February 8, 2023

Presidential Election: Appeal Court declines to disqualify Obi, Labour Party

…dismisses APM’s suit for want of merit

By Ikechukwu Nnochiri

ABUJA – The Court of Appeal sitting in Abuja, on Wednesday, dismissed an appeal that sought to disqualify the candidate of the Labour Party, Mr. Peter Obi, from contesting the forthcoming presidential election.

The appellate court, in a unanimous decision by a three-member panel of Justices, said there was no merit in the appeal marked: CA/ABJ/CV/1414/2022, which was filed by the Allied Peoples Movement, APM.

Whereas the panel was led by the President of the Court of Appeal, Justice Monica Dongbam-Mensem, Justices Danlami Senchi and Ugochukwu Ogakwu, concurred with the lead judgement.

The party had approached the court, contending that the Independent National Electoral Commission, INEC, ought not have recognized Obi as a valid candidate for the presidential poll considering the time he resigned from the Peoples Democratic Party, PDP, and joined the Labour Party.

They argued that the period between when Obi left the PDP and defected to the LP for the purpose of contesting the presidential election, was in violation of section 77(2) and (3) of the Electoral Act, 2022.

They further contended that prior to Obi’s defection, the LP already sent a list of its registered members to the INEC.

According to the Appellant, Obi’s name, not being in the list of LP members that was forwarded to the INEC, he, therefore, lack the right to be recognized as a flag-bearer of the party for the impending election.

Consequently, APM urged the appellate court to set-aside the judgement of the Federal High Court in Abuja, which dismissed the suit it filed to challenge Obi’s candidacy.

Meanwhile, in its judgement on Wednesday, the appellate court held that APM’s suit was not an abuse of the judicial process.

It equally waved aside the argument by both Obi and the LP that the suit was statute barred.

The appellate court noted that whereas Obi resigned from the PDP on May 24, 2022, INEC published his name as candidate of the LP on September 20, 2022.

It further observed that following the publication of Obi’s name, the APM, being a registered political party that also has a candidate for the presidential election, filed its suit on September 30, 2022.

The court held that since the suit was filed exactly 11 days after Obi’s name was published by INEC, it was not caught by the 14 days limitation stipulated in Section 285 (9) of the 1999 Constitution, as amended, and therefore not statute barred.

However, it held that Sections 29 (5), 84(14) and 142 of the Electoral Act, as well as Section 285(14) of the Constitution, clearly defined a person that could lodge a pre-election case to disqualify a candidate in an election.

The appellate court stressed that under section 157 of the Electoral Act, only an aspirant could challenge the nomination of a candidate to INEC.

It held that APM did not qualify as an aspirant, adding that the duty of INEC was to publish names submitted to it by political parties.

The court held that by INEC publishing Obi’s name, “it has done no more than comply with provisions of the Electoral Act”.

More so, the appellate court held that though the APM alleged that Obi’s name was not on the register the LP submitted to INEC, it failed to tender the said register in evidence.

It held that the trial court was ab-initio, not clothed with the requisite jurisdiction to entertain the suit since the APM lacked the locus standi to institute the action.

Therefore, the appellate court struck out the suit and all the reliefs the party sought before the trial court.

It further awarded a cost of N200, 000, each, to both Obi and the LP.

Eventhough INEC was joined as a party in the suit, it did not file any process nor sent legal representative, both at the trial court and the Court of Appeal, in respect of the case.