The Supreme Court of Nigeria has thrown away the suit filed by the governorship candidate of the now defunct Congress for Progressive Change (CPC), in Kogi State, James Ocholi (SAN), seeking an order sacking the state governor and governorship candidate of the Peoples’ Democratic Party (PDP) in the 2011 elections, Captain Idris Wada for lack of merit.
In the lead judgment delivered by Justice Kudirat Kekere-Ekun, the Supreme Court held that the appeal by Ocholi, who had asked the court to nullify Wada’s election and he be declared the validly elected governor, lacked merit.
Ocholi had instituted the suit asking for Wada’s removal on the grounds that he (Wada) was not qualified to contest in the December 3, 2011 governorship election since he (Wada) was not a candidate for the election earlier scheduled to hold on April 26 of the same year.
The appellant had contended that the election earlier scheduled for April 26, 2011 was not cancelled but only postponed to December 3, 2011, on the account of a court order.
He thus argued that the submission of nomination forms by candidates having closed on February 28, 2011 for the April 26 election which he said was re-scheduled, Wada who was only made the PDP candidate thereafter in the poll that eventually held on December 3, 2011 was not qualified to participate in the election.
The petitions arising from the December 3, 2011 election filed by the now defunct parties – the Action Congress of Nigeria and the All Progressives Congress – had earlier been decided in favour of Wada by the Supreme Court.
In a unanimous judgment on Friday, the apex court’s appeal panel presided over by the Chief Justice of Nigeria, Justice Mahmud Mohammed, affirmed the concurrent judgments of the Abuja Division of the Court of Appeal and the Federal High Court in Lokoja, which had both dismissed the appellant’s case.
Justice Kekere-Ekun held that the Federal High Court, Lokoja had in its judgment delivered on July 10, 2013, rightly dismissed Ocholi’s suit for lack of jurisdiction.
The apex court also affirmed the judgment of the Abuja Division of the Court of Appeal, delivered on September 24, 2012, upholding the Federal High Court’s verdict that the appropriate court where the appellant ought to have instituted his suit was the election petition tribunal.
Justice Kekere-Ekun in his ruling held that the prayers sought by Ocholi, in substance and in nature, was a matter that could be entertained by the election petition tribunal.
She held, “The aim of the appellant’s suit was the nullification of the victory of Wada at the election held on December 3, 2011 and a declaration that he is the lawful winner of the election and the person validly entitled to be sworn in as the governor of Kogi state.
“The Federal High Court had no jurisdiction to entertain his claims. The concurrent decisions of the two lower courts in this regard cannot be faulted.
“The appellant has not advanced any cogent reasons to warrant interference by this court.”
The court held that Ocholi waited for more than three months after the conduct of the election that produced Wada as governor before raising the issue of qualification of the candidates who participated in the election.
“It had become a post-election matter that could only be determined by an election tribunal,” she added.
She also held, “I agree with the learned senior counsel for the respondent (Wada) that having regard to the facts and circumstances of this case, the appellant had every opportunity to institute his action before the conduct of the election.
“Not only did he fail to challenge any of the steps taken by the Independent National Electoral Commission such as the publication of a new timetable for the conduct of primaries, the new election date and the list of qualified candidates for the December 3rd 2011 election, he fully participated in the new primaries and contested the election.”
Other Justices on the panel headed by the CJN agreed with the judgment. Other Justices on the panel were Afolabi Fabiyi, Dantijo Muhammad, Clara Ogunbiyi, John Okoro and Centus Nweze.