As the 2019 presidential general elections comes to an end, the natural fallout will be a beehive of activities at the election tribunal already set up and inaugurated by the Acting Chief Justice of Nigeria.
Of course, there will always be a winner and a looser in every contest. Already, the Peoples’ Democratic Party (PDP) had summoned an emergency meeting of its legal team led by Mr Emmanuel Enoidem on February 26, 2019 to hold at the Legacy house in Abuja. What this portends is that ‘the die is cast’ for a legal battle between the legal gladiators on both sides. Under the extant Electoral Act, election petitions are to be brought within 21 days after the elections and the whole process has a life span of 180 days before judgment is delivered, see section 133 and 143 of the Electoral Act.
It is the practise for the legal teams of political parties to engage other senior lawyers in the prosecution of what ever petition is lodged at the tribunal. Of great importance in determining the success of the trial, is the leadership of the legal team. We will review the leadership of the legal team of the APC and the PDP before the legal ‘showdown’ begins.
The All Progressives’ Congress’s (APC) legal team is led by one Mr Babatunde Ogala who is said to be a political heavy weight and party leader in Lagos State, with so much influence in the Ikeja axis of the State. Ogala was called to the Nigerian Bar in 1986 after which he started his legal career with the legendary Femi Okonnu, SAN. He was the legal adviser to Guardian Press Limited from 1989-1994 after which he set out to establish his own law firm, Babatunde Ogala & Co. Ogala was also an Honourable member of the Lagos State House of Assembly, where he served as the Chairman of the committee on judiciary. Ogala’s experience as a lawyer spans several years of practice and administration. It is also a known fact that he is a goal getter, a senior lawyer who has succeeded in most of the projects he had embarked on in the past. As a lawyer who regularly updates his knowledge, Ogala has attended several courses in varied aspects of the Law and Legislative practice at the International Law Institute, Washington, D.C. United State of America, Thames Valley University, Slough England and George Town University, Washington, D.C; United States of America as well as the World Bank.
On the other hand, the PDP’s legal team is led by one Mr Emmanuel Enoidem, a lawyer, seasoned politician and political tactician. He was called to the Bar in 1989, three years after Ogala was called! Interestingly, just three years after his call to the Bar, he was appointed as the legal adviser to the Social Democratic Party (SDP) in 1992; this was the beginning of his sojourn into the political terrain. He served as the Executive Chairman of Etim Ekpo Local Government Area between 1997 to 1998. He was State Treasurer of the People’s Democratic Party in Akwa Ibom State between 2001–2007. He has been the Commissioner for Commerce and Industry in Akwa-Ibom State, with a track record of excellent performance. He was Commissioner for Housing and Urban Renewal and later Commissioner for Special Duties, in the immediate past administration of Chief Godswill Akpabio, Emmanuel Enoidem coordinated and supervised the construction and timely delivery of some milestone projects in the state such as the Governor’s Lodge, Ibom E-library, Banquet Hall, Ikot Ekpene Prisons, Ikot Ekpene Plaza, among others. Eniodem also has considerable experience in legal practice as a senior lawyer.
With all of these qualifications now laid bare, these two legal titans who have both handled a dizzying number of legal and administrative transactions are now set to lead their respective teams to the sue generis ‘legal battle of Armageddon’.
In conclusion, as the battle begins, all parties must heed to the ever-resounding dictum of Sankey, JCA, in Ogunsakin & Anor. V. Ajidara & Ors. (2007) LPELR-4733(CA) where my Lord held thus;
“It should always be borne in mind that election petitions being sui generis are of immense public interest. The outcome of these petitions is of interest and has an impact not only on the litigants before the Court but also on the wider community whose mandate each side purports to have. Tribunals should therefore be very wary and cautious in applying maximum sanctions in cases of infractions of the rules, which though should be obeyed, must be used in a manner to advance the cause of justice and not to stultify it. For when Courts, said to be the last hope of the common man, very easily refuse to hear parties, their real or imagined grievances may be bottled up and driven underground, and when the pressure causes the bottle to break, the contents may spill over everyone causing untold havoc in its wake.” Per SANKEY, J.C.A. (Pp. 37-38, paras. F-C).
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