Â By Ise-Oluwa Ige
On June 29, this year, a three member panel of the Benin division of the Court of Appeal unanimously dismissed an appeal by Dr Mariam Ali against the electoral victory of Senator Patrick Osakwe in the 2007 Delta-North Senatorial District poll. The election held on April 29, 2007.
The three law lords including Justices Amina Augie, Ali Gumel and Chioma Nwosu-Ihime, held that Dr Aliâ€™s case against the serving senator was without merit. For instance, Justice Augie who prepared the leading judgment in the case, did a clinical analysis of its facts before throwing out Dr Aliâ€™s appeal for want of merit.
The two other justices also anatomized the case as presented by parties and concurred, saying the judgment of the tribunal which dismissed Aliâ€™s case ought not to be disturbed.
Â According to Justice Nwosu-Iheme, she said â€œthe fulcrum of the appellantsâ€™ case at the lower tribunal was that Senator Osakwe while remaining a member of PDP contested election under the platform of another political party (the Accord Party) and concluded that his election was void by reason of the fact that he was not qualified to contest, among other reasons.
â€œIn my view, this is the most crucial aspect of this appeal but the pleading in the petition does not appear to justify this position. â€œIt may well be that at one time, Senator Osakwe was a member of PDP but the facts pleaded in paragraphs 1,2,and 4 of the petition appear to be singing a different song and therefore make the assertion difficult to believe.
â€œBy section 65(2) (b) of the 1999 constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria, a person shallÂ be qualified for election into the Senate if he is a member of a political party and sponsored by that party. â€œThus having established his membership of Accord Party by tendering his membership card and the appellants (Dr Ali and PDP) having acknowledged that he (Osakwe) had abandoned, defected and left their party, Osakwe is entitled to retain his seat as a senator representing Delta North Senatorial District of Delta state on the basis of the votes garnered in that election.
â€œThe lower tribunal was therefore right in dismissing the petition. â€œFor the above reasons and the fuller reasons given by my brother judge, I too dismiss the appeal and abide by the order as to costs,â€ she added.Â Â The case, until it was finally rested, three weeks ago, by the Benin division of the Court of Appeal, was one of the most controversial election petition cases which dragged in court for more than three years. It is also one of the most litigated election petition cases in recent times as virtually every fundamental ruling in the case was appealed.
In fact, the case came before the Court of Appeal three times before it was finally rested. But for the provisions of section 246 (1-3) of the 1999 constitution which made the Court of Appeal the final court on any complaint arising from the conduct of senatorial elections, Dr Ali would have taken further step to activate her ambition which was to kick out her opponent from his seat.Â Â Dr Ali is the wife to former National Chairman of the rulingÂ PDP, Ahmadu Ali and candidate of the ruling party for the election. Senator Osakwe who was formerly a member of the ruling PDP flew the flag of an unpopular political party in the state, Accord Party, AP, in the April 2007 to win the senatorial poll.
Osakwe who had been in the National Assembly since 1999 left the PDP in the run up to the 2007 elections when he failed to secure ticket to run for Senate. Mariam Ali, the wife to the former National Chairman of the PDP, Ahmadu Ali, was allegedly imposed as candidate of the party. Political pundits said that the alleged imposition prompted a protest vote which made the candidate of an unpopular party coasting home landslide victory in the poll.
But aggrieved by the results declared by INEC, DrÂ Ali approached the Delta State Governorship and Legislative Houses Election Tribunal seeking two declaratory and two injunctive reliefs which in the main sought to invalidate Senator Osakweâ€™s election.
Her arguments from the tribunal level to the Court of Appeal were that Senator Osakwe was not properly or validly nominated by the Accord Party which fielded him for the senatorial poll and that he was still a member of the ruling PDP as at the time he purportedly flew the flag of the Accord Party for the senatorial poll. Dr Aliâ€™s contention therefore was that having allegedly stated that Senator Osakwe was a member of two political parties at the time the election held, she said Osakwe was not qualified to contest the poll. The ruling PDP joined Dr Ali to wage the judicial war against Senator Osakwe.
But the serving Senator Osakwe who was returned by INEC did not fold his arms either. He quickly assembled a legal team headed by a Benin-based member of the inner bar, Chief Ighodalo Imadegbelo, SAN,Â to attack the lawsuit of Dr Ali.
His political party, the Accord Party also stood by him while the INEC also defended its position. At the tribunal level, Osakweâ€™s legal team first attacked the competence of the suit and the jurisdiction of the court to hear the case on the ground that the petitioner failed to file pre-hearing notice as provided for in Paragraph 3 and 4 of the E,l.ection Petition tribunal andÂ Court Practice Directions 2007. The tribunal, on September 6, 2007 agreed with him that having failed to file the pre-hearing notice, the petition was deemed abandoned and was dismissed.
Dr Ali would not take that as justice.
She came before the Court of Appeal to complain against the verdict. She succeeded to annul the decision of the tribunal on May 28, 2008 as the Appeal Court ordered the tribunal to hear her case on its merit. As soon as the case was re_listed, Osakwe and his supporters also filed a fresh preliminary objection challenging the jurisdiction of the tribunal to hear the case on the ground that the issues brought for determination touched on nomination and substitution of candidates which the jurisdiction of an election petition tribunal did not cover.
They maintained that those issues were intra party disputes which only regular courts of record could handle.
After arguments, the tribunal again upheld Osakweâ€™s submission and handed off the trial. But upon a fresh appeal filed by Dr Ali, the Court of Appeal ordered the tribunal to hear the case on its merit particularly parties having joined issues on whether or not Senator Osakwe was not a member of Accord Party at the time he flew its flag. The tribunal again re-listed the case and dismissed Dr Aliâ€™s case on the ground that in her pleadings, she had admitted that Senator Osakwe had defected from PDP to the Accord Party and that there was neither any documentary nor oral evidence to buttress the allegation that Osakwe was not even a member of AP or its valid candidate for the senatorial poll. Dr Ali again came before the Court of Appeal to contest the tribunalâ€™s verdict. But she was not as lucky as she was in the first two occasions she came before the Appeal Court.