Eyitayo Jegede is authentic PDP candidate for Ondo poll
Appeal panel nullifies High Court’s nod for Jimoh Ibrahim
The Abuja Division of the Court of Appeal yesterday declared Eyitayo Jegede of the Ahmed Makarfi-led faction as the rightful candidate of the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) in the governorship election billed to hold on Saturday in Ondo State.
In a unanimous judgment, the Justice Ibrahim Saulawa-led three-member panel vacated the June 29 judgement of Justice Okon Abang of the Federal High Court in Abuja, which directed the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) to recognise Jimoh Ibrahim of the Modu Sheriff-led faction as the PDP candidate for the election.
The decision of the appeal court has changed the narrative for the Markafi-led faction of the PDP and the Clement Faboyede state executive committee of the party in Ondo State as well as its candidate, Jegede. The decision means that the name of their candidate will now be restored by the electoral body as they go for the election on Saturday.
The judgment also raises some vital issues about the role of some judicial officers in strengthening or distabilising the political landscape. Going by the criticisms of the judgment of justice Abang by the appellate court, it was clear that the justices were unhappy with his role in the conflict.
The sharp criticisms by the appellate court confirmed the fears of Nigerians and the presidency that the judiciary really needs thorough cleansing.
Jegede had approached the appellate court to challenge the verdict of the High Court which ordered INEC to recognise Ibrahim.
Justice Abang had in October also re-affirmed his decision, even as he warned the electoral body against accepting any candidate nominated by the Markafi-led National Caretaker Committee of the PDP.
Acting on the strength of the order, INEC promptly removed Jegede’s name from the list of candidates for the Ondo governorship polls and replaced it with Ibrahim. Whereas Jegede emerged from primaries that were sanctioned by the Makarfi-led National Working Committee (NWC) of the PDP, Ibrahim secured his ticket from the Sheriff faction of the party.
But the Appeal Court panel in its verdict yesterday held that Justice Abang’s refusal to grant fair hearing to Jegede, “rendered the entire proceedings before his court a nullity.”
Justice Saulawu said: “Indeed it is obvious from the records that the appellant’s name had been duly published as the governorship candidate of the 11th respondent (PDP) for the November 26 Ondo governorship election.
“The lower court was in grievous error when it ordered the publication of Ibrahim’s name.
“The decision of the High Court was in total breach of the provision of section 36 of the 1999 Constitution, which forbade any court from denying fair hearing to a party likely to be affected by the final decision of the court.”
The judge held that the action of the court violated the legal doctrine of audi altarem partem. “The tenets of natural justice entail that a party ought to be heard prior to determination of case against them,” he said.
The appellate court also noted that Justice Abang ordered INEC to “immediately” recognise Ibrahim who was never a party in the suit that culminated in both the June 29 and October 14 judgments.
“The court below had no jurisdictional competence to make such an order. I have no restriction in the circumstance in resolving the second issue equally in favour of the appellant”.
The Appeal Court said that Justice Abang “unilaterally” raised issues that were not included by the plaintiffs, an action it said amounted to “a violent attitudinal disposition to the rule of law.”
Besides, the court held that the primary election that was conducted by the state chapter of the PDP loyal to Sheriff, which produced Ibrahim, was a nullity stressing that the law was very clear on which organ of a party should conduct governorship primary elections.
“It is worth reiterating at this point that any primary election by a state chapter of a party, be it the PDP or any other party, is undoubtedly, in the eye of the law, an illegal contraption that carries with it no legal or equitable right at all. It is in its entirety a nullity,” the appellate court held.
Prior to delivery of the judgment, Justice Saulawa, said the panel was at a time “subjected to a very intimidating and brow-beating treatment by counsel to the respondents.
“Most regrettably, the respondents have deemed it expedient to shoot themselves in the foot. Instead of adhering to the wise counsel of the court to file brief within the time limit, even the extra day that was granted to them, they refused to do so.
“The consequences of the respondents failing to file their brief by virtue of Order 18 of the Court of Appeal Rules is very obvious and we have made it clear in our judgment.”
Justice Saulawa noted that instead of filing their brief of argument, the respondents insisted that the appellate court had lost its jurisdiction to entertain Jegede’s suit by virtue of the appeal they lodged at the Supreme Court.
“I have most critically appraised the preliminary objection by Nwofor (SAN), and I found that it is most grossly lacking in merit and it is accordingly dismissed. Having effectively dealt with the preliminary objection, I now proceed to determine the appeal on its merit.”
The court noted that Jegede filed his appeal on November 11, which raised seven issues for determination. The issues included whether it was proper for the High Court to order INEC to jettison Jegede’s name after he had already been nominated by the PDP and his name published.
Chief Wole Olanipekun (SAN) argued that the High Court lacked jurisdiction to determine who should be the candidate of a political party.
Relying on Lado vs CPC, Olanipeku stressed that the issue of nomination of candidates for an election is a domestic affair of a political party which no court has the jurisdiction to dabble in.
He said Justice Abang was wrong when he held that he had the requisite jurisdiction to determine the matter.
The appellate court, in arriving at its decision, said it was necessary that it determined whether or not the appellant was denied fair hearing by the lower court. It consequently resolved all the seven issues in Jegede’s favour.
“There is no gainsaying that this appeal is grossly meritorious and is hereby allowed,” the panel held.
The Appeal Court also set aside a judgment of Justice Abang held on June 29, 2016 recognising the Biyi Poroye-led executive members of the PDP in the state.
A member of the panel, Justice Mbaba, while reading the judgment of the court in an appeal filed by Makarfi, knocked Justice Abang on his June 29, 2016 decision, describing it as an “order that looks arranged.”
The panel, which described the judgment of Justice Abang as “misplaced and most fraudulent “ further said the Abuja Federal High Court judge was a “willing tool to achieve an ignoble goal.”
An initial three-man panel that was headed by Justice Jummai Hanatu-Sankey earlier recused itself from resolving the dispute, following an allegation that it collected N350million bribe from Governors Olusegun Mimiko and Nyesom Wike of Ondo and Rivers states.
The allegation was contained in a petition that Poroye wrote against the panel wherein he insisted that they were compromised.
Sequel to the withdrawal of the Justice Hannatu-Sankey-led panel, the President of the Court of Appeal (PCA) constituted the fresh panel which Poroye and five other PDP chieftains from the South West loyal to Sheriff also wanted the apex judicial body to disband. In their application that was refused by the apex court on Tuesday, Poroye’s group contended that the new panel was set up in breach of their right to fair hearing guaranteed under Section 36 of the 1999 Constitution.
They prayed for an order returning “case files relating to the appeals and the application for leave to appeal as an interested party (against the decision of the Federal High Court of 14th October 2016 in suit No. FHC/ABJ/CS/395/2016) filed by Jegede (factional PDP candidate of the Ondo PDP) to the registry of the Court of Appeal to take its normal course and turn in the docket of the court.”
The appeals that would have been affected by their motion were CA/A/551/2016 filed by Ahmed Makarfi and Ben Obi against Poroye and 10 others; CA/A/551A/2016 filed by Clement Faboyede and another against 10 others; CA/A551B/2016 filed by the PDP against Poroye and nine others; and CA/A/551C/2016 filed by Jegede against Poroye and 10 others.
They argued that not only did the PCA act without hearing from them, the case, being a pre-election matter, did not warrant any urgency to require the constitution of a special panel.
However, the Supreme Court, on Tuesday, cleared the coast for the appellate court to deliver the verdict which it suspended on November 18.
The apex court, in a unanimous ruling by a five-man panel led by the Acting Chief Justice of Nigeria, Justice Walter Onnoghen, declined to disband the special one constituted by the PCA, Justice Zainab Bulkachuwa, to resolve the Ondo PDP dispute.
Aside from dismissing motions to stay the proceedings, filed by the six PDP chieftains, the Supreme Court awarded a cumulative cost of N3million to each of the three justices of the appellate court.
Poroye and his group had joined the three appellate court justices– Saulawa, Igwe Aguba and George Mbaba– as fifth to seventh respondents in the appeal before the apex court.
Onnoghen who delivered the lead ruling, ordered that counsel to the appellants, Chief Beluolisa Nwofor (SAN), should personally pay the cost from his pocket.
The apex court further ordered the appellants to pay N500, 000 cost to the four other respondents in the matter among whom is Jegede. Justice Onnoghen held that it was wrong for Poroye and his group to drag the appellate court justices into the matter knowing that they were only carrying out a judicial duty that was duly assigned to them.
“The 6th to 7th respondents who are justices of the Court of Appeal were constituted by appropriate authority to hear and determine the case were not parties before the lower court and whatever they did was in their official capacity as judicial officers.
“Judicial officers enjoy immunity in the performance of their duties and are not liable to be subjected to this kind of intimidation,” Onnoghen held.