•Tribunal Indicts INEC
The Action Congress (AC) lawmaker representing Ejigbo Constituency of Osun State House of
Assembly, Honourable Najeem Salam was on Monday confirmed again as the validly elected legislator for the constituency by the Justice Suleimon Ambursa-led Election Petitions Tribunal.
The tribunal also bashed the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) for conniving with the Progressive People Alliance (PPA) candidate, Grace Oyegbile, who was the petitioner in the matter to jeopardize Nigerian Democracy.
It would be recalled that the Justice Hamma Barka-led panel, which sat in the state had earlier dismissed the petition filed by the PPA candidate against the lawmaker on the ground that the petitioner lacks locus standi to contest the election.
Dissatisfied with the decision of the Barka-led panel, the petitioner approached the Court of Appeal sitting in Ibadan to set aside the ruling of the lower tribunal and order the re-trial of the petition.
After a serious legal firework at the appellate court, the panel granted the prayer of the petitioner and remitted the petition back for re-trial before Ambursa-led panel, sitting in Osogbo, the state capital.
In the petition, the PPA candidate claimed that she was validly nominated by her party and cleared by INEC, but she was wrongfully excluded from the election” as the name and logo of her party were not on the ballot papers.
She claimed that the wrongful exclusion denied her the victory in the election, as her supporters could not vote for her at the election.
She then prayed the panel to nullify the election and order bye-election in the constituency.
Joined in the petition as respondents were the INEC, Resident Electoral Commissioner (REC) in the state; Electoral Officer, Ejigbo; Najeem; AC; the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) and its candidate, George Jolaoye; and the National Democratic Party (NDP) and its candidate, Saka Salam.
The INEC in its reply to the petition admitted that the petitioner was wrongfully excluded from the election, a situation that suggested that the Commission had connived with the petitioner to ensure the nullification of the election.
The AC and its candidate, Najeem objected to the petition, claiming that the petitioner was neither validly nominated nor cleared by the INEC to contest the polls.
They also raised the issue of age of the petitioner, claiming that there were discrepancies in the age of the petitioner in her purported nomination form and the age given in her written deposition before the court.
The 4th and 5th respondents also claimed that the petitioner did not complete her nomination form, in compliance with the Electoral Act 2006 which automatically made her to be excluded from the poll.
They however prayed the panel to dismissed the petition.
The PDP and its candidate did not also object to the petition, rather, they prayed the court to allow the petition and order a bye-election in the constituency, while the DPA and its candidate did not file any reply to the petition.
Delivering judgement, Justice Ambursa-led panel raised only one issue for determination, which bothered on whether or not the petitioner was validly nominated for the election by the provision of electoral act, 2006.
The panel sidelined the issue of age of the petitioner raised by the 4th and 5th respondents, saying that it lacks jurisdiction on the issue of age.
It ruled that the aggrieved party ought to have filed a suit before an High Court against the person, whose age was in doubt. Subsequently, it resolved the issue in favour of the petitioner.
On the nomination of the petitioner, the tribunal held that the PPA candidate was not validly nominated for the election, saying that the exclusion of the petitioner from the election was in order.
According to the judgment, the purported nomination form of the petitioner, was dated February 2, 2007, saying the days between the submission of her nomination form and the election day was below the mandatory 120 days required by law.
The panel further held that in the face of the nomination form of the petitioner which was admitted as exhibit by the panel, there was no date of certification, while the name and signature of the officer that made the certification on behalf of INEC was not on the purported form.
The tribunal also stated that no affidavit was attached to the purported nomination form of the petitioner which it said had rendered the form useless.
Unanimously, the panel said since the petitioner had failed to prove her valid nomination, there was no need to look into her claim on wrongful exclusion from the election, as the said exclusion was in order.
Beside, while delivering the judgement, the tribunal observed that the INEC was taking side in the matter for freely admitting that the petitioner was wrongfully excluded from the election.
The panel claimed the commission ordinarily ought to have objected to the claim of the petitioner, rather than what it called a suspicious admission.
It however recommended that the electoral body should be sanctioned because it demonstrated that it was in favour of a party instead of being neutral.
The panel said the countenance of the INEC in the matter was enough to thwart the Nigerian democracy.
It therefore dismissed the petition filed against the lawmaker.
Speaking after judgment, an AC chieftain in the state, Honourbale Oguntola Toogun lauded the judgment of the tribunal, saying that the panel actually displayed neutrality in the matter.
He said: “This judgment has shown another end of agent of devil in Nigeria. It shows that there are still some judges, who are up to the task and ready to sustain our democracy.”