BY JAMES OBUTE
Justice Gladys Olotu of the Federal High Court, Abuja, on Friday, January 11 this year ruled that the two senators and eight lawmakers of Katsina State Congress for Progress Change who were removed from National Assembly last year be reinstated because the electoral body had no right to void or withdraw the certificate of return originally issued to them without a valid court order.
However, National Assembly and Independent Electoral Commission, INEC seem to be unperturbed about the judgment even as the 10 Katsina State federal lawmakers (two senators and eight House of Representatives members) from the Congress for Progressives Change, who were asked by high court to vacate their seats, described the judgment as a breach of the country’s judiciary system. The lawmakers, which noted that the Abuja High Court lacked merit to deliberate on the case, which it argued had earlier been handled by the Supreme Court with judgment in their favour on December 16, 2011, insisted that they were the authentic candidates of the CPC, since it was their names that were submitted to the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) by the CPC leadership.
The Federal High Court held that the electoral body acted ultra vires by canceling certificates of return issued to the plaintiffs and issuing fresh one to 5th-14th respondent without leave of court. It further held that by the provision of section 68(1) and s.71, the power of electoral body stops after the issuance of certificate of returns to winners of elections.
Justice Olotu, in her ruling which came after the Supreme Court ousted the jurisdiction of all courts, including the apex court, on the matter, granted all the reliefs sought by the plaintiffs and invariable ordered their reinstatement to the federal legislative house.
The plaintiffs, who got judgment in their favour are Ahmed Sani Stores and Abdu Umar Yandoma, both senators, Murtala Isa, Muntari Dandutse, Musa Salisu and Aminu Ashiru, Umar Adamu Katsayal, Muhammad Tukur, Tasi’u Doguro, and Abdu Dankama, all members of the House. The Supreme Court in December 2011, had ruled that the issue at hand in the case concerned the determination of the validly nominated candidates of the Congress for Progressive Change, CPC, in Katsina State, for the April 2011 National Assembly elections. It averred that only the party could determine who its candidates were and ruled that no court had jurisdiction to entertain any suit on the matter.
Meanwhile Senator Sani Stores and other have been seeking for support of other lawmakers in the National Assembly in other to allow them back to the fold. In a letter dated January 22, 2013 said “We write to formally bring to your notice the injustice done to in particular and the good people of Katsina State in general that gave us their mandate.” The letter which was addressed senators and copied to Clerk of the National Assembly as well as Director Legal, National Assembly further said “As a distinguished people that we know you people to be, we solicit for your support in restoring the mandate given to us by our people.” The letter was jointly signed by Senator Ahmad Sani Sores and Senator Abdu Umar Yandoma.
However, the hope of being restored to the National Assembly by Senator Ahmad Sani Sores and Senator Abdu Umar Yandoma and eight other seems to be surrounded with confusion as the leadership of the National Assembly and INEC are allegedly looking at the other way round Senator Mark allegedly reminded them of section 143 of the Electoral Act which says that court processes be followed to logical conclusion, urging them to go to INEC to collect certificates validating their election.
Section 143 (1) of the Electoral Act states: “If the Election Tribunal or the Court, as the case may be, determines that a candidate returned as elected was not validly elected, then if notice of appeal against that decision is given within 21 days from the date of the decision, the candidate returned as elected shall, notwithstanding the contrary decision of the Election Tribunal or the Court, remain in office pending the determination of the appeal.”
Section 143 (2) stipulates: “If the Election Tribunal or the Court, as the case maybe, determines that a candidate returned as elected was not validly elected, the candidate returned as elected shall, notwithstanding the contrary decision of the Election Tribunal or the Court, remain in office pending the expiration of the period of 21 days within which an appeal may be brought.”
Sources close to the leadership of the Senate said Senate President was particularly advised by the Senate Leader, Victor Ndoma Egba, a Senior Advocate of Nigeria, SAN, and Ike Ekweremadu, Deputy Senate President, who is also a lawyer, against implementing the ruling of the high court. The Speaker of the House of Representatives also allegedly turned down their request. All the plaintiffs in the matter went to INEC where they met similar obstacles. Officials of the commission and their lawyers told the ousted lawmakers that the electoral body’s hands were tied for three reasons.
First, they said that Justice Olotu did not give any declarative order compelling INEC to issue them new certificates of return. Second, the commission argued that the ruling had been appealed and that by law it was mandated to stay action until the determination of the appeal. Finally, INEC also pointed out that Justice Olotu ruled that the electoral body’s job stopped at issuing certificates of return to successful candidates and had no right to void, invalidate or withdraw same. Thus, the commission argued that it had no legal authority to withdraw the certificates already issued to others in the case.
Section 75 (1) of the Electoral Act states that: “A sealed Certificate of Return at an election in a prescribed form shall be issued within 7 days to every candidate who has won an election under this Act: Provided that where the Court of Appeal or the Supreme Court being the final Appellate Court in any election petition as the case may be nullifies the Certificate of Return of any candidate, the Commission shall within 48 hours after the receipt of the order of such Court issue the successful candidate with a valid Certificate of Return.”
There has been controversy over who were the authentic candidates for two senatorial seats and eight members of the House of Representatives seats won by the CPC in Katsina State. The matter had gone through a first round at the Federal High Court, Abuja, the Court of Appeal and the Supreme Court. The Supreme Court ruled that no court had the jurisdiction to entertain the case because the matter of who a party’s candidate is can only be decided by the concerned party. This led to the swearing of Senator Sadiq Yar’Adua, Senator Abubakar Sirika and eight others by the leadership of National Assembly.
Speaking in a media briefing recently in Abuja, the group, led by Senator Hadi Sirika, described the judgment as a show of shame in the Nigerian judiciary, wondered where a high court derived its powers to overturn the decision of the Supreme Court, adding that it was after they had earlier got a favourable judgment at the appeals court that the other group went to challenge the appeal court judgment at the Supreme Court, where they also lost.
Sirika, who disclosed that his team has immediately filed an appeal challenging the decision, noted that they were the winners of the authentic primary election that was conducted by the CPC.
“On 20th April 2011, the Court of Appeal sitting in Abuja agreed with all the arguments of the CPC and consequently set aside the judgment of the Federal High Court. In a unanimous decision, the court averred that the provision of the Electoral Act 2010 (as amended) and the 1999 Constitution, the party at the national level is the only organ empowered to organise primary elections and not any of its branches, and therefore the Katsina State branch of the CPC cannot usurp the powers conferred on the National Executive Committee. It therefore noted that the trial court, the High Court was wrong in relying on the parallel primary elections of January 15, 2011, which was conducted by Senator Lado and the Katsina State CPC to hold that the first respondents had sufficient proofs that they were the candidates of the CPC for the April general elections.
“It was when Senator Lado and others were not satisfied with the sound decision of the Court of Appeal and consequently filed an appeal at the Supreme Court in case number SC/157/2011, which they also lost, stated Senator Sirika who noted that the judgment of the Abuja High Court was a direct confrontation with the judgment delivered by the Supreme Court which it has therefore nullified.”
The drama still continues as the case has gone to the appeal court for the second time. It is likely that the loser of the case will equally approach the Supreme Court for the second time also.