The Court of Appeal, Abuja Division, has set aside a previous decision of the Federal Capital Territory High Court which nullified the candidacy of a governorship candidate, Ademola Adeleke, in the 2019 elections.
The appellate court in a decision on Thursday dismissed the lower court’s judgement and awarded N3 million as damages, in favour of Mr Adeleke, against the respondents in the suit.
Mr Adeleke had contested the governorship polls in Osun State with other candidates including Gboyega Oyetola who emerged winner of the elections conducted in September 2018.
In a decision of the FCT High Court in Abuja, however, Mr Adeleke’s candidacy in the September 2018 election was nullified after the court questioned the authenticity of his WEAC results submitted to INEC.
In a judgement read by Justice Emanuel Agim, a three-member panel of the appellate court ruled that the suit which gave rise to the FCT High court judgement against Mr Adeleke’s candidacy was fundamentally defective and should not have been heard, in the first place.
The appellate court faulted the decision of the lower court to dismiss Mr Adeleke’s motion challenging the timing of the suit instituted at the lower court.
According to the Court of Appeal, Mr Adeleke’s objection amounted to a challenge of the court’s jurisdiction, ”which could be brought up at any time”.
“The trial court was wrong to have dismissed the applicant’s objection at the lower court. The issue of lack of jurisdiction can be raised at any point even in an appeal before this court or at the Supreme Court for the first time.”
Mr Agim also held that the lower court was wrong to have decided against Mr Adeleke’s submission that the instant case is a pre-election matter.
The judge added that, according to the provisions of section 285 (9) and (10) of the constitution, a pre-election matter ought to have been brought within 14 days after the occurrence of the course of action.
“Being a pre-election matter, it must be filed within 14 days, and the judgement delivered 180 days after the date of filing. They filed their suit 43 days after the date the form was submitted to the fourth respondent (INEC). The judgement was delivered 209 days after the date of filing,” Mr Agim said.
Mr Agim also identified the date in which the list of candidates was published in the media to be August 4, 2018.
He then added that, even if the applicants at the lower court were first informed about the alleged electoral infraction on the date of publication, they still instituted their case 32 days after the date of publication against the provisions of the constitution.
Mr Agim faulted the failure of the FCT High Court to recognise some authorities related to the instant matter.
According to Mr Agim; “The approach of the court in disregarding the judicial authorities brought before it was wrong. It amounted to a lack of fair hearing.”
The appellate court upheld the arguments of Mr Adeleke that the lower court lacked jurisdiction to entertain the matter since the contending issues occurred in Osun State.
“Only the High Court of Osun state had jurisdiction to entertain the matter according to section 270 (1) and section 272 (1) of the constitution. By virtue of section 251 (1) of the constitution, the High Court of the Federal Capital Territory had no jurisdiction to entertain the matter,” Mr Agim ruled.
“The fact that the second and third respondents have their national offices in Abuja does not imply that the court has jurisdiction.
“The rules of procedure of a court does not confer on it the jurisdiction that has not been conferred on it by its enabling act,” the court ruled.
Mr Agim also dismissed an objection brought by the respondents that the case as instituted in Abuja was different from the one earlier decided by a sister court in Oshogbo.
According to Mr Agim, “the judgement in the Oshogbo matter is a judgement in the realm,” which implies that it deals with the crux of the matter instituted at the FCT High Court.
Mr Agim ruled that the High Court in Abuja “ought to have been bounded by the decision of the high court in Oshogbo.”
Principally, the Court of Appeal faulted the failure of the FCT High court to recognise the testimony given by the principal of Mr Adeleke’s secondary school, despite having the details of the testimony before the court.
“At the heart of the argument is that the trial court ignored the documents brought by WAEC. It is clear from the judgement of the trial court that it ignored the documents. If it had not ignored the documents, it would have found that the information suggesting that the applicant sat for the May June 1981, exams were true and not false.”
“The trial court disregarded the documents as if it never existed. Even the documents it chose to consider, it did not evaluate properly. The trial court appeared to have ignored the fact that the principal appeared to testify if the information submitted to the fourth respondent was true or false. If the principal said that there were many errors in the result sheet, he must be believed,” Mr Agim ruled.
‘Adeleke sat for exams’- Judge
The judge said the documents presented at the lower court indicated that Mr Adeleke sat for his WAEC exams in 1981. He added that the failure of Mr Adeleke to correct errors in his result sheets before submitting the same to INEC could not be interpreted to suggest that Mr Adeleke provided false documents to INEC.
“Errors in a document do not amount to falsehood. What the respondent did is to exploit the mistakes in his submitted form to hold that he was not qualified.”
Mr Agim, however, said the documents seen to have been submitted at the lower court indicated that Mr Adeleke “satisfied the provisions of the constitution and is, therefore, qualified to have contested the election.”
“On the whole, the appeal succeeds. The judgement of the High Court is set aside,” the appellate court ruled.
Mr Adeleke, who is currently challenging the emergence of the APC candidate, Gboyega Oyetola as governor of Osun has been arraigned before various courts on allegations he failed to comply with the electoral requirements which stipulate he possesses a secondary school qualification.
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