh one. The tribunal did nothing wrong. Their action cannot be faulted,” he said. APC’s lead counsel, Chief Charles Edosomwan (SAN), also prayed the court to dismiss the appeal. “They didn’t say whether they wanted Agbaje declared as governor or whether they wanted a rerun. There was nothing the tribunal could have done,” he said.

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