The long and tortuous legal battle for the gubernatorial soul of Governor Rotimi Akeredolu SAN (“Akeredolu”) of Ondo State came to a surprising end with the supreme court deciding on July 28 2021 in a split decision of four to three in favor of Akeredolu and the All Progressives Congress (“APC”).
In deciding against the contention of the candidate of the People’s Democratic Party (“PDP”), Eyitayo Jegede SAN (“Jegede”) and his PDP, the supreme court held that the failure to join the National caretaker Chairman of the APC and Governor of Yobe State, Governor Mai Mala Buni (“Buni”) was fatal to the case of Mr. Jegede and the PDP – same effectively rendered his petition from the get-go, incompetent.
The gist of the petition before the court is that Mr, Eyitayo Jegede and his party the PDP challenged the nomination and sponsorship of Akeredolu for the gubernatorial election by the APC contending that the nomination was incompetent having been signed by Buni as the Chairman of the APC – he Buni, not being competent by the provision of Article 17 of the APC Constitution to hold the office. Jegede and his party argued strongly that Akeredolu’s nomination was built on faulty grounds and could not be left to stand.
Jegede and the PDP contended that by Section 183 of the Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria 1999 and Article 17(4) of the Constitution of the APC, Buni could not have been Governor of Yobe state and Chairman of the APC at the same time and that consequent upon his acting in both capacities, the nomination sponsorship letter signed for the APC, notifying INEC of the candidacy of Rotimi Akeredolu and Lucky Aiydatiwa as governorship and deputy governor candidates was void. (Emphasis mine).
It must be stated at this juncture that the contention of Jegede and the PDP was the nomination letter of APC nominating Akeredolu as its candidate.
In the lead Judgement and most surprisingly, My Lord Honorable Justice Emmanuel Agim led Honorable Justices Garba, Okoro, and one other to affirm the position of the lower court that the failure to join Buni as a party rendered the determination of the matter impossible as to proceed to do so would have violated the fair trial of the case. The Petition was on this ground held to be incompetent.
Interestingly, My Lord Agim stated;
“The appeal was based on the grounds that Mai Bala Buni, the Chairman of the national caretaker committee of the party, that is, the second respondent (APC) was holding office as the Governor of Yobe State, contrary to the provision of Section 183 of the Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria (1999).”
My Lord Agim also stated that;
“All issues raised, revolved around Mala Buni. But, Mala Buni, who is at the centre of the dispute was not made a party to the petition. It is obvious that the determination of the said issues will affect him”.
My Lord continued that,
“There is no dispute that the third and fourth respondents (Akeredolu and Aiyedatiwa) were nominated by the second respondent (APC) as its candidates for the election; that the second respondent submitted their names to the first respondent (INEC) as its candidates, in accordance with Section 31 (1) of the Electoral Act…. They were therefore sponsored by the second in accordance with Section 177(C) of the Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria (1999). It is not in dispute that Mai Mala Buni is acting as the National Chairman of the Second Respondent … The Second respondent allowed him (Buni) to be its chairman in the interim in spite of Article 17 of its constitution. The vires of this decision of the Party is non-justiciable…” (Emphasis mine).
With respect, My Lords missed the meat of the argument canvassed by the Appellants. The contention of the Appellants was that Buni, not being a valid chairman on the strength of Article 17 of the APC constitution could not have properly acted on behalf of the APC. It follows that the APC did not nominate/sponsor candidates for the October 2020 elections.
If the thinking is that Buni’s office was threatened, it remains an intra-party issue. What ought to have been canvassed at this level by the Second respondents is that Buni acted properly as their chairman and he was at every material time to the nomination/sponsorship, a valid chairman – proving same and nullifying the claims of the Appellants.
Having not done that, what remained was for the court to have resolved the following;
- Was Buni a competent Chairman by virtue of Article 17 of the APC Constitution?
- Could he have signed a document validly to transmit the name of a candidate on behalf of the APC?
- Did Buni Sponsor candidates for the election in Ondo or the APC did?
It is submitted that if my Lords in the lead Judgement averted their minds to these pertinent questions, the position would have most certainly been different.
It is obviously in this thinking that My Lord Mary Peter-Odili led My Lord Ejembi Eko and one other to uphold the appeal and dismiss the cross-appeals by INEC and the APC.
My Lord Odili stated and rightly so that Buni acted on behalf of the APC and not himself. Having joined the APC, all proper parties were before the court. My Lord submitted and rightly so that having allowed Buni to act and nominate candidates on its behalf despite the provisions of Section 183 of the 1999 Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria and Article 17(4) of the Constitution of the APC, the APC made its bed of nails and should be allowed a peaceful repose in it.
My Lord Mary Odili stated eruditely that Article 17 of the APC Constitution draws breath from Section 183 of the Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria and if a person not qualified by Law to author a document does so, that document without much ado or literature, and with the greatest respects, is a worthless piece of paper.
It was my Lord’s position that;
“This Article draws strength from Section 183 of the 1999 Constitution. Therefore, when the Second respondent, (APC) put up a person not qualified to author its nomination by virtue of the Provisions of Article 1z (4) of its Constitution and Section 183 of the 1999 Constitution to do so. Therefore, that document has no validity and thereby void…” (Emphasis Mine).
It is important to appreciate the industry of My Lord Peter-Odili and her ability to appreciate these facts.
What was before the court and the diaphanous point missed by My Lords in the lead judgment is the plain fact that the document transmitting Akeredolu to INEC was incompetent. It follows that Akeredolu was not properly sent to INEC as a candidate in the October 10, 2020 elections; Simpliciter!
My Lord Peter-Odili in distilling that put the matter to rest and rightly upheld the appeal of the Appellant. Though in the minority, the industry in that position and her appreciation of the issue will forever be a bright light in facts appreciation in our jurisprudence – to reduce an otherwise confusing issue to such easy understanding is an act of all “doings”, most pulchritudinous.
It must be said that what has remained consistent in both the lead and dissenting Judgements is that Buni was acting for the APC and that the material act was done vires; It remains ever so strange that despite noting this, the Lead Judgement was able to close its eyes to it and retain Akeredolu. The Lead judgment by that act violated the long-standing dictum granted to our jurisprudence in UAC v McFoy; “You cannot build something on nothing and expect it to stand”.
The winds may have blown in Governor Rotimi Akeredolu’s favor but a thousand years from today when men pick up our judicial authorities to review, I am positive that the screams in their hearts would remain as mine now; AKEREDOLU SHOULD NOT BE GOVERNOR considering these facts.
That said, I congratulate Governor Akeredolu on his victory at the supreme court. Fair be his tide.