By Ikechukwu Nnochiri
ABUJA – The Supreme Court, on Friday, sacked Senator David Umaru who was elected on the platform of the All Progressives Congress, APC, to represent Niger East Senatorial District.
The apex court, in a unanimous judgement by a five-man panel of Justices led by Justice Ibrahim Muhammad, held that Umaru was not validly nominated by the APC.
The court said it was satisfied that the appellant, Mohammed Sani, was the bonafide winner of the primary election APC conducted for the Senatorial District.
It went ahead to set-aside the judgement of the Court of Appeal in Abuja, which had on April 8, affirmed Umaru who was the former Chairman of Senate Committee on Justice, Human Rights and Legal Matters, as winner of the Senatorial seat.
The apex court restored the judgement of of the Federal High Court in Abuja, which declared Sani the validly nominated candidate of the APC for the election.
In allowing the appeal marked: SC/405/2019, the court, ordered the Independent National Electoral Commission, INEC, to forthwith, issue a Certificate of Return to the appellant as the Senator representing Niger East.
The high court had in a judgment that was delivered by Justice Folashade Ogunbanjo on February 7, said it was satisfied that Umar was not validly nominated by the APC.
The trial court went ahead and declared the plaintiff, Sani, as the authentic winner of a primary election the APC conducted in the Senatorial District on October 2, 2018.
However, dissatisfied with the verdict, Umar, lodged 18-grounds of Appeal wherein he insisted that the lower court erred in law when it wrongly assumed jurisdiction over the matter.
It was his contention that Sani’s pre-election suit was caught by the 4th Alteration to the 1999 Constitution, since it was not filed 14 days after his name was forwarded to the Independent National Electoral Commission, INEC, by the APC.
Meanwhile, in a unanimous judgment, a three-man panel of Justices of the appellate court led by Justice Stephen Adah, vacated the high court judgement.
According to the appellate court, the trial court was wrong to entertain the suit it said had become status barred by virtue of section 285(9) of the 4th alteration Act of the 1999 constitution.
Justice Adah who read the unanimous verdict of the Court of Appeal held that, “The suit was caught up by the prescribed constitutional time limit of 14 days having been predicated on the event that took place on the 2nd October, 2018. The originating summons was dated and filed on October 26, 2018 while the subject matter of the suit centered on the event of October 2, 2018″.
The appellate court equally dismissed the preliminary objection that was raised against the appeal by the Respondent.
It nullified the Certificate of Return that was earlier issued to Sani by INEC and ordered the issuance of a fresh one to the appellant.
Meanwhile, Sani had in the preliminary objection that was dismissed by the Appeal Court panel, challenged Umar’s locus standi to filed the appeal without the name of his political party, the APC.
Likewise, he argued that the appeal had become an academic exercise since the election had been conducted and a winner announced.
In his pre- election suit marked FHC/ABJ/CS/1210/2018, Sani, queried the powers of the APC to allegedly handpick Senator Umar to replace him as its candidate in Niger East Senatorial District.
Listed as defendants in the matter were the APC, INEC and Senator Umar.
The plaintiff, through his team of lawyers led by Chief Wole Olanipekun, SAN, prayed the court for a declaration that the submission by the 1st Defendant to the 2nd defendant, of the name of the 3rd Defendant, to contest election in the platform of the 1st defendant to the office of Senator representing Niger East Senatorial District, at the general elections slated for 2019, is unconstitutional, illegal, ultra vires, oppressive, undemocratic, arbitrary, null and void, and of no effect.
He argued that under section 87(4) (c) (II) of the Electoral Act, the 1st Defendant (APC), is mandated to forward his name as its candidate for the 2019 Senatorial election in Niger East.
Among other reliefs, the Plaintiff, prayed the court to determine whether “considering the combined provisions of sections 221,222, paragraph 15(c) of the Third Schedule, as well as other relevant provisions to the Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria, 1999 (as amended); Articles 7(viii) (ix), and 20 of the Constitution of the APC; and Paragraph II of the 2014 Guidelines for the Nomination of Candidates for Public Offices of the APC, whether the 1st Defendant can or has the right or latitude to nominate or sponsor any candidate, or forward to the 2nd Defendant, the name of any candidate for election to the National Assembly (Senate), other than as mandatorily provided by the combined effect of the aforestated provisions of the Constitution, the Electoral Act, the constitution and guidelines of the 1st Defendant”.
As well as, “Whether the 1st Defendant can or has the power to substitute or change the name of the Plaintiff, who in conformity with the afore-stated provisions of the relevant laws and Guidelines, secured the highest number of votes at the primary election conducted by the 1st Defendant on 2nd October, 2018, to nominate a candidate for the office of Senator representing Niger East Senatorial District, with that of the 3rd Defendant, who did not score the highest number of votes at the said primary election”.