Nigeria: Court Cases That Will Affect Politics in 2021

Nigeria: Court Cases That Will Affect Politics in 2021

Alex Enumah writes that guber election cases in Edo and Ondo states, enduring tussle for the leadership of the All Progressives Grand Alliance, matters of public concern instituted by the Nigeria Governors Forum and the Socio-Economic Rights and Accountability Project are among landmark disputes on which Nigerian courts are expected to make a pronouncement this year.

The year 2020 was one-year Nigerians and indeed politicians will not forget in a hurry. This is so because of some landmark decisions reached, particularly by the Supreme Court of Nigeria.

Two of these cases whose memory would linger for a very long time were those concerning the sack of former Imo State Governor, Emeka Ihedioha of the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) on January 14, 2020. His seven-month reign as Chief Executive of Imo State was cut short in a controversial pronouncement by the Apex Court. Likewise, Chief David Lyon of the All Progressives Congress on February 13, 2020., the eve of his swearing-in had the carpet removed from his feet and he was left wondering what hit him, when he had already been put through the ceremonial courtesies of his assumption of office. While the case of ihedioha was a product of the election petition tribunal that of Lyon was a pre-election case that sacked the APC governor-elect on the eve of his inauguration.

In the case of Imo state, the Apex Court declared the candidate of the APC, Hope Uzodinma, who came fourth in the election as winner of the poll after adding votes said to accrue to him from 388 polling units initially excluded by the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC). However, in the case of Bayelsa, the governor-elect was sacked because his deputy, Biobarakuma Degi-Eremienyo was found to have submitted forged documents to INEC in aid of his qualification for the November 2019 governorship election. The Apex Court accordingly ordered the candidate of the PDP, Senator Duoye Diri, who came second to be sworn in as governor.

And just like in the Imo and Bayelsa states court cases, issues of irregularities, electoral fraud as well as forgery have characterized petitions at the ongoing election petition tribunals which are expected to deliver their respective verdicts in April and May respectively. Going by the expected 60 days the cases would each spend at the Appeal court and another 60 days at the Supreme Court. The Edo election is expected to be put to rest by August, 2021, while that of Ondo one way or another must come to an end the following month.

In Edo, four of the candidates and their parties are currently challenging the emergence of incumbent, Governor Godwin Obaseki. The petitioners include: the Action Democratic Party (ADP) and its governorship candidate, Emmanuel Iboi; Action Peoples Party (APP), without joining its governorship candidate, Amos Areloegbe; Allied Peoples Movement (APM), excluding its governorship candidate, Igbineweka Osamuede; and Tracy Agol, without joining her political party, the New Nigeria Peoples Party (NNPP).

The tribunal had on December 11, 2019 in an unanimous ruling dismissed the petition of the Action Alliance (AA) and its governorship candidate, Ukonga Onaivi, against Obaseki, PDP, and INEC, for failing to file pre-hearing notice.

The tribunal last month also disclosed that it would resume hearing from January 11, 2021 in various petitions against Obaseki, his deputy, Philip Shaibu and their party the PDP over their emergence as winner of the September 19, 2020 governorship poll. Sued alongside the winners is the INEC.

Chairman of the tribunal, Justice Yunusa Musa made the disclosure at the end of the pre-hearing session in Benin City, the Edo State capital.

Justice Musa, assisted by Suleiman Abubakar and Stanley Olufunmilayo Stanley, who had replaced the disbanded Abdulrazak Abdulkareem-led three-member tribunal, said that hearing in the four petitions would separately be on January 11, 12, and 13, 2021.

According to him, the APP and Agol petitions would be heard on January 11, that of APM, January 12, while that of the ADP will hold on January 13.

The four petitioners in their separate suits are seeking the nullification of the September 19 re-election of Obaseki and Shaibu, the pettioners who anchored their cases on alleged certificate forgery all call for fresh election that would exclude PDP, Obaseki and his running mate.

The tribunal’s inaugural sitting took place on October 30, with the tribunal having 180 days from the date of filing the petitions to conclude hearing in the matters and deliver judgments, thereby dragging to the first week of April next year.

The ADP and its governorship candidate in their own case are asking the tribunal to disqualify Obaseki over his controversial first-degree certificate from the University of Ibadan (UI) and nullify the votes cast for him. They prayed the tribunal to order INEC to conduct a fresh election involving all other qualified governorship candidates, excluding PDP and Obaseki.

On its part, the APM is seeking the nullification of the poll over allegeded irregularities. The party further prayed for an order nullifying the entire governorship election of September 19, 2020, in Edo State, for substantial non-compliance with the provisions of the 1999 Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria, as amended, and the extant Electoral Act, 2010, as amended, thereby ordering a fresh election.

Mrs Agol in her own petition claimed that the Edo Governor was not qualified to contest the September 19 election for allegedly presenting a forged/false certificate to INEC.

Though not challenging the outcome of the election of the September 19 poll at the tribunal, the APC which came second at the poll is however slugging it out with Obaseki in a pre-election suit at a Federal High Court in Abuja.

However, the hope of the APC to come to power outside the decision of the tribunal last week suffered double jeopardy with two separate judgments against the party. First, was a High Court in Benin City which last Thursday nullified the participation of the party in the September 19 poll on account of its deputy governorship candidate Mr. Gani Audu. The court found him guilty of giving false information to INEC and subsequently nullified his candidacy and by extension that of the governorship candidate, Pastor Osagie Ize-Iyamu and the APC in the poll.

The next set back to befall the APC came Saturday barely 48 hours after the first, when Justice Ahmed Mohammed of a Federal High Court in Abuja, dismissed its suit seeking the disqualification of Obaseki and the PDP from the September 19 poll on account of alleged forgery and falsehood in the documents Obaseki presented to INEC to aid his qualification for the poll.

The court held that the reliance of the plaintiffs on mere photocopies of documents Obaseki submitted to INEC was fatal to their case.

However, hope is not yet lost for the APC as decisions of the lower courts can and have been set aside by the final court, the Supreme Court of Nigeria.

Outside Edo, Ondo is another state to be watched in 2021. Although, three political parties and their governorship candidates had dragged INEC before the Ondo State Governorship Election Petitions Tribunal for declaring Governor Rotimi Akeredolu of the APC winner of the October governorship poll, the tribunal, however, has dismissed two out of the three petitions for failing to file the pre-trial forms.

Those whose petitions were dismissed are the All Peoples Party (APP) and Action Alliance (AA). With the development, Akeredolu is only faced with the petition of the Peoples Democratic Party, and its governorship candidate, Eyitayo Jegede (SAN).

The PDP and Jegede are asking the tribunal to declare them winner of the October 10 governorship election on the ground that Akeredolu was not validly nominated by his party, the APC.

The PDP candidate, Jegede is also alleging that the election was marred by violence.

The petitioners submitted that there was over voting in many areas, which made the votes garnered by the incumbent governor invalid.

Just like the Edo situation, Chairman of the Ondo Tribunal, Justice Umar Abubakar, also announced a January date for trail to fully commence in the PDP petition.

According to him, sitting will hold on Mondays to Saturdays 9:30am to 5pm. Exception on public holidays and Sundays.

Counsels appearing before the tribunal agreed with the contents of the Pre-Trial report but pleaded that the number of representations which was pegged at five to reduce the crowd in the Court, be increased to 10.

Outside the two recent governorship contests that are currently at the tribunal and which is believed will probably reach the Supreme Court, there seems to be no end in sight, however, in the governorship tussle in Imo State. This is following a fresh suit filed against the declaration of Uzodinma as Governor of Imo State.

Although the Apex Court has consistently upheld the finality of its decision in any settled case, lawyers however are daily becoming adamant in their quest to get the Apex Court reverse some of its most recent judgments. Following its sack last January, Emeka Ihedioha had through his lawyer, Chief Kanu Agabi (SAN) attempted to make the Apex Court set aside its own judgment and return him as Governor of Imo state. The request was turned down at no cost against the appellant even when lawyers of the APC were fined heavily for a similar request in the case of Bayelsa governorship suit.

In the fresh suit scheduled for hearing Monday January 11, 2021 at the Supreme Court, the appellant, Philip Umeadi (SAN) wants the Apex Court to interpret its earlier judgment which had pronounced Mr. Uche Nwosu as the rightful candidate of the APC in the March 9, 2019 governorship poll in Imo state.

It would really be interesting to see what the Apex Court would do in this case today, Monday, January.

Outside election matters, legal tussle over the leadership of the ruling All Progressive Congress (APC) and the All Progressives Grand Alliance (APGA) provide other area of interest. The National Executive of the APC had mid-last year sacked the Adams Oshiomhole-led National Working Committee (NWC) following alleged down turn of the fortune of the party, as well as, its near disintegration and set-up a caretaker committee to pilot the affairs of the party for a period of six months when a new NWC would be inaugurated. The Governor Mala Buni-led caretaker committee, however, could not hold a convention within the six months timeline forcing the NEC last December to extend the tenure of the committee.

A dissatisfied chieftain of the party, one Kalu Kalu is, however, challenging the dissolution of the NWC, a member of the NWC, Hilliard Eta, former National Vice Chairman South-south of the APC is currently in court over their sack. His court action has led to his expulsion from the party at the NEC meeting of December which gave the Buni-led caretaker committee another six months to organize an extraordinary convention of the APC.

How these court cases turn out would go a long way in determining the fate of the APC as preparations for the 2023 general election gathers momentum in the middle of the year.

In the case of the All Progressive Grand Alliance, the leadership tussle is between the former chairman of the party, chief Victor Oye and Chief Edozie Njoku has endured.

According to Njoku; himself, Hamarian Ghide and Adamu Musa were duly and overwhelmingly elected as the National Chairman, National Legal Adviser and Deputy National Chairman of APGA at the party’s National Convention on May 31. However, his election has become an issue of litigation both at the Federal Capital Territory (FCT) High Court and the Federal High Court, Abuja. Oye who was the past APGA National Chairman and some others are accused of convening a parallel EXCO stopping the Njoku-led EXCO from functioning.

In the suit before the Federal High Court, Njoku is praying the court to hold that he is the authentic chairman of the party and also praying the court to restrain the INEC from recognizing any other person except himself as Chairman of APGA.

If the issue is not resolved early enough it may jeopardise the chances of the party in the 2021 governorship election in Anambra State where the party has held sway for the last 16 years. Therefore all eyes are on Governor Willie Obiano of Anambra State to see how he manages Njoku and his allies in order to have a fighting chance in the impending Anambra State governorship contest. Will APGA lose Anambra, the only State where it has copious visibility? Everything now depends on how Obiano rises to the challenge.

Other cases whose decisions one way or the other may affect the development of the country are two suits filed by Socio-Economic Rights and Accountability Project (SERAP).

The first is against the Senate President, Dr. Ahmad Lawan and the Speaker of House of Representatives, Femi Gbajabiamila, over “their failure to publish reports of all completed public hearings and corruption probes by the National Assembly since 1999, and failure to disclose the number of probes that have resulted in any indictment of suspects, and to name such suspects.”

The legal action was sequel to recent public hearings by the National Assembly on corruption allegations in ministries, departments and agencies, including the Niger Delta Development Commission (NDDC) and the Nigeria Social Insurance Trust Fund (NSITF). Reports of several public hearings and corruption probes have remained secret, and the allegations unresolved.

The rights group in the suit marked: FHC/ABJ/CS/1065/2020, is seeking, “an order of mandamus to direct and compel Lawan and Gbajabiamila to send all reports of completed public hearings and corruption probes to appropriate anti-corruption agencies to consider if there is sufficient admissible evidence to pursue prosecution.”

In the second suit against President Muhammadu Buhari and the leadership of the National Assembly, SERAP and 302 concerned Nigerians are asking the court to declare illegal, unconstitutional and unfair the recent hike in electricity tariff and fuel price because top level public officers cannot continue to receive the same salaries and allowances and spend public money to finance a life of luxury for themselves while asking poor Nigerians to make sacrifices.

SERAP in the suit marked FHC/ABJ/CS/330/2020 is praying the court for “an order directing and compelling the RMAFC to cut the salaries, allowances and other emoluments payable to President Buhari, Professor Osinbajo, Dr Lawan and Mr Gbajabiamila, in line with the current economic realities, and principles of justice, fairness, equality and non-discrimination.”

Dr. Lawan is sued for himself and on behalf of all 109 members of the Senate, while Mr Gbajabiamila is sued for himself and on behalf of all 360 members of the House of Representatives.

Another case of interest is the suit filed by the Nigerian Governors Forum seeking to stop the Nigerian Financial Intelligence Unit (NFIU) from implementing its recent guidelines on local government financial autonomy.

The NFIU, in a guideline commencing from June 1, 2019 directed banks not to honour transactions in the joint accounts of state and local governments. According to the Intelligence Unit such accounts should only be used to distribute allocations to accounts of local governments directly.