By Ikechukwu Nnochiri
ABUJA – The Court of Appeal in Abuja, on Thursday, upheld the election of Governor Adegboyega Oyetola of Osun State, even as it nullified the tribunal judgment that declared Ademola Adeleke of the Peoples Democratic Party, PDP, as valid winner of governorship election that held in the state in September, 2018.
The appellate court, in a four-to-one decision, held that the entire proceedings of the Osun State Governorship Election Petition Tribunal, including its judgment, amounted to a nullity.
Justice Jummai Sankey who read the lead judgment of the appellate court, said it was wrong for a member of the tribunal panel, Justice Peter Obiora, who did not attend the entire proceedings of the tribunal, to deliver the majority judgment that sacked Oyetola from office.
The court noted that the 180 days allowed by the constitution for hearing of governorship election petition cases had elapsed.
Consequently, though Justice Sankey declined to give full details of her judgment, in her final analysis, she held that the petition Adeleke’s lodged before the tribunal was incompetent, including reliefs he sought therein.
She held that both PDP and its candidate failed to prove their allegation that the September 27 re-run election that led to Oyetola’s emergence, was characterized by irregularities and over-voting.
The court further held that the 1st and 2nd Respondents, Adeleke and PDP, also failed to prove that the re-run election was conducted with substantial noncompliance to the Electoral Act.
It held that the failure of the Independent National Electoral Commission, INEC, to produce the ballot papers and record of accreditation to disprove allegations in the petition, did not substantially affect result of the election.
However, the court disagreed with Oyetola’s contention that Adeleke’s petition against his election was statues barred.
Out of 12 issues Justice Sankey highlighted, she only resolved two in Adeleke’s favour.
“The appeal succeeds, accordingly, I allow the appeal and set-aside the decision of the Osun State Governorship Election Petition Tribunal.
” I make no order as to cost “, Justice Sankey held.
Meanwhile, though three other Justices on the panel, Abubakar Yahaya, , Isaiah Akeju and Bitrus Sanga, agreed with the lead verdict, a fourth member of the panel, Justice Ita Mbaba, disagreed and upheld the tribunal verdict that gave Adeleke victory.
Justice Mbaba further awarded N200, 000 cost against Oyetola and the APC.
Meanwhile, the tribunal is currently deciding a separate appeal that was lodged by the APC, as well as a cross-appeal Adeleke and PDP filed to challenge the minority judgment of the tribunal that dismissed their petition.
It will be recalled that the tribunal had in a two-to-one split judgment it delivered on March 22, upheld a petition that Adeleke and the PDP lodged against the declaration and return of Oyetola as winner, based on the outcome of the supplementary governorship election.
INEC had at the end of an initial election it conducted on September 22, cancelled results from seven polling units in four Local Government Areas in the state, and ordered a re-run poll.
However, in the lead verdict that was delivered by Justice Obiora, the tribunal, noted that none of the parties disputed the fact that it was the State Returning Officer that cancelled the initial election
The tribunal held that the State Returning Officer acted beyond the power that was allocated to him under the Electoral Act when he voided results and ordered supplementary election in the affected areas.
“We hold that the cancellation was unlawful and ultra-vires of his powers.The cancellation cannot stand, being a product of illegality”, the tribunal held.
Moreover, the tribunal said the onus was on Presiding Officers in polling units where alleged electoral infractions took place, to cancel the result and report same to Ward Collation Officers.
It held that upon receipt of the complaints, the Collation Officer was mandated by the law to fill Form EC40G and submit to the Local Government Collation Officer who will in turn transfer the information in the Form EC40GI and hand same over to the State Collation Returning Officer.
The tribunal held that in the absence of evidence that it was Presiding Officers of the seven Polling Units that cancelled the results, the action of the State Returning Officer amounted to an act of illegality.
Maintaining that the petitioners successfully established a case of non compliance in 17 polling units during the initial election of September 22, 2018, the the tribunal, went ahead and deducted votes that were credited to both PDP and APC in those units.
Dissatisfied with the decision, Oyetola and the APC lodged separate appeals.