PLATEAU LAWMAKERS: BETWEEN ELECTORAL ACT AND 1999 CONSTITUTION
The last has not been heard of the electoral tribunal system that at the Appeal Court sacked all elected officers in Plateau State yet availed a leeway for only Governor Caleb Mutfwang to be reinstated at the Supreme Court. Feeling defrauded, concerned lawmakers are poised to test some provisions of the Electoral Act against the grundnorm of the 1999 Constitution – in a move that may be defining for the electoral system, JOHN AKUBO reports.
Despite the disagreement of senior lawyers on the fate of Plateau State lawmakers, wrongly sacked by the Court of Appeal, the last has not been heard about the discrepancies in the interpretation of the law by the court.
For the affected Senators, who vowed to take all legal means to secure justice, the issue now is to test the provision in the Electoral Act 2022, which terminated disputes arising from the elections into the National Assembly at the Appeal Court, contrary to the 1999 Constitution that ends all disputes at the Supreme Court.
The sacked Senators, Napoleon Bali, who represented Plateau South in the Senate and Simon Mwadkwon, who represented Plateau North Senatorial district, believed that they and other affected state Assembly lawmakers were unjustly treated by the Appeal Court to satisfy political interest of some powerful politicians in the state, stating that they have been vindicated by the Supreme Court decision that affirmed the election of the state governor, Caleb Mutfwang.
The lawmakers and the governor were produced by the same primaries conducted by the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) in Plateau State, the same day under the same guideline.
While the Appeal Court nullified the elections of the lawmakers and the governor based on the primaries of the party described as “illegal”, the Supreme Court disagreed with the decision of the lower court and reversed the decision of the Appeal Court.
The Supreme Court’s five-member panel led by Justice Emmanuel Agim reversed the decision of the appellate court for being perverse because the issue of the primary election that produced Mutfwang was outside the jurisdiction of the lower court.
The apex court pointed out that the validity of nomination and sponsorship is not a valid ground to void an election.
Justice Agim further stated that the issue of primary is an internal matter of political parties, which both the Tribunal and Court of Appeal lacked jurisdiction.
Agim also pointed out that contrary to the claim of the petitioners and the judgment of the appellate court the order of the Plateau High Court was not disobeyed by the PDP as evidence showed that a fresh primary was conducted. He warned the legal profession to wake up or else it would render itself irrelevant to the society.
Justice John Okoro also lamented that a lot of people have suffered because of the wrongful judgments of the appellate court that had sacked several legislators who won elections under the platform of the PDP.
But the affected lawmakers will not continue to lament over the injustice as they have determined to seek redress against all odds.
They expressed happiness that the Supreme Court has brought some relief based on which they have resolved to put the constitution to the test since the apex court has ruled that the Court of Appeal had no jurisdiction to even entertain the matter ab initio.
In a telephone conversation with The Guardian, Senator Napoleon Bali said: “We are going to test the constitution because basically, our fundamental human rights have already been violated by the Appeal Court. If you look at it, the Electoral Act says the election issue should end at the Appeal Court for the National Assembly not the 1999 Constitution. So, what we intend to do is to test the Electoral Act versus the Constitution.
“The Justices of the Supreme Court clearly stated first of all, that no court or tribunal has the jurisdiction to even entertain our issue in Plateau State. The High Court in Jos and even the Appeal Court have no jurisdiction to entertain the issues. But for me again and annoyingly, I will mention with due respect that Justice Abang in his own judgement on me, said that I, Napoleon Bali participated in the 2023 election as an independent candidate.
“So, based on that he quoted the Constitution to say that it did not recognise independent candidates that is why he said my election was nullified. One, he is the only Justice that stated that and I am feeling very pained and angry. You know even if you want to beat anybody, you should not beat him on the eye, beat the person on the buttocks.
“Justice Abang used his pen, even though he knows it was the PDP that forwarded my name to INEC, yet he saw this thing, because he is a Judge, he has forgotten that I have served this country for 35 years, I retired as an Air Vice Marshal and as the number two man in the Air Force. I have participated in a lot of operations to keep Nigeria secure. I left the comfort of being a retired general to continue to serve.
“I did not go into politics to make money because I have served and I think I was able to save some money while I was still serving, my children are already out of the university.
“We are going to pursue this issue; we are not going to allow it to die like that. Our lawyers are already talking, I am not a lawyer, but we will find a way. It is true that the Electoral Act has barred us, but the 1999 Constitution, which is the ultimate, has not.
“With the bold comments of the Justices of the Supreme Court on our matter that we are suffering injustice, may the Almighty God bless all of them and the Chief Justice of Nigeria. I am very elated and specially thanking President Bola Tinubu for not interfering and for creating an enabling environment for the Justices to do their work without fear or favour.
“I am telling you that a lot of people have died in Plateau State as a result of this unjustified judgement like Justice Okoro said, what are we going to do about the people that died?
“Let Lalong go to the Southern Plateau and walk the street like me without security. My summary is that we are law abiding citizens, we took the decision of the Appeal Court painfully. Now that the Supreme Court has declared that they were wrong, they don’t even have jurisdiction to even entertain that case. We are now looking for a legal way to go back to the Supreme Court to tell us what our fate is.
“Maybe they would say too bad, wait for another year. One Barrister Oworikoko said on Arise TV that it has happened in the past. He said the Supreme Court had at a time returned some elected legislators under similar situations. That is what we are going to explore,” he said.
For Senator Simon Mwadkwon who was the minority leader before the Appeal Court judgement sent him packing, he said: “As for me, the Appeal Court judgement said I am to go for a rerun, which is different from that of my colleague that was sacked outrightly.
“That is to tell you the level of confusion in the Appeal Court because for me and my colleagues in the National Assembly that were sacked it was the same grounds of appeal, the same court, but you cannot explain why somebody will be detailed for a rerun and the other outright sack.
“Be that as it may, we noticed the confusion in the Court of Appeal and that is to tell you that their judgements were not based on law but on other sentiments, which they know better. As far as we are concerned the Apex court has ruled and reinstated the governor and we must also benefit from the judgement because it was same grounds of appeal as the National Assembly. If the Judiciary should be fair to us we should also benefit because we were sacked unjustly, so we are not going to stay behind and watch.
“We will meet our lawyers; we will discuss with them so that this injustice would be turned to justice for all of us. We are going to rely on what our laws will tell us and what would be the grounds of the law in the face of this judgement from the apex court. We strongly believe that we should be allowed to go back and complete our tenure in the National Assembly without further delay because we won our election, the Supreme Court has said it.
“The Supreme Court even said that the issue should not have been brought before the court because they lack the jurisdiction. They were all pre-election matters and that we did not disobey any court order. So, the law was wrongly applied to us.”
However, Coalition of United Political Parties (CUPP) has called for the amendment of sections 233(1)(E), 246(1)(3) of the Constitution as amended, adding that all election cases should now end at the Supreme Court
In a statement by its national secretary Peter Ameh, titled Court of Appeal miscarriage of justice and the urgent need to amend Sections 233(1)(E), 246(1)(3) of the Constitution, the coalition called on the National Assembly to commence without delay the amendment of Sections 233. (1)(e) and 246(1)(3) of the 1999 Constitution as amended to extend appellate jurisdiction for State and National Assembly election disputes to the Supreme Court.
This he said is to avert a repeat of the disaster of injustices meted on the validly elected National and State Assembly Members of PDP and Labour Party extraction from Plateau, Enugu, Abia, and other states.“This call has become necessary due to the irreparable damage caused to the elected members who have been unjustly removed from their legitimate seats by the Court of Appeal despite the plethora of earlier decided and settled cases by the Supreme Court, which by the doctrine of stare decisis binds the Court of Appeal.”