The Lagos State Election Petition Tribunal preferred technicality over evidence of electoral irregularities in declaring the Action Congress of Nigeria winner of the October 2011 local government election in Ikoyi-Obalende local council development area of Lagos State.
The tribunal, on Thursday, declared ACN’s Adewale Adeniji the winner of the Ikoyi-Obalende local council development area election.
The judgment of the appellate court effectively nullifies the earlier ruling by the state’s Election Petition Tribunal declaring Ibrahim Babajide Obanikoro of the Peoples Democratic Party the winner of the October 2011 election.
Samuel Candide-Johnson, who read the judgment, also directed the Lagos State Independent Electoral Commission to issue a Certificate of Return to Mr. Adeniji.
‘An unpardonable blunder’
Delivering the one hour five minute long ruling, Mr. Candide-Johnson said the decision of the PDP’s lawyers to withdraw a motion seeking enlargement of time is “an unpardonable blunder”.
Section 14 of the Lagos State Local Government Election Tribunal Law stipulates that election petitions must be heard 30 days from the day of filing.
However, a party can apply for an extension of time although it will be subject to the judge’s discretion.
In the wake of the ruling of the Election Petition Tribunal last year announcing Mr. Obanikoro as the winner of the election; the LASIEC had filed a notice of preliminary objection against the ruling.
The PDP’s lawyers proceeded to contest the notice of preliminary objection, abandoning their motion for an order of enlargement of time, according to Mr. Candide-Johnson.
“This legal strategy of abandoning legal instrument…is an unpardonable blunder by his lawyers,” Mr. Candide-Johnson said.
Opeyemi Oke, who headed the five man panel, described the PDP’s tactic as “a grave error.”
“A court cannot adjourn hearing on its own without any application for enlargement of time,” said Mrs. Oke.
The PDP had filed a petition, on November 14, challenging the outcome of the local government election.
On December 28, 14 days after the expiration of the 30-day stipulated time frame by law, the PDP filed a motion for extension of time.
However, after the court’s ruling on the LASIEC’s notice of preliminary objection, the PDP’s counsels, led by Bolaji Ayorinde, a Senior Advocate of Nigeria, withdrew their motion seeking an order of enlargement of time.
Despite withdrawing their motion, the tribunal ignored the technicality of time frame and considered evidence of manipulation of results to declare the PDP the rightful winner of the election.
The appeal tribunal would have none of that. As far as it is concerned, the 30-day technicality is sacrosanct.
Mrs. Oke called the withdrawal of the motion seeking extension of time a “fatal somersault.”
“If counsel had applied to the lower tribunal to hear it and it declined, that would have amounted to denial of fair hearing,” Mrs. Oke said.
“The error, therefore, robs him of the basis to complain,” she added.
Mr. Obanikoro, dressed in a white kaftan with a PDP inscribed muffler draped across his neck, put his hand on his jaw as the judges took turn to berate his party’s lawyers.
His opponent, Mr. Adeniji, was not in court.
Mr. Candide-Johnson faulted the PDP’s lawyers for their failure to accord first priority to the hearing on December 28th “to save Mr. Obanikoro’s election petition.”
“The law is harsh but, nonetheless, the law,” he said.
In addition to being the home of Bola Tinubu, the ACN’s national leader, the Ikoyi-Obalende local council also houses PDP stalwarts like ex-convict, Bode George; Femi Pedro, former governorship aspirant; and Tunji Shelle, state party chairman.
Hours before the 10:00 a.m. scheduled time for Thursday’s judgment, dozens of supporters from both parties crowded outside the courtroom.
When Mr. Bakare, the court registrar, directed that only 20 supporters each from both parties be allowed in, the violent pushing and shoving that ensued unhinged the courtroom’s door.
As news of the judgment filtered out of the court room hours later, scores of ACN supporters outside cheered and danced.
Mr. Obanikoro, son of Nigeria’s former High Commissioner to Ghana and a former PDP governorship candidate in the state, Musiliu Obanikoro; told journalists, after the ruling, that he felt aggrieved.
“I’ve just been robbed of my mandate,” he said. “They have dashed the hopes of so many residents of Ikoyi-Obalende because when they voted, they voted for change.”
The appeal tribunal’s ruling is the last point for seeking redress on local government elections and the case cannot therefore be further appealed.