The Court of Appeal, Abuja Division, yesterday, set aside the Osun State Governorship Election Petitions Tribunal verdict, which declared the governorship candidate of the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP), Senator Ademola Adeleke, as the valid winner of the September 2018 governorship election in the state.
The court in a ratio of four to one judgement, consequently upheld the election of Governor Adegboyega Oyetola. The court held that the entire proceedings of the Osun State Governorship Election Petitions Tribunal, including its judgement, amounted to a nullity. Reading the lead judgement, Justice Jummai Sankey, held that it was wrong for a member of the tribunal, Justice Peter Obiora, who did not attend the entire proceedings of the tribunal, to deliver the majority judgement that sacked Oyetola from office.
The court, however, noted that the 180 days allowed by the constitution for hearing of governorship election petition cases had elapsed. Though Justice Sankey declined to give full details of her judgement, in her final analysis, she held that the petition Adeleke 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 characterised by irregularities and over-voting.
The court further held that the first and second respondents, Adeleke and PDP, also failed to prove that the re-run election was conducted with substantial non-compliance to the Electoral Act. The court 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 the result of the election. However, the court disagreed with Oyetola’s contention that Adeleke’s petition against his election was statue barred.
Out of 12 issues, Justice Sankey highlighted, she only resolved two in Adeleke’s favour. According to her, “The appeal succeeds. Accordingly, I allow the appeal and set aside the decision of the Osun State Governorship Election Petitions Tribunal.
I make no order as to cost.” Three other members of the panel, Justices Abubakar Yahaya, Isaiah Akeju, and Bitrus Sanga, agreed with Justice Sankey. But the fifth member of the panel, Justice George Mbaba, dissented from the majority judgement, holding that the alleged absence of Justice Obiorah from the February 6, 2018 proceedings of the tribunal was mere speculation. He held that if the records of the proceedings of February 6 opened with the statement that the full panel sat, the fact that he did not sign the proceedings cannot be enough to conclude that he did not participate in the day’s proceedings.
Mbamba further noted that the issue of sabotage cannot be ruled out as the records were transmitted by the court’s registrar. He consequently dismissed the appeal and upheld the majority decision of the tribunal, which sacked Oyetola and returned Adeleke as governor. Mbaba further awarded cost of N200,000 against Oyetola. In another appeal filed by INEC, which was upheld by a majority of four to one, Justice Mbaba, who delivered a dissenting judgement came down heavily on the electoral umpire for its failure to leave up to expectations in the conduct of the election.
The judge held that INEC, which did not call a witness at the tribunal or tendered any document, surprising came to the Appeal Court to file an appeal and even went ahead to claim that Adeleke and PDP cannot challenge the September 27 rerun election on the grounds that they have waived their rights by participating in the said election. According to him, no serious party would boycott any rerun election when a final declaration had not been made, adding that INEC acted dubiously in the rerun election. “INEC acted dubiously in the way it handled the rerun election. INEC should not have been put in the dock if it has done the right thing at the rerun election and when INEC was in the dock, it shied away without filing any argument.” On the cancellation of results in 17 polling units, Justice Mbaba held that the action was deliberate because INEC Returning Officer has no power to do the cancellation.
“It is the Presiding Officer that has the power to cancel results if need be,” he said. INEC had declared Oyetola and the APC the winner of the Osun State governorship election on the basis of the cumulative results of the September 22, 2018, main election and the September 27, 2018, supplementary poll.
Dissatisfied with the result declared by INEC, the PDP and Adeleke filed their petition before the threeman Osun State Governorship Election Petition Tribunal, contending that they were the true winner of the election as they had already won after the September 22, 2018 poll and that there was no need for the supplementary election held on September 27, 2018. Meanwhile, it was jubilation in Osogbo, Osun State capital, yesterday as supporters of the APC trooped out to celebrate Oyetola’s victory at the appellate court.
The party supporters, who were joined by commercial motorcyclists, market men and women as well as groups like Osun Concerned Citizens, Asiwaju Grassroot Foundation (AGF) and Oranmiyan Group danced round the town to celebrate what they described as a heroic victory.
The governor, who joined the jubilant crowd said: “I could not hide my happiness upon receiving the news of my victory at the Appeal Court and this made people of the state, without being prompted, trooped out to join me in the jubilation.” “This is the judgement that the people of Osun State have been waiting for. I am happy and the judgement is wonderful. This is what the people want to hear. They came out today without being prompted to rejoice and celebrate this judgement.” While responding to a question on his chances at the Supreme Court should Adeleke decide to approach it, Oyetola said:
“I am not bothered about that. The facts have been stated already by competent courts. We are ready for them. Even the people of Osun are elated as you can see and this shows that we will win again at the Supreme Court.” Adeleke, in his reaction said he had instructed his counsels to challenge the judgement at the Supreme Court. The PDP candidate in a statement said he received the appellate court judgement with dissatisfaction. According to him, the court arrived at its judgement by relying on weak technical foundation, while the substantive issue, which formed the basis of the tribunal’s judgement was relegated to the background.
The statement read: “I received with dissatisfaction, the judgement of the Court of Appeal on the ruling of the election petition tribunal, which had duly returned me as the validly elected governor of Osun State. “I have subsequently instructed my counsel to prepare for an appeal against today’s (yesterday’s) judgement at the Supreme Court immediately. The judgement relied on weak technical foundation. The substantive issue, which formed the basis of the lower tribunal’s judgement was relegated to the background.
“We are reviewing the full ruling and action has already commenced to appeal the judgement and ensure the eventual retrieval of the stolen mandate.” He, however, urged the people of the state not to be downcast, saying that the struggle for good governance and retrieval of People’s mandate cannot be truncated by any flawed judgement. Addressing journalists after the celebration in Osogbo, General Secretary, Osun Concerned Citizens, Yaya Ademola, assured that Oyetola’s victory would spur him to double his efforts to deliver dividends of democracy to the people of the state. He added: “If the PDP goes ahead to contest the Court of Appeal’s verdict at the Supreme Court, it will meet its waterloo again as nothing can be built on nothing.” The state chapter of the APC, on its part, said the judgement has put the records straight much beyond the controversy over last November’s governorship election.
A statement by the party’s Director of Publicity, Barr. Kunle Oyatomi, read in part: “There has been a lot of expectations and anxiety on both sides until this morning, when the judgement was given in favour of the APC. “As far as we are concerned, we have no doubt about the fact that we are the majority party in the state of Osun and the facts on the ground tell the story eloquently. “Few months after the erstwhile disputed governorship election, the National Assembly votes took place. APC won two of the three Senate seats; six of the nine Reps seats and 23 of the 26 House of Assembly seats.
“How then could we have lost the governorship election? We may not be able to explain what was behind Adeleke’s performance that he came so close in November. Although we won, Adeleke’s score sheet was inexplicably abnormal. In contrast to the election four months after, the opposition’s so-called victory would have been a farce.
“We believe it is time to move on and concentrate efforts on the transformation work that started in 2010 and which the people have mandated Governor Gboyega Oyetola to continue and improve upon. That’s a job the new governor and the APC are determined to accomplish by the special grace of Allah.” In his own reaction, Osun State chairman of the PDP, Hon. Soji Adagunodo, said: “The judgement was based on technicalities, which we will address at the Supreme Court. With the evidences we presented, we expected victory but that is democracy at work. We are approaching the Supreme Court.”
The national leadership of the PDP also expressed confidence that Adeleke will recover his governorship mandate at the Supreme Court. The party in a statement yesterday by its National Publicity Secretary, Kola Ologbondiyan, said it was not disturbed by the judgement of the Court of Appeal, stating that justice would be served at the Supreme Court.
“It is instructive to state that the Court of Appeal did not contest or invalidate the fact that Senator Adeleke won the election but only cited technicalities and speculations to arrive at its decision,” the party noted. PDP also observed that the Court of Appeal failed to act on the full and substantial import of the failure of INEC to produce the ballot papers and record of accreditation to disprove the party’s position that the commission altered results and subverted the will of the people of Osun State. “Our party and candidate are therefore confident that the Supreme Court will look at the merit of the matter and ensure that justice is served by recognising Senator Ademola Adeleke as Osun State governor,” the party added.