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Why Appeal Court upturned tribunal ruling on Osun State gubernatorial election

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THE Court of Appeal sitting in Abuja has nullified the judgement of the Osun State Governorship Election Petitions Tribunal which declared Ademola Adeleke, candidate of the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP), winner of the September 2018 gubernatorial election  in the state.

The Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) had declared the All Progressives Congress’ candidate, Adegboyega Oyetola, winner of the election, following a supplementary poll held September 27, 2018.

Adeleke was leading the polls after the initial election was conducted on September 23, 2018, but the election was declared inconclusive because the number of cancelled votes was higher than the margin of lead between the two candidates.

In his petition to the election petitions tribunal, Adeleke argued the initial election ought not to have been declared inconclusive and prayed the tribunal to hold that he was the winner of the poll.

Two of the three-man panel made up of Justices Mahmood Sirajo, Peter Obiora and Adeboye Gbolagunte, gave judgement in Adeleke’s favour, ruling that the initial election ought not to have been declared inconclusive. They also held that the supplementary election was marred with corrupt practices, hence would not be allowed to stand.

However, Justice Sirajo, who was also the chairman of the tribunal, gave a minority judgement, dismissing PDP’s appeal and upholding Oyetola’s electoral victory.

Dissatisfied, Oyetola filed an appeal with the appellate court, challenging the judgement of the tribunal and urging the court to set it aside. Adeleke, the PDP, the APC and INEC were joined in the suit as the first, second, third and fourth respondents respectively.

Adegboyega Oyetola, Governor of Osun State.

Delivering the lead judgement on Thursday, Justice Jummai Sankey, ruled that Oyetola’s appeal “has merit and succeeds”, and went ahead to nullify the judgement of the Osun governorship election petitions tribunal.

Oyetola’s appeal was based on 39 grounds, from which he raised 12 issues. Justice Sankey resolved all the issues but two in favour of the appellant and against the first and second respondents, which is Adeleke and the PDP respectively.

One of the issues raised by Oyetola was that Justice Obiora, who read the lead judgement at the tribunal, did not attend the tribunal’s proceedings held on February 6, 2019, but had relied on the information provided by witnesses on that day to write his judgement. Oyetola argued that it was improper for Obiora to have relied on information of a proceeding which he did not take partake in to form part of his judgement. Justice Sankey agreed with this and resolved the issue in Oyetola’s favour.

Similar appeals filed by the APC and INEC respectively, challenging the ruling of the Osun governorship election petition tribunal, were also each upheld by the Appeal Court.

Other members of the panel namely, Justices Abubakar Yahaya, Isaiah Akeju and Bitrus Sanga, agreed with the lead judgements in the three appeals, but one of them, Justice George Mbaba, disagreed.

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Disputed Judgement

Delivering a minority dissenting Judgement, Justice Mbaba said it was inaccurate to say that Justice Obiora did not attend the tribunal’s proceedings of February 6. He pointed out that according to the copy of the proceedings of the said day at the tribunal, it was clearly stated that the tribunal was complete and that the three members of the panel were there.

Mbaba said what was missing in the copy of the proceedings as presented before the appeal court was Justice Obiora’s signature. He argued that the fact that Obiora’s signature was missing does not expressly mean that he was absent in the tribunal on the said day. He said the argument that Obiora did not attend the court session of February 6, 2019, was a “well-articulated speculation” as many factors could be responsible for his signature not appearing on the copy of the court proceedings that was presented to the appeal court.

On the other issues raised by the trio of Oyetola, the APC and INEC, in their respective appeals, Justice Mbaba resolved them against the appellants and in favour of Adeleke and the PDP.

“All the findings of the lower tribunal concerning what happened during the rerun election were correct. I cannot fault them,” Mbaba said.

He subsequently struck out the appeal and awarded the sum of N200,000 against Oyetola in the first appeal.

Mbaba also expressed displeasure that appeals that were similar in interest and issues were being filed separately, thereby overburdening the Appellate court. “Parties with common interest and issues should be encouraged to file joint appeals,” he said.

Supreme Court to have the final say

Nathaniel Oke (SAN), counsel to Adeleke and the PDP.

In a brief speech after delivering the judgement, the head of the appeal panel, Justice Sankey, said she looks forward to the judgement being tested at the Supreme Court as that would further strengthen the country’s political jurisprudence.

Counsel to Adeleke and the PDP, Nathaniel Oke (SAN), told journalists shortly after the court sitting that they intend to appeal the judgement at the Supreme Court.

“I am categorically telling the world that we still have a right of appeal to the Supreme Court which is the highest court of the land. We are not satisfied with the majority judgement as delivered, and we are exercising our right of appeal to the Supreme Court for the final determination of this issue of the Osun State governorship election as held in 2018,” Oke said.

For their part, the counsels to Oyetola, the APC and INEC, described the judgement as a welcome development and a boost to the electoral system in Nigeria.

Abiodun Owonikoko, one of the lawyers that represented Oyetola in court, said the judgement would enable the governor “to settle down and face the job for which he was elected”.

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