The Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) said yesterday that it will obey the judgment of the Court of Appeal, which asked it to remove the name of Mr. Jimoh Ibrahim as the candidate of the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) in this Saturday’s governorship election in Ondo State.
The electoral umpire said it would now replace Ibrahim’s name with that of Mr. Eyitayo Jegede (SAN).
However, the commission said the order of the court should be served on it before tomorrow.
Earlier, the court has proclaimed Jegede as the valid candidate for the election.
In an unanimous judgment, the three-man special panel constituted to hear all parties emanating from crisis described the judgment of Justice Okon Abang as a charade, fraudulent and inexperience.
Delivering the lead judgment, Chairman of the panel, Justice Ibrahim Salauwa, said the judgment of the lower court was delivered in violence of the doctrine of natural law of justice [audi altarem partem] by not hearing from one of the governorship candidate, Mr. Eyitayo Jegede (SAN).
“The tenets of natural Justice entails that a party ought to be heard prior to determination of case against them”.
Lower Court erred
“It is obvious that in Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) Form 001, the name of the appellant [Jegede] was dully published as the governorship candidate in Ondo State and has commenced campaign throughout the nooks and crannies of the State. The court below was in error when it recognized Jimoh Ibrahim without hearing from the appellant.
Justice Salauwa, who narrated what he described as regrettable incidents that gave rise to multiplicity of motions to the Supreme Court by the Senator Ali-Modu Sheriff’s faction of the party, said by refusing the wise counseling of the court to file their response to Jegede’s appeal, the respondents shot themselves on the foot.
“The panel was at a time, subjected to a very intimidating and brow-beating treatment by counsel to the respondents”. “Most regrettably, the respondents have deemed it expedient to shoot themselves on the foot. Instead of adhering to the wise counsel of the court to file brief within the time limit, even the extra day that was granted to them, they refused to do so.
“I have most critically appraised the preliminary objection by Nwufor, SAN, and I found that it is most grossly lacking in merit and it is accordingly dismissed. “Having effectively dealt with the preliminary objection, I now proceed to determine the appeal on its merit”.
Accordingly, the appellate court vacated the October 14 judgment of Justice Abang of the Federal High Court in Abuja, which directed INEC to recognise Mr. Ibrahim as PDP gubernatorial candidate for the poll.
Jegede had approached the appellate court to challenge the High Court verdict which ordered INEC to only relate with the Modu-Sheriff faction of the PDP. Justice Abang had on October 14, also re-affirmed his decision, even as he warned the electoral body against accepting any candidate nominated by the Senator Ahmed Markafi-led National Caretaker Committee.
In compliance with the order of court, INEC, promptly removed Jegede’s name from the list of candidates and replaced it with Ibrahim.
While Jegede emerged from primary election that was sanctioned by the Markarfi-led NWC of the PDP, Ibrahim secured his ticket from the Modu-Sheriff faction.
In its judgment, the appellate court also noted that Justice Abang ordered INEC to “immediately” recognise Ibrahim who was never a party in the suit that culminated to both the June 29 and October 14 judgments. “The court below had no jurisdictional competence to make such order. I have no restriction in the circumstance in resolving the second issue equally in favour of the appellant”.
Justice Salauwa held that Justice Abang “unilaterally”, raised issues that were not included by the plaintiffs, an action it said amounted to “a violent attitudinal disposition to the Rule of Law”.
The court noted that Jegede filed his appeal on November 11, which raised seven issues for determination.
He said Justice Abang was wrong when he held that he had the requisite jurisdiction to determine the matter.
The appellate court, in arriving at its decision, said it was necessary that it determined whether or not the appellant was denied fair hearing by the lower court. It consequently resolved all the seven issues in Jegede’s favour.
“There is no gain-saying that this appeal is grossly meritorious and is hereby allowed”. An initial three-man panel that was headed by Justice Jummai Hanatu-Sankey earlier throw in the towel following allegation that it collected N350million bribe from Governors Olusegun Mimiko and Nyesom Wike of Ondo and Rivers states respectively.
Supreme Court’s intervention
However, the Supreme Court on Tuesday, cleared the coast for the appellate court to deliver the verdict which it suspended on November 18.
The apex court, in a unanimous ruling by a five-man panel of Justices led by the Acting Chief Justice of Nigeria, Justice Walter Onnoghen, declined to disband the Special Panel constituted by President of the Court of Appeal, Justice Zainab Bulkachuwa, to resolve the dispute.
Aside dismissing motions to stay proceedings of the appellate court, filed by the six PDP Chieftains, the Supreme Court, awarded a cumulative cost of N3million to each of the three Justices of the appellate court.
The Acting CJN, Justice Onnoghen who delivered the lead ruling, ordered that counsel to the appellants, Chief Beluolisa Nwufor, SAN, should personally pay the cost from his pocket.
He stressed that joining them as Respondents in the matter “was not only an attempt to intimidate and scandalise the judiciary, but to put it in a mild way, an action in bad faith”.
In the circumstance, there is no merit in this appeal and it is hereby dismissed”. While concurring with the lead ruling, another member of the apex court panel, Justice Kumai Akaahs, held that action of the appellants was “capable of bringing anarchy”.
However, the apex court panel fixed Thursday (today) to hear the substantive suit challenging leave that was granted to Jegede to appeal the high court judgment that recognised Ibrahim as PDP flag-bearer.
Determined to stop the appellate court from delivering its verdict, the group asked the Supreme Court to halt further proceeding at the lower court.
Meanwhile, eminent Nigerians reacted to yesterday’s ruling.
A legal luminary, Prof Itse Sagay, said with the judgment, Jegede becomes the candidate of the (PDP)in the governorship election.
He said: “It is a pre-election matter and no appeal can change it for now. But what may happen is that if after the election, Jimoh Ibrahim wins his appeal at the Supreme Court, he replaces Jegede. In the event that Jegede wins the election, it would just be like the case of Amaechi versus Omehia. But for now, Jegede remains the candidate of the PDP”.
Legal icon, Mike Ozekhome (SAN), said INEC has no choice than to obey the Court of Appeal verdict.
“Fortunately or unfortunately, PDP has no more time to destroy themselves; even if Jimoh still wants to appeal the verdict at the Supreme Court, the stay of execution of Court of Appeal needs to be argued before the court, in order to proceed”, he said .
Governor of Ekiti State, Mr Ayodele Fayose, commended the verdict, but regretted that INEC, has undermined PDP in the poll. He admitted that the time was against the party to be able to make a headway in the poll.
Fayose, who joined his party to ask for postponement of the election as was done by the INEC in Edo State governorship election, alleged that the electoral body had conspired with the All Progressives Congress(APC) to undermine the PDP through the unwarranted judicial impediment.
Former Minister of Aviation, Mr. Femi Fani-Kayode congratulated Jegede, Governor Mimiko, Ahmed Makarfi and the PDP on what he described as the historic victory at the Court of Appeal.
Meanwhile, the National Caretaker Committee of the PDP yesterday lauded the judiciary for standing on the path of truth in the dispute over who is the authentic governorship candidate.
However, the party insisted that INEC must postpone the November 26, election to give its candidate an opportunity to sell his manifesto to the people.
The party stated this yesterday in a statement issued by its National Publicity Secretary, Prince Dayo Adeyeye, while reacting to the ruling of Appeal Court that reinstated Jegede as the party’s candidate.
Meanwhile, Ibrahim has said Jegede will not succeed Olusegun Mimiko as governor of the state.
In his reaction to the decision of the appellete court that set aside his candidature, Ibrahim said “I have read the decision of the Court of Appeal delivered today (yesterday). We have nothing to lose as the Supreme Court sit on the same case tomorrow. We shall get justice at the Supreme Court and if PDP wins Sartuday election, we shall have our four years mandate.
In a related development, the All Progressives Congress (APC) has congratulated Jegede, for his victory at the Court of Appeal.
The ruling party, however, said neither Jegede’s court victory nor the opposition party will pose any threat to APC in the election. Stressing that its campaigns from beginning were to sack PDP.
Speaking through its Deputy National Secretary, Oji Ngofa, APC also commended the judiciary for the ruling.
Also reacting, Delta State Governor, Dr. Ifeanyi Okowa, has hailed the ruling. He described the verdict as a triumph of good over political bitterness aided by selfish interests.
Okowa, in a statement issued by his Chief Press Secretary, Charles Aniagwu in Asaba, urged the Sheriff-led faction of the party and its candidate, Jimoh Ibrahim to stop distracting the party and support Jegede to deliver Ondo State to PDP.