•Lambasts Osun C J
IT was a song of joy and praises to God by members of opposition political parties in Osun State at the Court of Appeal, sitting in Ibadan, Oyo State on Thursday, as the appellate court sacked all the 30 Local Government Chairmen and their councillors in all the council areas of the state.
The appellate court described the decision of the State Independent Electoral Commission (OSSIEC) led by the Retired Justice Adedotun Sijuwade then as illegal, having failed to comply with the Electoral Act, which stipulates 150 days notice to all the political parties and candidates in the election, as against the not less than 21 days notice as provided for in the Osun State Electoral Law before conducting the elections.
The legal tussle started before the Chief Judge of Osun State, Justice Fasasi Ogunsola, when the state chapter of the Action Congress (AC), National Conscience Party (NCP) and All Nigerian Peoples Party (ANPP) filed a suit before the court, challenging the constitutionality of local council elections, which was held on December 15, 2007.
The bone of contention in the matter before the trial court was to the effect that the political parties and their candidates were not given 150 days notice before the election as required by the Electoral Act, rather, the state electoral body gave a notice of 120 days to the parties.
The matter was argued before the state CJ, and in his ruling on the eve of the said controversial local councils elections, Fasasi ordered that the state electoral body should go-ahead to conduct the polls.
In his ruling then, the CJ conceded that the Federation Law (Electoral Act) stipulates 150 days notice, while the state law stipulates not less than 21 day notice, but argued that there was no inconsistency between the said federal and state laws.
Subsequent to the ruling of the CJ, the opposition political parties ordered their members to boycott the polls; and subsequently filed an appeal against the decision of the Number One Judge of the state.
The appeal was argued by Chief Femi Falana for the appellants and Mr Aderemi Abimbola for the respondents before Justice Thomas Istifanus, who led Justice Modupe Fasanmi and Justice Chidi Uwa to hear the appeal.
In his argument, Falana argued that the State House of Assembly is empowered to make law concerning Local Government Elections, but according to him, should not be inconsistent with the provision of Section 31 of the Electoral Act, which is the federation law.
However, the respondent counsel, Abimbola, in his reply to the argument, claimed that though the Electoral Act requires 150 days notice before the election, Section 10 of the state law says that not less than 21 day notice should be given, which he said the OSSIEC had complied with.
In her ruling, Justice Uwa, who read the judgment, agreed with the appellants that 150 day notice is stipulated by the federation law, as against the state law, which requires 120 days notice, saying that there is inconsistency in the Osun State and the Federal Law.
According to her, the required 150 days notice should not only be given to political parties and their candidates, it should be pasted at all the constituencies, where the election would be held.
She ruled that it is the National Assembly that is empowered to make laws as to the regulations of voters’ register and the procedure to be followed in conducting the elections.
The court ruled: “The learned trial judge conceded that the National Assembly is empowered to make law as to the procedure of the local government elections, but surprisingly, the judge made a turn-around by holding that the 120 day is not inconsistent to the federal law, which requires 150 days notice. “On the above analysis, it is clear that there is a contradiction in findings of the trial court and to this, the question is, is that 21 days notice given, the substantial compliance? The answer is no.” “The fact that the appellants had well-prepared for the elections, does not mean that they were properly notified.
“OSSIEC in a press release attached to the counter affidavit dated September 19, 2007 claimed to have after the meeting of the commission, taken a decision on how to conduct the elections, informed parties that the elections would be held on December 15, 2007, while the list of political parties and candidates, issued by OSSIEC and attached to the counter affidavit was dated November 30, 2007.
“If we look at September 19, 2007 and November 30, 2007, none of the dates is up to the 150 days as required by the law.
“The respondents claimed that it had given notice to the parties as far back as May 2007, but there are no documentary proofs for the claim.” “As such, the Osun State law, as to this procedure, is illegal, unconstitutional and void and it is defeated. If anything should come in, it should be 150 days notice.”
“Let us all answer this question, is it possible to give notice on the election in May 2007, when the meeting on how to hold the election was held in September 19, 2007 as stated by press release?
According to the judge, the contradictory dates given by the respondents were enough for the trial judge to doubt the claim of the respondents. The presiding judge said that she doubted where the CJ discovered the evidence that notice was given to the parties in May 2007, saying that all the decisions of the trial court in the matter were perverse and it should not be taken seriously.
The learned trial judge, according to her, was in error, when he held that “what it requires is just a notice and not the length of the notice”. The court then declared the election conducted by the OSSIEC in December 15, 2007 into all the Local Government Councils in the state, null and void and set aside the election.
It then ordered the commission to conduct fresh elections in all the council areas of the state, by complying with the required 150 days notice to all parties before the election.
Reacting to the judgment, one of the appellant counsel, Mr. Gbenga Akano said that the judgment has rekindled the hope of the common man in the state, that judiciary is their last hope. “We have said it many times that the government of Osun State is illegal and part of it has been dismantled now and soon, more of such would be dismantled.
“They have a stolen mandate, they are interlopers and we are loved by the people of the state. We are ready for the fresh election. Let them comply with the law and go to field with us and see whether they would not be defeated gallantly”, Akano confidently stated.
One of the party leaders in the state, Honourable Oguntola Toogun also said that the judgment was a victory for democracy and rule of law, saying that everybody in the state and beyond knew that the election was illegal.
While lauding judiciary for the decision, Toogun advised the state government to take the law, which is inconsistent with the federal law to the House Assembly and make necessary amendments in accordance with the recently-delivered judgment.
By KAZEEM MOHAMMED