The Abuja Division of the Court of Appeal has overturned the decision of the National and State Houses of Assembly Election Tribunal in Asaba, which declared Ndudi Elumelu of the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) as winner of the Aniocha/Oshimili Federal Constituency election in Delta State.
A three-member panel of the court headed by Mohammed Shuaibu, on Thursday, declared Ngozi Okolie of the Labour Party as winner of the election.
The Court of Appeal is the final court on legislative election petitions.
Mr Shuaibu upheld the arguments by Mr Okolie’s lawyer, Mahmud Magaji, a Senior Advocate of Nigeria (SAN) that the appellant was duly nominated by his party.
The justice said Mr Okolie resigned his appointment as a Senior Special Assistant (SSA) to the Delta State Government within the statutory period as enshrined in Section 66(1)(f) of the constitution.
Nigeria’s electoral commission, INEC, had declared Mr Okolie winner of the 25 February poll, but Mr Elumelu, a former Minority Leader of the House of Representatives, contested the election outcome before the tribunal.
Mr Elumelu premised his suit on the ground that Mr Okolie was not validly nominated by the Labour Party, arguing that the latter did not resign his appointment 30 days before the election, as constitutionally required.
The trial tribunal chaired by A. Z. Mussa, had in its judgement on 24 July nullified Mr Okolie’s victory based on Mr Elumelu’s arguments.
The appellate court held that the the tribunal lacked the jurisdiction to have delved into the issue of political party nomination which it said was a pre-election matter.
“…the nomination and sponsorship of a candidate is an internal affair of a party,” Mr Shuaibu said.
Referencing a plethora of cases, the justice justice noted that Mr Elumelu and the PDP lacked the legal standing to sue Mr Okolie’s emergence as flagbearer of the Labour Party.
“The 1st and 2nd respondents (Mr Elumelu and the PDP, who are not members of the appellant (Mr Okolie and LP) are meddlesome interlopers.”
Awards N100,000 cost against Elumelu
In dismissing the suit, the court awarded N100,000 fine against Mr Elumelu and the PDP in favour of Mr Okolie.
The lead judgment in the appeal by Mr Okolie was drafted by a member of the panel, Habeeb Abiru, but read on Thursday by Mr Shuaibu.
Meanwhile, the appellate court upbraided INEC lawyer, E. O. Okoko for holding conflicting positions at the tribunal and at the Court of Appeal.
“I must specifically comment on the conduct of the counsel to the 3rd respondent (INEC), Mr. E. O. Okoko, which I consider unprofessional and deserving condemnation,” Mr Shuaibu said.
The justice decried Mr Okoko’s conduct when he supported Mr Okolie at the tribunal, but argued in favour of Mr Elumelu and at the Appeal Court, which necessitated the court’s rejection his filings in the suit.
“Parties and counsel must be consistent in handling their cases both at the trial court and on appeal. In the instant case, the 3rd respondent, the supposed election umpire, has not exhibited neutrality through the conduct of the said counsel.
“The 3rd respondent’s reply, at pages 188 to 189 of the record, implicitly admitted that the appellant (LP) conducted a primary which produced the 4th respondent (Mr Okolie), but recanted its argument before us wherein it submitted that the 1st and 2nd respondents have the locus standi to present an election petition and that the 4th respondent was not duly sponsored having not emerged from any primary.
“Further more, appeal is generally regarded as a continuation of the original suit rather than the inception of a new one. And, in appeal, parties are confined to their cases as pleaded at the court of first instance. On the strength of the forgoing, the 3rd respondent’s amended brief is hereby discountenanced. I say no more,” the court held.
Therefore, the court’s ruling on Thursday effectively brings Mr Elumelu’s twelve-year legislative career to an end.