By Ikechukwu Nnochiri
ABUJA — The controversy trailing two court judgements that barred the Independent National Electoral Commission, INEC, from including five states of Bayelsa, Sokoto, Cross River, Adamawa and Kogi in the governorship elections held on April 26, may be finally laid to rest by the Supreme Court today.
This indication emerged even as a seven-man panel of justices of the apex court presided by the Chief Justice of Nigeria, CJN, Justice Dahiru Musdapher, yesterday, admitted written briefs of the three constitutional experts it hitherto invited into the matter as amicus-curiae (friends of the court), with a view to assisting it in determining the judicial fate of the amended section 180(2) of the 1999 constitution which is the subject matter of the appeal.
Though the reason the Supreme Court invited the said pundits who are Senior Advocates of Nigeria, Chief Richard Akinjide, Prof. Itse Sagay and Chief G.O.K. Ajayi, was to help it resolve the issue, however, they may have inadvertently compounded the matter, following dissenting opinion they expressed, yesterday, regarding the lower court judgments that extended the tenure of the five governors.
Whereas Chief Akinjide, SAN, advised the apex court to uphold the decision of the Court of Appeal which elongated the tenure of the five governors, the duo of Chief Ajayi and Professor Sagay advised it to reverse the decision of the Court of Appeal.
Consequent upon the unfolding controversies, the CJN, asked the three amicus-curiae to come back today, stressing that the matter is urgent and needed to be decided on time.
Besides, he ordered that the briefs of the amicus-curiae be served on the parties to enable them to respond to it today, saying it was not compulsory that they must file a written response since the issues raised could be addressed orally.
meanwhile, In the brief he submitted to the court, Akinjide in his conclusion posited that, “ it is my view and I so submit that the Oath of Allegiance and Oath of Office taken by the 1st Respondent on May 29,2007 based on the nullified election cannot be a valid reference point for the calculation of the four-year term of office. His four year tenure started to run, in law, following the April 30, 2008 Oath of Allegiance and Oath of Office taken pursuant to the re-run election as ordered by the Court of Appeal”.
It would be recalled that INEC had gone to the supreme court, praying it to set aside the decisions of a Federal High Court and the Abuja Division of the Court of Appeal, which had in their separate judgments, extended the tenure of the five governors till next year.
The electoral body contended that the lower courts misapplied the provision of section 180(2) of the 1999 constitution, in holding that the statutory four-year tenure of the benefiting governors had not expired as at the time the elections were being conducted.
Consequently, it has prayed the Supreme Court to hold that the tenure of governors Ibrahim Idris of Kogi state, Aliyu Wammako (Sokoto), Murtala Nyako (Adamawa), Liyel Imoke (Cross River) and Timipre Sylva (Bayelsa), ought to have expired on May 29 this year.
It specifically argued that “the learned justices of the court of appeal erred in law and occasioned a gross miscarriage of justice when they held that the oaths subscribed to by the governors pursuant to their victory in the re-run elections conducted in the states were the oaths of office and of allegiance taken by them as persons first elected as governors under the constitution.”
The commission maintained that the appellate court failed to determine the validity of the initial oath of office taken by the governors, stressing that the nullification of the election after the initial oath did not have the effect of nullifying the oath of office previously taken by them.
Though the initial judgment on the controversial matter was delivered by trial Justice Adamu Bello of the Federal High Court on February 23, however, a 5-man panel of justices of the appellate court on July 31, affirmed the decision, even as they dismissed an appeal that was filed against it by INEC.
Governor Idris of Kogi state was the first to instruct his counsel, Chief Lateef Fagbemi, SAN, to sue INEC shortly after his state was listed among states where election was slated to hold this year.
Following his lead, the other four governors joined the foray, arguing that they still have one more year before the expiration of their tenure.
It was sequel to their consolidated suit that the trial court barred INEC from including their states in its electoral plans for this year.
The court went ahead to set dates for the expiration of their tenures as, Governor Idris, Kogi, April 5, 2012; Wammakko, Sokoto, May 8, 2012, Sylva, Bayelsa, May 29, 2012, Imoke, Cross River, August 28, 2012, and Nyako, Adamawa, April 30, 2012.
Dissatisfied with the verdict, INEC proceeded on appeal, insisting that the four year tenures of the governors started to run when they first took their oath of offices in May 2007.
INEC urged the court to allow the appeal and set aside the decision of the lower court which it said was entered in error. It maintained the governors were caught by the constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria, 2010, as amended, contending that the governors were exercising delegated powers of the electorates which were for a specific period of four years.