By Esther onyegbula
The last might not have been heard in the Osun governorship election as Gboyega Oyetola and Ademola Adeleke, the two principal contenders in that election, approach the Court of Appeal for solace.
Without mincing words, the governor of Osun state, Mr Gboyega Oyetola and his arc-rival in the September 22, 2018 governorship election, Senator Ademola Adeleke of the Peoples Democratic Party, (PDP) are presently in tension following the unfavourable judgment of the election petition tribunal and the Bwari High Court, Abuja.
Exactly six months after the gubernatorial election, the election petition tribunal sitting in Apo, Abuja, on March 22, 2019, delivered judgment in favour of Adeleke, directing that the certificate of return be withdrawn from Oyetola while a new certificate should be issued to Adeleke immediately.
Apparently shocked by the pronouncement of the tribunal, some groups, allegedly sponsored by the state government, stormed Oshogbo, the capital of Osun state to protest the judgment of the tribunal that nullified the election of Oyetola.
Later, Oyetola went to challenge the judgment of the tribunal at the appellate court, praying the court to upturn the decision of the majority judgment of the tribunal.
In a 39-ground notice of appeal filed on March 26, 2019 by his team of lawyers led by Wole Olanipekun (SAN), Oyetola faulted the majority judgment of Justices Peter Obiora and Anyinla Gbolagunte on the grounds that it was perverse, replete with contradictions and not supported by evidence led by the petitioners.
Oyetola prayed the Court of Appeal to uphold his appeal, set aside the majority judgment and dismiss the October 16, 2018 petition by PDP and Adeleke.
Oyetola argued that the tribunal was wrong to have declared Adeleke winner of the election held on September 22 and 27, 2018 on ground of non-compliance rather than ordering a rerun election, noting that, not only did the decision disenfranchise the electorate in the affected polling units, it violated the provision of Section 140 (2) of the Electoral Act.
He said his complaint, in the appeal, was against the entire majority judgment, except where the tribunal held that it lacked jurisdiction to set aside INEC Guidelines; that the allegation of over-voting was not proved; that the petitioners did not prove voided votes and other parts of the judgment where the tribunal agreed with their arguments.
Oyetola is contending, in his first ground of appeal, that the entirety of the majority judgment is a nullity because it was written and delivered by Justice Obiora whom he said, “Did not participate in all the proceedings of the tribunal and who was not present when all the witnesses gave evidence.”
After 11 days that the tribunal declared Adeleke winner of the Osun election, Justice Othman Musa of an Abuja High Court, sitting in Bwari Area Council, nullified the nomination of Senator Adeleke as candidate of the PDP in the September 22, 2018 governorship election. Two chieftains of the APC: Wahab Raheem and Adam Habeeb, had in 2018 barely few days to the governorship election, dragged Adeleke to court, alleging that he did not possess the requisite educational qualification (secondary school certificate) to contest for the office of the governor.
They urged the court to disqualify Adeleke from participating in the September 22 governorship election and the court subsequently granted the order on the grounds that Adeleke offended section 177 of the 1999 Constitution which stipulates that candidates for the position of governor must be educated up to secondary school level.
Shortly after the judgment, the Ademola Adeleke Campaign Organisation, who had earlier lauded the judgment, faulted the disqualification of Adeleke’s candidacy by the Bwari court. The group in a statement by its spokesperson, Mr Niyi Owolade, noted that the issue had been settled by two high courts, describing the Bwari judgment as shocking.
The group said, “First of all, the matter in question has been addressed by two high court rulings affirming that in the face of the constitution, Senator Ademola Adeleke is qualified to run for the governorship. The two rulings delivered in September 2018 held that Adeleke satisfied requirement of the law to contest for office. It is trite in law that once a court of coordinate jurisdiction has ruled on a matter, a court of similar jurisdiction cannot entertain it.”
Now that the two major rival are making serious efforts to get free of restraints, the incumbent governor, Oyetola, must do everything legally possible to make sure that the appellate court upturn the nullification of his election by the tribunal, while his arc-rival, Adeleke must put up a legal battle to win the two appeal court. He needs the court of appeal in Akure, Ondo state, to uphold the tribunal judgment that declared him winner, and the Court of Appeal in Abuja, to dismiss the Bwari judgment that disqualified his candidacy.
As the battle was on, victory came the way of Adeleke in one of the pending suits against his eligibility to contest the governorship election. On Saturday April 6, a Court of Appeal sitting in Akure, Ondo state, affirmed the eligibility of Adeleke to contest, contrary to the judgment of the Justice David Oladimeji of Osogbo High court. The court dismissed the appeal filed against the judgment of Osun state High court in Osogbo that had earlier affirmed that Adeleke is eligible to contest election as governor.
With the dissenting judgment by the chairman of the tribunal, Justice Muhammad Sirajo, the duo of Oyetola and Adeleke have to wait for the appeal to decide whether to uphold the majority judgment or the minority judgment. Justice Sirajo, in a dissenting view on the judgment said, “I have the privilege of reading in draft the majority judgment of the tribunal just delivered by my learned brother, Justice Peter Obiorah.
“Even though I participated actively and contributed immensely by writing some portions of the judgment just delivered, I disagreed with the decisions and conclusions reached by my learned brothers with regards to the allegation of non-compliance with the provision of Electoral Act, particularly, the allegation of non-recording.
A former Attorney General in Osun state, Mr Niyi Owolade, maintained that the majority judgment is on the side of the law, saying that the alterations in form EC8A is substantial enough to accept that the election was rigged in favour of Oyetola.
The question people are asking however is if there will be another re-run in Osun state. The September 27 governorship re-run was widely condemned by national and international observers including the media because it was characterised by violence.
Will the appeal upturn the judgment of the tribunal and declare Oyetola as substantive winner of the election without taking note of the irregularities pointed out by the tribunal? The PDP has the right to go to Supreme Court. What if the appeal upholds the judgment of the tribunal and declare Adeleke winner? The certificate scandal may prevent Adeleke from taking over. All these, investigation reveal will unfold in a matter of days.
However, a lawyer, Mr Femi Ayandokun, explained that the second runner up of Adeleke at the primary, Dr Akin Ogunbiyi, who was alleged to be a mole to Senator Bola Tinubu, will take over. How that will unfold is what everyone is waiting to see.