By Ismaeel Uthman
THE administration of Governor Gboyega Oyetola of the State of Osun is a year old.
Oyetola who emerged winner after the September 22 and 27 governorship and rerun elections was sworn-in as Governor by the Chief Judge, Justice Adepele Ojo, on November 27, 2018 at the Osogbo City Stadium, Osogbo, the state capital.
In history, Oyetola is the first governor to take-over from a predecessor of the same political party, and the fifth civilian governor of the state.
Oyetola, who was the Chief of Staff to the immediate past governor, Ogbeni Rauf Aregbesola, contested the elections under the umbrella of the All Progressives Congress (APC), having emerged the flag bearer of the party through a direct primary election held on July 19, 2018 where defeated other aspirants.
It would be recalled that the September 22 gubernatorial election was declared inconclusive by the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) and a rerun election was ordered to take place on September 27, in seven polling units where elections were cancelled.
INEC’s Returning Officer for the poll, Prof Joseph AdeolaFuwape, said the first ballot was declared inconclusive because the winning margin credited to the candidate of the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP), Senator Ademola Adeleke was less than that of the total number of cancelled votes in the seven polling units where election results were cancelled.
Adeleke had 254,698 votes while Oyetola had 254,345 votes in the September 22 governorship election. In the first ballot, the PDP candidate led Oyetola with 353 votes, while the total number of cancelled votes was 2,637.
However, in the rerun, Oyetola polled 1,160 votes to Adeleke’s325 votes.
The rerun was held in one polling unit in Oyere, Ife-North Local Government, a polling unit in Olode and another one in Osi in Ife-South Local Government, three poling units in Kajola, Orolu Local Government and a polling unit at Alekuwodo, Osogbo in Osogbo Local Government.
In all, Oyetola polled the highest votes and eventually emerged the winner of the governorship election with 255,505 votes to defeat Adeleke, whose total votes was 255,023.
While the APC declared the outcome of the election as a triumph of democracy, the PDP rejected it and went to challenge Oyetola’s victory at the election petition tribunal.
The PDP accused APC and INEC of robbing the party and its candidate of their electoral victory, stating that Adeleke had won the governorship contest on September 22, and that there was no need for the rerun election.
Earlier, a 3-member election petition tribunal, headed by Justice T. A. Ogoche, was set up to entertain electoral disputes that arose from the gubernatorial election. The panel began its sitting on Thursday, October 3, 2018.
Few weeks after the sitting of the tribunal, there was allegation from the PDP that the panel had been disbanded, a development that created confusion among followers of political events.
One of the counsels to Adeleke, Mr Niyi Owolade, raised the alarm amidst protest from members of the PDP at the State High Court, venue of the tribunal then on October 18, 2018.
But the Headquarters of the Appeal Court, which constituted the election petition tribunal, dismissed the allegation, stating that it did not disband the panel, but re-organised members of the panel.
According to the Head of Media and Publicity of the Court of Appeal, Hajia Sa’adatu Musa Kachalla, what the President of the Court of Appeal, Justice Zainab Bulkachuwa, did was to rotate members of the panel sitting on the governorship election petition tribunal in the state.
However, the tribunal later relocated to Abuja without any given reason. The notice of the relocation was signed by the Secretary to the tribunal, Adamu Aliyu and dated November 9, 2018.
The notice reads: “This is to inform the general public that the sitting of the Osun State Governorship Election Petitions Tribunal has been relocated from High Court of Justice Complex, Osogbo to FCT High Court No 24, Apo Abuja.”
After weeks of legal fireworks by counsels to the APC, Oyetola, PDP, Adeleke and INEC, the tribunal delivered a split judgment on Friday, March 22, 2019.
The leading judgment of the tribunal delivered by Justices Peter Chudi Obiorah and supported Adegboye AyinlaGbolagunte, declared the PDP candidate, Adeleke, as the winner of the September 22 governorship election of the state and ordered INEC to withdraw the certificate of return issued to Oyetola.
The majority judgment of the panel invalidated the rerun election of September 27, 2018 which returned Oyetola as winner.
But the Chairman of the panel, Justice Muhammed Ibrahim Sirajo, dismissed the PDP and Adeleke’s petition on the ground that they failed to prove their allegation that there was non-compliance with the Electoral Act in the election.
Justice Sirajo held that in a situation where it is established that there is non-compliance with the Electoral Act, the tribunal does not have the powers to subtract the votes of the non compliance and declare a candidate winner.
Justice Sirajo noted that under Section 140(3) of the Electoral Act, where substantial non-compliance is proved, the tribunal can only order a supplementary or fresh election.
The tribunal verdict created tension and confusion in the state as members of the APC and PDP were exchanging words on who was the actual governor of Osun after the judgment.
Though, the tribunal verdict took the APC members by surprise and shocked them to bone marrow, they were hopeful of seeking redress at the Court of Appeal and confident that they would get justice at the court.
Governor Oyetola and the APC rejected the tribunal’s judgment, describing it as a miscarriage of justice.
Secretary to the Government of Osun, Prince Wole Oyebamiji, in a press statement shortly after the verdict, affirmed that Oyetola remained the legitimate governor of the state and disclosed that the tribunal verdict had been put on appeal.
The APC in a statement issued by its Director of Research and Strategy, Mr Kunle Oyatomi, said the tribunal’s verdict could not stand superior legal scrutiny, assuring members of the party and its supporters of victory at the appellate court.
On March 26 and 27, 2019, both Oyetola and APC lodged separate notices of appeal before the Court of Appeal in Abuja, to challenge the majority judgment of the tribunal.
Oyetola’s legal team was led by Chief Wole Olanipekun (SAN) while Akin Olujinmi (SAN) led the APC’s team. The governor’s appeal was filed on 39-ground and the APC had 25 grounds of appeal.
Except where it held that it lacked jurisdiction to set aside the INEC Guidelines used for the election, Oyetola and the APC contested the entire majority judgment, maintaining that the allegation of over voting was not proved and that the petitioners did not prove the claims of the voided votes.
They also queried the validity of the judgment, which was authored and delivered by Justice Peter Obiorah, who did not participate in all the sittings of the tribunal.
The appellants were of the view that the entire majority judgment is a nullity, because it was written and delivered by Justice Obiorah “who did not participate in all the proceedings of the tribunal and was not present when all the witnesses gave evidence.”
The appellants also faulted the tribunal for allegedly amending the petitioners’ claims and proceeding to grant reliefs not sought by them, noting that nowhere in the entire petition did Adelekeand the PDP complain about non-compliance with the provisions of the Electoral Act in relation to the September 22, 2018 election.
Oyetola and APC prayed the Appeal court to uphold their appeals, set aside the majority judgment and dismiss the October 16, 2018 petition by Adeleke and the PDP.
On April 24, the Appeal Court sat and heard Oyetola and APC’s appeal, just as it reserved judgment on the matter accordingly.
On May 9, 2019 the appellate court gave its decisions on the appeals, with four members of the five-man panel, upholding Oyetola and APC’s appeals, and dismissing the cross-appeal by Adeleke and the PDP.
The Court of Appeal’s majority judgment set aside the majority judgment of the election petition tribunal, upheld the result as declared by INEC and affirmed Oyetola as winner of the election.
Justices Jummai Sankey, Abubakar Yahaya, Isaiah Akeju and Bitrus Sanga gave the majority decision, while Justice George Mbaba gave the minority judgment, in which he dismissed the appeals and upheld the cross-appeal.