The Supreme Court on Friday declared Godswill Akpabio as the validly nominated candidate for the All Progressives Congress (APC) for Akwa-Ibom North-West senatorial seat election holding on 25 February.
APC had challenged the decision of the Court of Appeal, Abuja, which sacked Mr Akpabio as its candidate.
Mr Akpabio is a former governor of Akwa-Ibom State and ex-minister of Niger Delta Affairs.
In Mr Akpabio’s place, the appellate court had on 14 November 2022 ordered INEC to recognise Udom Ekpoudom, a retired deputy inspector general of police, as the authentic candidate of the party.
Delivering the unanimous judgement of its five-member panel led by Kudirat Kekere-Ekun on Friday, the Supreme Court held that the Federal High Court and the Court of Appeal were wrong to have assumed jurisdiction in the suit because the issue of candidate nomination lies squarely with political parties.
Ibrahim Saulawa, a member of the Supreme Court’s five-member panel who read the lead judgement, held that the Court of Appeal, Abuja, erred when it ordered Mr Akpabio’s substitution with Mr Ekpoudom as APC’s flagbearer when the former was not a party before it.
“The judgement of the Court (of Appeal) below is hereby set aside,” Mr Saulawa said.
The News Agency of Nigeria (NAN) reports that, in arriving at the decision, the Supreme Court said each of the 10 issues formulated by the appellant was resolved in his favour, and against the respondent.
It held that the court below lacked jurisdiction to entertain the case, adding that whatever decision arrived at by the court amounted to nullity.
It would be recalled that the Abuja division of the Court of Appeal had on 14 November 2022 set aside the judgement of the Federal High Court Abuja, and removed Mr Akpabio as the APC candidate for Akwa Ibom North West Senatorial District.
A three-member panel of justices led by Danlami Senchi held that Mr Akpabio failed to file a proof of arguments within the time provided by the rules.
The panel further ruled that Mr Akpabio, having contested the presidential primary of the APC, could not participate in the valid primary of the party held on 27 May 2022 and monitored by the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC), which produced Mr Ekpoudom as the candidate.
But the Supreme Court upturned the Court of Appeal’s decision on Friday. Although the court held that the court below lacked jurisdiction to entertain the case being an issue of the party’s internal affair, its final decision restoring Mr Akpabio as the party’s valid candidate tallies with the earlier judgement of the Federal High Court Abuja, delivered on 22 September 2022.
Trial court’s decision
In the Federal High Court’s decision, the judge, Emeka Nwite, ordered INEC to reinstate Mr Akpabio as APC’s candidate, being the candidate nominated by the party in the second primary of 9 June 2022.
Mr Nwite also ordered INEC to publish Mr Akpabio’s name as APC senatorial candidate for Akwa Ibom North/West senatorial district in 2023, stating that the Commission acted illegally by refusing to accept and publish the former governor’s name when it was submitted to it by the APC as its candidate.
He added that Mr Akpabio was validly nominated as the Akwa Ibom North/West Senatorial District candidate of the APC from the primary conducted by the party’s National Working Committee on 9 June 2022.
The trial judge faulted INEC for electing to monitor the 27 May 2022 primary election conducted by an illegal faction of the party led by Augustine Ekanem as against the 9 June 2022 primary authorised and conducted by the APC NWC.
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