The Court of Appeal, sitting in Owerri, Imo State capital, dismissed two separate but related appeals filed by the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) in Abia State against the governorship candidate of the All Progressives Grand Alliance (APGA) in the April general elections, Dr. Alex Otti, and his party.
The appeals originated from a decision of the Abia State Governorship Election Petition Tribunal, sitting in Umuahia, to take all the preliminary objections, filed by the litigants, along with the judgment of the substantive petition.
But dissatisfied with the tribunal’s decision, the party headed for the Court of Appeal, urging it to set aside the decision of the tribunal and compel it to deliver ruling on the pending motions.
In one of the motions, the ruling-PDP urged the tribunal to strike out Otti’s petition on the grounds that it was not duly signed and that the necessary fees were not paid in compliance with the provisions of the Electoral Act 2010, as amended.
The Court of Appeal, in a unanimous decision of the five-member panel of justices, struck out three out of the four issues raised by the PDP for lack of merit before dismissing the two appeals.
In dismissing the appeals, the appellate court said that they were premature and predicated on the complaint against a ruling which the lower tribunal had not yet delivered.
The court further stated that there was no infringement of the appellant’s right to fair hearing as the motions were rightly heard by the tribunal before ruling was adjourned to come within the 180 days stipulated by the Constitution.
Addressing journalists at the end of the judgment, which lasted for about one hour, counsel to Otti and APGA, Mr Nwala Oracle, said that what the Court of Appeal did was ‘’giving effect to and affirming the sanctity of paragraph 12 (5) of the 1st Schedule to the Electoral Act.”
Oracle further said that the Court of Appeal could not have gone any other way than to confirm that the trial tribunal has powers to take all preliminary motions along with the substantive petition.
“As a matter of fact, paragraph 12 (5) is intended to reflect the sui generis nature of election matters”, the counsel said.
“The spirit and intendment of that paragraph is to suppress the mischief of delaying the Election Petition proceeding by ensuring that preliminary objections, whether on jurisdiction or not, raised in the course of the proceedings, did not derail the determination of the merit of a case by undue and unwarranted delays occasioned by preliminary objections’.
Oracle further insisted that ‘’as a matter of fact, the tribunal is under a duty to comply with the provisions of paragraph 12(5), when objections are raised against the hearing of a petition.”
The Appeal Court, relying on the case of Aregbesola v Omisore, in its judgment, emphasized: “When paragraph 53(5) was in being, paragraph 12(5) came in on the 29th October, 2010 like a Trojan Horse.
“Paragraph 53(5) itself came into effect on 20th August, 2010. Paragraph 12(5) was undoubtedly enacted for a purpose. That purpose was to enable election petition tribunals to handle election petitions without undue reliance on technicalities.
“Although paragraph 53(5) was not repealed, the law is that the provisions of the later enactment amends the earlier so far as necessary to remove the inconsistency between them.”
It will be recalled that the same Court of Appeal, on September 3, 2015, dismissed a similar suit brought to it by counsel for Gov. Okezie Ikpeazu, Chief Wole Olanipekun, SAN, against Otti on the same basis that it lacked merit and was a mere academic exercise.
Otti is challenging the result of the election in five local government areas of Abia: Umuahia North, Isialangwa North, Ugwunagbo, Osisioma and Obingwa, where he alleged massive electoral fraud by PDP. He is urging the tribunal to nullify Okezie’s election and to declare him the winner of the poll.
Meanwhile, proceedings at the trial tribunal had been adjourned to October 14, 2015 for the adoption of final written addresses of the parties.
News about the judgment, which filtered into Umuahia, the state capital, and the commercial city of Aba, as well as Ohafia, sparked off wild jubilation among the residents, especially members and teeming supporters of the party and its governorship candidate.
A cross-section of the people described the judgment of the Appeal Court as ‘’cheerful news and a positive development” for the state and its citizenry.
Speaking in a telephone interview, the deputy governorship candidate of APGA, Dr. Uche Eme-Uche, expressed gratitude to God for the judgment, saying: “We pray that justice will prevail at the end of the judicial process”. Eme-Uche added: “We need God’s intervention for Abia to be liberated; so we shall not relent in our prayers.’’
She noted that the judgment of the Court of Appeal ‘’was in consonant with the provisions of the Electoral Act, so we expected the judgment in our favour.’’
The state chairman of APGA, Rev. Augustine Ehiemere, described the judgment as ‘’a path to the ultimate victory for the party and the suffering masses.”
Reacting to the outcome of the judgment in a telephone interview from his Aba residence, Ehiemere said, ‘’We thank God for the judgment,” adding: “The judiciary has, by the judgment acquitted itself as the last hope of the common man.”
Another chieftain of the party, Chief Inem Nwaka, dedicated the victory to the struggle for the emancipation of the people of Abia.