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Anambra: The judgments so far

By Dayo Benson, Political Editor, Ise Oluwa, Dapo Akinrefon & James Ezema
Since April 2003 governorship election in Anambra, the state has not known peace literarily speaking. It has been series of cases over the state governorship seat. The first casualty of the series of litigations was former governor Dr. Chris Ngige who was sacked by the Court of Appeal sitting in Enugu in an appeal petition filed by Governor Peter Obi, the All Progressive Grand Alliance APGA candidate. Obi  himself has fought and won three major legal battles.

Apart from his victory at the Appeal Court, he was reinstated by the Supreme Court in 2007 after his impeachment as governor. The last one he won was the apex court interpretation of his tenure. On his part, Dr Andy Uba has made three failed attempts to unseat Obi based on the 2007 election. Below are the verdicts so far:

Appeal Court sacks Ngige:  March 15, 2006

The Court of Appeal sitting in Enugu March 16, 2006 quashed Dr. Chris Ngige’s election on the platform of Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) and declared Mr. Peter Obi of All Progressive Grand Alliance (APGA) winner. The Appeal Court in pronouncing its judgment upheld the ruling of the Anambra State Election Petition Tribunal which had earlier confirmed Obi, and not Ngige, as winner of the election.

Ngige
Ngige

Ngige, had lodged an appeal against a ruling by an election tribunal in August 2005 that Obi had won a free and fair vote while the result was rigged in favour of PDP.

“The Independent National Electoral Commission erred in declaring Chris Ngige winner of the 2003 gubernatorial election in Anambra,” Justice Rabiu Muhammed said in the appeal ruling. Ngige was in office while the appeal lasted, arguing that the first ruling was an attempt by former  President Olusegun Obasanjo to unseat him because of a dispute with PDP “godfathers”, or people who sponsored his election with money. Following the ruling,  Peter Obi was sworn in as governor of Anambra.

Supreme Court on Gov Peter Obi’s tenure
June 15,  2007

According to the presiding justice of the apex court panel, Justice Aloysius Katsina Alu, after listening to arguments on the constitutional issue, he said:

“This is an appeal challenging the judgment of the court below which affirmed the judgment of the Federal high court to the effect that it had no jurisdiction to pronounce on when the tenure of office of the plaintiff\appellant expires.

“The high court had declined jurisdiction on the grounds that only the election tribunal had jurisdiction in the matter.

“The matter moved from the high court to the court below. The court below had felt the judgment of the high court which declined jurisdiction was okay.

“It is my firm view that what the appellant has sought is the interpretation of section 180 (2) (a) (b) of the 1999 constitution.

“The 1999 constitution empowers high courts to give interpretation to provisions of the constitution or the law.

“It is my view that the court below was wrong to have declined jurisdiction in this matter.

“In the interest of justice and having regard to the fact that the relevant facts in this matter are not in dispute, the court will proceed to exercise its powers under section 22 of the Supreme Court Act to decide this case on its merit.

“The provision sought to be interpreted reads: “subject to the provision of subsection 1 of this section, the Governor shall vacate his office at the expiration of a period of four years commencing from the dates when:

(a)  in the case of a person first elected as governor under this constitution, he took the oath of allegiance and the oath of office”

“It is not in dispute that the plaintiff\appellant (Peter Obi) was sworn into office on 17th March 2006. If it is so, his term of office will expire on March 17, 2010.

“In his suit, the plaintiff applicant has sought an order that his four year term of office cannot expire; that it extends beyond the May 29, 2007

“In spite of its awareness that the case was still going on in court, INEC went on to conduct election into the office of the Governor of Anambra state. This is against the principle of lis pendis.

“This court and indeed any court will not allow its processes to be treated with disdain.

“In order to ensure that the plaintiff’s appeal is not rendered nugatory, I therefore make the following declarations:

* That the office of the Governor of Anambra state is not vacant on the 29th of May 2007

* That Dr Uba should immediately vacate the Office of the Governor of Anambra state with immediate effect to enable the plaintiff appellant complete his term of office.

“I make no order as to costs,” he added.

All other six justices of the apex court on the panel concurred and made their individual comments too.

First to concur with the leading judgment was Justice George Oguntade.

His words: “I have had the advantage of reading in drafting the copy of the lead judgment just delivered by my learned brother, Justice Aloysius Katsina Alu. I entirely agree with it.

“The facts leading to this appeal are very simple and straightforward. In addition, the relevant provisions of the 1999 constitution are very explicit in relation to the facts of this matter. The two courts below fell into error because they misunderstood and consequently misinterpreted the provision of section 184 and 285 of the 1999 constitution.

“This error led them to conclude that the appellant could only be heard by an election tribunal. This suit was filed at the trial court on 12th February 2007. At that time, the office of the Governor of Anambra state had not become vacant. Neither was there a dispute as to whether the term of office of the plaintiff appellant (Peter Obi) had ceased.

“The plaintiff appellant brought a suit to invoke the powers of the high under section 251 (q), ® of the 1999 constitution. There is clearly a jurisdiction of the high court to hear the case.

“As for the merit of the plaintiff’s suit, section 180 (2) of the 1999 constitution is clear and unambiguous. The only conclusion to be arrived at from the provision of section 180, 2 is that the four year term of the office of the governor commenced on 17th March 2006 when he took his oath of office and the oath allegiance.

“His term shall not expire until March 17, 2010. To arrive at any contrary finds will amount to the subversion of the constitution.

“I am aware that the conclusion now reached will impose pain and hardship on those who have spent resources and time in quest for an office which was not vacant.

“But the constitution of the land must be upheld. I intend to give my fuller judgment on 13th of July 2007.

“I agree with the leading judgment of my learned brother, Justice Katsina Alu. I subscribe to all the orders granted,” he added.

The case of Peter Obi at the high court was that he was elected Anambra State Governor in April 2003 and was supposed to take his oath of office on May 29, 2003 but that INEC declared, in error, Dr Chris Nwabueze Ngige as the winner of the election.

He said he did not smell the seat of power until after Ngige had spent three years of his tenure.

In the originating summons he filed before the high court, he was contending that since the Supreme Court had held that Dr Chris Nwabueze Ngige was wrongly sworn into office, he said that his tenure could not be backdated to read May 29, 2003 when he did not take any oath of office on that day.

He is consequently seeking a judicial pronouncement that his four year tenure ought to be calculated from the date he took his oath of office.

The Federal high court, Enugu declined jurisdiction and struck out the case.

Obi appealed to the Court of Appeal, urging it to set aside the verdict of the trial court even as he requested the intermediate court to invoke section 16 of the Court of Appeal Act to decide the live issues raised in his suit as if it were sitting on the case as a court of first instance.

The Court of Appeal also declined jurisdiction, saying the issue raised in the case had to do with election matter and that it was only an election petition tribunal that could hear the case.

Obi was dissatisfied and came before the Supreme Court.

He specifically urged the apex court to invoke the provision of section 22 of the Supreme Court Act to sit on the case as a court of first instance because of its urgency.

January 30, 2008 : Obi wins at Supreme Court

Governor Peter Obi of Anambra State at the Supreme Court survived another move to sack him from office with the apex court dismissing the suit initiated by Andy Uba, the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) and the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC).

Uba had filed an application praying the court to set aside its judgement which declared Mr Peter Obi as the one eligible to occupy the governor’s seat.

The Supreme Court had on June 14, 2007 cut short the 16_day regime of Uba as governor of the state when he was ordered to vacate the office and to hand over the reins of power to his predecessor, Governor Obi.

In doing so, Justice Iorgyer Katsina_Alu who delivered the lead judgment held that section 180 (2) (a) on which Obi anchored his case for the extension of his tenure of office provided that he shall vacate office at the expiration of a period of four years commencing from when he took the oath of allegiance.

Justice Katsina_Alu also agreed with the arguments canvassed by Peter Obi that his four year tenure would expire on March 27, 2010, having been sworn_in as governor on March 27, 2007.

While the apex court berated the INEC for going ahead to conduct election into the governorship position of Anambra State when the matter was still pending in court, it said there was no vacancy to the office of Governor of Anambra State as at May 29, 2007, when Uba was sworn_in as governor of the state.

Accordingly, the court ordered that he vacates the office and hand over power to Mr Peter Obi.

They hinged their arguments on the backdrop that the notice of appeal filed by Peter Obi at the Federal High Court to the Court of Appeal which culminated in the judgment of the Supreme Court was null and void, having not been validly filed in substantial compliance of order 3 rule 2 of the rules of court.

But delivering judgment on the preliminary objections raised by counsel to Governor Obi and other respondent/applicants, the court threw out the application on the grounds that it was not competent as the issues raised therein amounted to a wild goose chase.

Justice Katsina_Alu said that the fifth respondent never raised any irregularity at the lower court, thinking that he has a joker by raising the issue of jurisdiction at any time, adding that the court had given its final judgment on Anambra State.

He said that the matter of jurisdiction fell within a narrow compass and that the argument that the application should be heard on merit is a wild goose chase.

His words: “Remarkably, the 5th respondent (Andy Uba) was aware of the irregularities while the proceedings were pending but he never complained. The court below was led into giving judgment in his favour and if the court did not avert its mind to it, it will be because it thought little of the non_compliance.

The 5th respondent cannot now complain of having benefited from it. He cannot approbate and reprobate at the same time. The mistake of his counsel is his belief that he has a joker and can raise it at another stage. This is a wrong assumption. Litigation premised on this is wrong.

“As at the time it was filed, the records were all before the court. This court has given its final judgment on this matter and cannot revisit it. Under section 235 of the 1999 constitution, this court has jurisdiction to interfere with the judgment of other courts. The argument that this appeal should be heard on its merit is an invitation to engage in a wild goose chase.

“It is my view that this is a clear case of which this court cannot invoke its jurisdiction. I will accordingly strike out this application with no cost.”

Monday, 28 September 2009 : Andy Uba seeks “governor in waiting” status

In an apparent move to exploit the lacuna created by the Supreme Court when it ordered in 2007 that Governor Peter Obi be allowed to complete his tenure following the swearing in of Dr Andy Uba into office as Anambra state Governor in May 29th 2007, the apex court had refused an application to mandate INEC to conduct fresh polls in the state. The deposed Andy Uba had since his ouster by the court been traversing through the courts in the country seeking to validate his election.

He sought reprieve at the apex court earlier this year when he sought for the apex court to review the judgment it delivered in the Peter Obi case. The Supreme Court denied him the request but any thought that this refusal will restrain Uba from his desperate quest to return to the Anambra state Government House was quickly discarded as Uba again sought refuge at the Court of Appeal, Enugu Division.

At a judgment delivered on 18th February, 2008, the Court of Appeal validated Uba’s election in the Governorship election conducted by the Independent National Electoral Commission in the state on 14th April, 2007.

The appellate court held that Andy Uba’s election remains valid. It also held that the decision of the Electoral Tribunal which nullified his election was a wrong decision and consequently revoked and discharged the decision. This position, according to the former Aide, means that his election in 2007 remains valid.

On the basis of that assumption, Uba is asking the Court of Appeal for consequential orders in view of his election which it had validated in 2008 since the tenure of Peter Obi will be coming to an end on 17th March, 2010. He wants the court to restrain the Independent National Election Commission (INEC) headed by Prof. Maurice Iwu, whose appointment he was instrumental to, from conducting fresh election for the Governorship position in Anambra state and to be declared “Governor in waiting”.

In a ruling delivered by a 5 man panel of the apex court headed by Justice Dahiru Musdapha, the apex court struck out the motion filed by Ukachukwu for an order compelling INEC to conduct fresh elections in the state. The court maintained, albeit, shockingly, that the issue of the validity or otherwise of the 2007 election in Anambra state was not part of the issues brought before the court in the Peter Obi’s case which, the court insists, dwell on the provisions of Section 180 (2) (a) which stipulates a 4 year term for the office of the Governor.

June 11, 2009:  S/Court throws out Uba’s suit against Obi

A full panel of the Supreme Court led by the Chief Justice of Nigeria (CJN), Justice Idris Kutigi aborted the legal move by the gubernatorial flag_bearer of the People Democratic Party (PDP) in the April 2007 election in Anambra State, Chief Andy Uba to re_open the suit filed by Governor Peter Obi  of Anambra state which led to his (Uba) sack from office.

He had wanted a reversal of the pronouncement of the apex court with respect to his mandate in order to sack Governor Obi from office and step into his shoes.

The apex court, in it’s judgment, had held that there was no vacancy in the Anambra Government House into which INEC conducted election which he allegedly won. Justice Kutigi said he had expected senior lawyers like Uba’s counsel to advise him on the path of honour to toe instead of allowing themselves to be used to destroy the judiciary which they all have the responsibility to protect.

He said the apex court was also surprised at the way Dr Uba conducted himself for the singular purpose of getting himself into the Anambra Government House, moving from one court to another and filing the same appeal which had already being decided on its merit over and over again before same court.


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