Appeal Court And Conflicting Judgements

Posted by KUNLE OLASANMI | 8 years ago | 2,853 times

KUNLE OLASANMI in this report writes on the worries expressed by the Chief Justice of Nigeria, Justice Mahmud Mohammed and other stakeholders in the judiciary on the inconsistencies in some judgements of the Court of Appeal in some election matters

Since the judgements at the various election petition tribunal across the country moved to the Court of Appeal, ‎some of the judgments coming out of the appellate court have been confusing enough to get legal practioners and other stakeholders in the nation’s juudiciary agitated.

About two weeks ago, one of such judgments was delivered by the Owerri Division of the Court of Appeal wher the election of the Abia State Governor, Dr Okezie Ikpeazu of the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) was set aside.

About two weeks ago, the Chief Justice of Nigeria, Justice Mahmud Mohammed expressed worries over conflicting judgement coming from the court of appeal

The court had declared the candidate of the All Progressives Grand Alliance (APGA), Alex Otti the winner of the election.

To arrive at this conclusion, the court cancelled elections in three local government areas including the governor’s local government area and ended up disenfranchised not only him but over 300,000 voters.

The Court of Appeal after reveiwing the number of votes recorded for Dr. Okezie Ikpeazu at Obingwa, Osisioma and Isialangwa North Local Government areas being higher than the number of votes captured and transmitted to the Independent National Electoral Office (INEC) in Umuahia by the Card Reader Machine concluded that there was overvoting.

The approch adopted by the court rasied many questions: What happened to manual accreditation where the Card Reader fails? Was it not part of INEC Guidelines? Why did INEC provide Incident Forms? Was it only in Obingwa, Osisioma and Isialangwa North that there were more votes than the Card Reader recorded? What about Aba North and Aba South? What about Arochukwu and Ohafia? Manual accreditation was done in these areas too. Why did the court accept manual accreditation in these areas and disallowed it in Obingwa, Osisioma and Isialangwa North?

If elections are conducted to determine the wish of the people, the judgment of the court of appeal in Abia has replaced the wish of the people with that of the justices.

Whereas in mature democracy voting remains the only avenue through which elective political office can be attained, the court of appeal appears to be towing the line of imposing elected officials on the electorate, a move the Supreme Court has repeatedly said should be discouraged.

In the famous Amaechi Vs Omehia case of 2007, the Supreme Court declared Rotimi Chibuike Amaechi as the duly elected Governor of Rivers State eventhough Amaechi was never on the ballot paper for the elections. He neither campaigned nor was he voted for. The Supreme Court, in its wisdom, held that the mandate belonged to the political party and having determined that Rotimi Amaechi was the rightful candidate of the Peoples Democratic Party that won the 2007 Governorship Elections in Rivers State, it ordered that he be sworn in as Governor.

However, that judgment led to the amendment of the Electoral Act and the inclusion of a provision which is to the effect that no individual shall be deemed to have won an election if he did not stand for election into that particular office in Nigeria. The intention of the law makers is to render the judgment in the Amaechi case a nullity and inapplicable to our electoral system.

It would appear that what the National Assembly has corrected by the amendment to the Electoral Act after the Amaechi case, the Court of Appeal, Owerri Division is seeking to reintroduce via another means in the Abia Governorship election dispute.

The learned justices of the court of appeal in declaring Otti winner of the Abia governorship election have deliberately disenfranchised a large per centage of voters in Abia. The court has merely used the votes from 14 LGAs to declare a man winner of governorship elections in a state with 17 LGAs. What demoractic sense does it make to shut out entire people in three local government areas?

More often than not every politician receives more votes in his local government area and environ. By choosing to nullified votes cast for Ikpeazu in his local government, the court of appeal has shifted the goal post in favour of his opponent. To put the candidate at even, may be votes cast for Otti in his local government should have been cancelled as well.

As one commentator said: ”This has gone beyond a mere electoral dispute. It has become a unified statement by a people that they cannot be disenfranchised in a State where they are bonafide citizens and residents. How do you tell over 300,000 people belonging to a homogenous ethnic and language grouping that you do not need their votes to determine who governs their state?” If only the appeal court justices had adverted their minds to this, they would propably have not taken the line of thoughts they took. The judgment is capable of raising and had indeed raised ethnic tension among the peaceful people of Abia state.

If the results of election into both the National Assembly and State House of Assembly is anything to go by, it supports the claims that PDP remained the popular party in the state.

The All Progressives Grand Alliance only has one member of the House of Representatives out of the available 11 Seats up for grabs in the National Assembly elections and 6 Members of the Abia State House of Assembly in a 24-Member House.

So, the question then becomes, if APGA can only lay claim to 7 out of 35 available Legislative Seats contested for in Abia State (note that some of the opponents of these 7 did not bother going to the Tribunal. Who knows what would have happened?), where then did they get the majority votes to return their Governorship candidate Mazi Alex Otti as winner of an election that held the same day and at the same time?

The judgment has further confirmed the Court of Appeal as the most inconsistent court in Nigeria. As today, nobody can say categorically what the position of the court is with regard to use or non use of card readers machines during the governorship election.

Only recently, the Chief Justice of Nigeria, Justice Mahmud Mohammed admonished the justices of the court of appeal and urged them to be consistent.

The CJN said: “As the guardians of the law, we must not only be just but also convey certainty in our justnes.”

The Peoples Democratic Party which is largely affected by the decisions of justices of the Court of Appeal had accused the justices of the Court of Appeal of giving conflicting judgments in similar cases and refusing to follow the precedents laid down by the Supreme Court.

In apparent allusion to these myriad of complaints the CJN said: “My Lords, it bears reminding that the overriding objective of every legal system in the world is to do justice. However, this cannot be achieved where there is confusion as to the state of the law as pronounced by the court.”

He told the justices that they were not allowed to continue to shift the goalposts when the game was on.

While advising them to adhere to certainty and stop creating confusion, Justice Mohammed said: “As your lordships will agree, where an aggrieved person perceives, whether rightly or wrongly, that they will not receive justice, such a situation can indeed bode ill for the community in which he lives and can lead to acrimony and anarchy.

“We must not ignore the negative perception that is occasioned by conflicting judgments delivered at various divisions of the Court of Appeal. Such judicial contradictions only result in untold hardships to litigants in their quest for justice. They further cast your lordships in an unfavourable light and leave the judiciary at the mercy of inuendos, crass publications and editorials.”

Source: leadership newspaper

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