It is no longer news that the Federal High Court sitting in Abuja and presided over by Honourable Justice N.E. Maha, while delivering judgment in Suit No.FHC/ABJ/CS/1422/2022 filed by one Everest Nnaji against the Labour Party (LP) and the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) recently ordered the Enugu State chapter of the Labour Party to conduct a fresh gubernatorial primary within 14 days from the date of the Court Order.
The Court’s decision delivered on 9 November, 2022 was, no doubt, based on its erroneous findings that no primary election for the Labour Party’s gubernatorial candidate in Enugu State was held on 4 August, 2022 or on any other date at all.
The gamut of the plaintiff’s case before the trial court and the principal relief sought by him was for a declaration by the Court to declare him as the authentic and validly nominated consensus gubernatorial candidate of the Labour Party in Enugu State for the forthcoming 2023 general election having paid for LP Gubernatorial nomination form on 13 July, 2022 with the sum of N25 Million in the name of Odengene Air Shuttle Services Limited.
The plaintiff, (hereinafter referred to as Odengene), in that case admitted that gubernatorial primary election of the party was held on 4 August, 2022. However, he contended that he was not given notice of the said primary and therefore claimed that he was excluded by the party.
The questions begging for answers, therefore, includes:
a) How could a court of competent jurisdiction, after considering in its totality, the evidence adduced before it in relation to the claims made by the plaintiff, hold that the LP did not hold any gubernatorial primary election; even when the plaintiff himself admitted in evidence that there was such primary election. It is trite law that fact admitted needs no proof. Thus, the issue of holding the party’s gubernatorial primaries was no longer in issue. Therefore, the court erred both in law and facts when it held that no gubernatorial primary of the LP was held.
b) Secondly, whether Odengene Air Shuttle Services Ltd is a member of Labour Party and thus qualified for nomination as the party’s gubernatorial candidate under Section 84(3) of the Electoral Act, 2022 and Section 177 of the 1999 Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria (as amended). It was an established fact also before the court that it was Odengene Air Shuttle services Ltd that purchased the nomination form of the LP in Enugu State and not Everest Nnaji. This is a fundamental defect that goes to the root of the entire process because Odengene Shuttle Air Services Ltd is not a human person contemplated under Section 177 of the Constitution to contest for the office of the governor of a State in Nigeria. This is a fundamental issue for determination which the that the trial judge grossly glossed over and failed to determine.
c) Thirdly, whether the issue of nomination and sponsorship of a candidate for an election is not squarely an internal affair of party, which the Courts of law have no jurisdiction to meddle into. It is trite law that except instances brought within the provisions of Section 89(7) Electoral Act which is imperi materia with Section 84(14) of the new Electoral Act, the law remains that nomination of a candidate for election remains exclusive internal affairs over which no Court has jurisdiction. See the cases of Onuoha v.Okafor & ors (1983)2 SCNLR 244, Dalhatu v. Turaki (2003)15 NWLR( pt.843) 310 at 347 and Emeka v. Okigbo (Supra). Thus, the suit filed by Odegenge ought not to have been entertained by the trial court as it was not justiciable .
d) Fourthly, whether in all the circumstances of the case, the judge did not err in law and mis-directed herself, which have occasioned grave miscarriage of justice when she invalidated the primary election of the party held on 4th August,2022 which produced Hon. Chijioke Edeoga as its gubernatorial candidate without affording Edeoga the opportunity to be heard.
What is more, in spite of the fact that the Labour Party tendered before the trial Court the Certificate of Return issued to Edeoga as its gubernatorial candidate, the learned trial judge did not deem it necessary to join him as a party to the suit so that he could present his own side of the story which amounts to denial of right to fair-hearing.
Denial of fair-hearing is a fundamental constitutional breach which renders any judgment obtained thereof a nullity. Many keen observers and legal minds have reasons to believe that the weird judgment of the court was either procured or borne out of rascality. It is also believed that Edeoga’s fate was predetermined and that was why he was shut out.
Odengene allegedly known for his questionable characters, is alleged to have first engaged in forum shopping looking for a court where he could pay and get favourable judgment. Recall that he first filed a similar suit at the Federal High Court Port-Harcourt Division in which he joined Hon. Edeoga as a party. However, when it allegedly dawned on him that the Presiding Judge in Port Harcourt could not be compromised, he quickly withdrew the matter; and consequently, moved to Justice Maha’s court in Abuja where he could procure judgment in his favour and which he actually got. And one would ask: if Odengene joined Hon Edeoga in the ill-fated Port HarCourt suit, why did he not join Edeoga in the Abuja case?
Also, if something did not possibly exchange hands, how could a Court of competent jurisdiction entertain a suit from a meddlesome interloper like Odengene who admitted that he did not participate in a primary election of the Labour Party contrary to the clear provisions of Section 84(14) of the Electoral Act, 2022, which vest right of compliance only on an aspirant, i.e the person who participated in the primary election to approach the Court for redress against the settled principles of the law.
A very critical question here is whether Odengene, by the combined interpretation of Section 152 of the Electoral Act, 2022 and following the settled principles of law in plethora of cases be properly and legally described as an ‘aspirant’ to the said gubernatorial primary of 4 August,2022 that validly produced Edeoga . The answer is in the negative.
The Court of Appeal while interpreting Sections 87(9) and 156 of the Electoral Act, 2010, which are _imperi materia_ with Sections 84(14) and 152 of the Electoral Act, 2022 in the case of Eze v. Ugwueze & Ors ( 2014) LPELR-22481,has this to say:
“It is necessary to determine who an aspirant is, going by the provisions of Section 87(9) of the Electoral Act 2010 as amended. The apex Court in PDP v. Sylva (Supra) at page 126 defined aspirant thus:
(a) An aspirant is a person with a strong desire to achieve a position of importance or to win a competition,
(b) An aspirant is a person who contested the primaries,
(c) An aspirant is a candidate in the primaries.
Section 156 of the Electoral Act also defined aspirant as a person who aspires or seeks or strives to contest an election to an office”.
The Court went further to hold that: ” It is obvious from the above definitions that obtaining nomination form, being screened and cleared provisionally and other pre-primary steps as argued by counsel do not combine to make a member of a political party an aspirant within the meaning of Section 87(9) of the Electoral Act. It is the participation in the contest/selection that confirms the status…”
Section 87(9) of the Electoral Act confers jurisdiction on Courts to hear complaints from a candidate who participated at his party’s primaries. In other words, only dissatisfied contestant at the primary could complain about the conduct of the primaries.
In PDP v. Sylva (2012) 13 NWLR (Pt. 1316) 85 at 148 paras. C – D the Supreme Court in constructing Section 87 as a whole stated thus:
“For any member of a political party to question any results of party primaries conducted under the Act of 2010 (as amended), he must bring himself within the ambit of an aspirant i.e. a member who has participated in the said primaries; otherwise his action is not maintainable for want of _locus standi_ .
Odengene having not participated in the process, his case or complaint in the trial court case ought not to be entertained by the judge as the matter falls outside primary election matters contemplated under Section 84(14) of the Electoral Act ,2022. Under the doctrine of _stare decisis_ , the trial Judge was wrong to give a meaning of “aspirant” in Section 152 of the Electoral Act,2022 different from the one already given by the Supreme Court in the cases cited above or to expand the scope of the word to cover a purported party member that allegedly purchased nomination and cleared even though he did not participate in the primary election. In Emeka v.Okadigbo (supra), the apex court held that: “Since the appellant has no locus standi to question the conduct of the primary election under Section 87(9) of the Electoral Act (as amended), the Federal High Court lacked the jurisdiction to inquire into the complaint of non-compliance with the provisions of the Electoral Act raised by the appellant”.
So it is obvious that Odengene did not qualify as an aspirant to complain or challenge the gubernatorial primary of the Labour Party in the Court of law following the judicial precedents. It is, therefore, safe to submit that the learned trial Judge unnecessarily over-indulged him, which could only happen on either ground of compromise or judicial impertinence.
The 2023 elections in Nigeria bring with them hopes and fears, expectations, and optimism for a better future. However, one of the forces that is seriously threatening our nascent democracy; and inadvertently threatening to bring all our political calculations to nothing, is the Nigeria judiciary.
That the Judiciary is the last hope of the ordinary person is an accepted norm in a democracy. The Judiciary interprets the law, and we rely on the impartiality of the Judiciary for the system to work.
When judicial compromise happens, democracy suffers, and people lose faith in the system. Some parties and persons like Odengene allegedly depend on judicial compromises to hold onto power. It is a doomed political strategy, which is tainting the hallowed image of the Judiciary.
Democracy is about the choice of the people and the Court cannot nominate candidates for political parties. Court-induced political wins outside people’s franchises are a slap on our democracy. It is clear that PDP in Enugu State has been directly and indirectly working with Odengene against the Labour Party in the state seeking to disqualify its validly nominated candidate for next year’s election with the hope that they can cruise to victory without serious challenge.
This worked for the PDP in 2019 against Senator Ayogu Eze of the APC and they are pushing to repeat a similar destabilising deed in the 2023 elections using Odengene. The judiciary cannot replace the democratic choice of the people. The leadership of the Judiciary must stand up to its responsibility to tackle judicial compromise or rascality.
The CJN and National Judicial Council must intervene and save our democracy from the hands of power mongers using judicial rascality to steal people’s mandate. Many Judges are actively executing sound judgements for the benefit of society, and I highly commend them for their work in protecting our democracy.
However, the bad elements among them should be weeded out, especially at the trial Courts where men with suspicious means and contacts pull all manner of strings to exert undue pressure on the Judiciary and use judges as puppets in a puppeteer’s hands.
All hands must be on deck to tackle the problem of judicial impertinence during the pre and post-election periods.We are appealing to our judicial officers to consider national interest above contrived personal interest.
- Andy Peters, a lawyer wrote from Enugu.
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