The Court of Appeal in Sokoto, the Sokoto State capital, on Monday set aside a judgment of a high court, which allowed the All Progressives Congress to field candidates in the 2019 elections in Zamfara State
A Zamfara State High Court had recognised the primaries held by the APC and directed the Independent National Electoral Commission to accept the party’s candidates for the elections.
But the Chairman of the Senate Committee on Petroleum (Downstream), Kabiru Marafa, and 129 others through their counsel, Mike Ozhekome( SAN), appealed the judgement.
Respondents are Kabiru Liman-Danalhaji and 139 others represented by Mr Mahmud Magaji as the lead counsel.
Marafa and others had approached the appellant court and argued that the state high court lacked the jurisdiction to entertain the suit and that its judgement should be declared null and void.
Reacting to the Court of Appeal’s verdict, the Peoples Democratic Party and a former governor of Ekiti State, Ayodele Fayose, hailed the judgment, saying the APC participated illegally in the Zamfara State polls.
But the APC on its part said that it would appeal the judgment at the Supreme Court.
The Court of Appeal, through the presiding judge, Justice Shaibu Yakubu, had earlier on Monday said the Zamfara State High Court failed to evaluate wholly all evidence presented before it before giving its verdict on the APC primaries in the state.
Justice Yakubu, who delivered the unanimous judgment, said all evidence placed before the court had shown that the respondents (APC and others) did not conduct primary elections which accordingly, contravened the electoral law.
The judge also held that the party had made two unsuccessful attempts to conduct primaries in the state and list of candidates was not duly submitted to INEC by the national headquarters of the party.
He stated, “We have looked at the exhibits 4, 7 and 8 which are very clear that primary election was not conducted. Evidence shows that the state governor only appointed a special committee that later came up with candidates’ names in place of primary elections. So far, all evidence constituted that primary election was not conducted which contravened the electoral law.”
The judge also faulted the lower court for relying heavily on oral evidence in taking its decision, saying “oral evidence cannot be used to discredit any written evidence. A procedure must be followed whether there is an order or not.
“This court hereby set aside the judgment of the trial court. This must be a hard and bitter lesson for all political parties who will not follow the guidelines lay before them,” part of the judgment read.
On lack of jurisdiction to entertain the suit as argued by the appellants, the Appeal Court submitted that the lower court had power to determine such a case in accordance with the law, and therefore ruled in respondents’ favour.
However, counsel for the 1st and 38th respondents, Isa Abubakar, in his reaction to the judgment said his clients would appeal it.
We have not seen judgment – INEC
Asked what it would do with the new development, INEC National Commissioner and chairman of its Information and Education Committee, Festus Okoye, in an interview with The PUNCH, said the commission would not do anything until the judgment was given to the electoral body.
He said, “We have not yet seen the judgment delivered by the Court of Appeal, Sokoto Judicial Division. When the commission receives a copy of the judgment, INEC will study the judgment and be sure that it emanated from a properly constituted court of law. We will study it and look at the prescribed order given by the court and see if the court made any consequential order.
“The commission will then take a position in relation to what should be done. But you have to also bear in mind that elections have been conducted, declarations and returns have been made in relation to all the elective offices in Zamfara State.
“For members of the Senate and House of Representatives, the commission has issued Certificates of Return to them. The only Certificates of Return that have yet to be issued relate to the governor and the deputy governor as well as members of the state House of Assembly.”
APC participated illegally in Zamfara gov poll – PDP
But the PDP said that the APC participated illegally in the Zamfara State governorship election.
It said this was evident in the ruling of the Court of Appeal that nullified the primary that produced the governorship candidate of the APC who participated in the election.
The National Chairman of the PDP, Prince Uche Secondus, who spoke with our correspondent on Monday, applauded the court for the judgment, saying that the “night ruling that INEC relied on to allow the APC participate in the election was suspicious.”
Secondus, who said the PDP knew that the APC was smuggled into the ballot, wondered how INEC was able to print fresh ballot papers and distribute them overnight during the March 9 governorship election in the state.
He said, “The Court of Appeal judgment has vindicated us. The judiciary is alive and we are happy for that. Though the judges are facing a lot of challenges from the intimidating government, we are however happy that the judges are strong and telling the truth to power.”
PDP shouldn’t rejoice now, we’re going to S’Court – APC
However, the APC asked the PDP not to celebrate yet, saying the matter would be determined by the Supreme Court.
The spokesperson for the APC Presidential Campaign Council, Mr Festus Keyamo (SAN), in an interview with The PUNCH said, “The Court of Appeal is not going to be the final bus stop for the case. It is going to the Supreme Court and until the highest court in the land speaks or makes pronouncements on it, the matter is still open.
“The APC will exercise the right of appeal. So, nobody should celebrate yet.”
Court didn’t nullify APC primaries, says Yari
However, Governor Abdulaziz Yari said the Court of Appeal did not nullify the APC primaries in the northern state.
Yari in a press statement signed by his Special Adviser on Publicity and Enlightenment, Media and Communication, Mallam Ibrahim Dosara, said, “What the Court of Appeal Sokoto Division did was setting aside the judgment by the Zamfara State High Court on the grounds of examinations of proofs of evidence.”
“This has nothing to do with our elections. The court has not in any way tampered with our elections, as only a tribunal has the right to listen to issues arising from election matters. Again, the Court of Appeal Sokoto Division has not in any way tampered with the processes of the primary elections.
“It only faulted the examination of the proofs of evidence. Furthermore, the processes of filing the appeal were done after the expiration of period within which to do so,” the statement added.
Fayose hails verdict, urges INEC to return PDP candidates as winners
But a former governor of Ekiti State, Mr Ayodele Fayose, hailed the Appeal Court judgment.
The former governor, in a statement by his media aide, Lere Olayinka, in Ado Ekiti on Monday, congratulated the PDP candidates in Zamfara State, especially the governorship candidate, Alhaji Bello Matawalle.
Fayose said, “Those who believe that they can impose their wish on the people of Zamfara State will be defeated ultimately. This is a great victory for democracy. It is a sign that all hope is not lost. Those who cannot play by their own rules and run the affairs of their own party in accordance with established rules should not be rewarded with elective positions.
“INEC must therefore act decisively by halting the presentation of certificate of return to the APC governorship candidate, withdraw same from the National Assembly candidates and hand the certificates to the PDP candidates who are the lawful winners of the elections.”
Marafa, who was a governorship aspirant in the state, commended the judgment, saying it had rekindled the fact “the judiciary is the last hope of the common man.”