It was jubilation galore wednesday in Akure, the Ondo State capital, after the Court of Appeal reinstated Mr. Eyitayo Jegede (SAN) as the rightful candidate of the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) to contest Saturday’s governorship election in the state.
Following the ruling, the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) last night complied with the order of the court by reinstating Jegede as the candidate of the PDP.
However, the factional candidate of the PDP, Mr. Jimoh Ibrahim, faulted the Appeal Court’s ruling for failing to give a consequential order. He said it was not binding on him and would await the judgment of the Supreme Court on the matter today.
However, Akure residents who had gathered yesterday morning at the Eyitayo Jegede campaign office at Ijapo to await the decision of the Justice Ibrahim Salauwa-led panel, spontaneously burst into jubilation immediately they heard that the Court of Appeal had ruled in Jegede’s favour.
The crowd moved in a motorcade around the state capital singing and dancing to music with the popular jingle used by Jegede for his electioneering, leading to a traffic snarl on two major roads in Akure.
The wife of the governor of the state, Mrs. Olukemi Mimiko, whose motorcade ran into the jubilant crowd at the popular Oja Oba market, could not hide her joy as she and her entourage joined the jubilant crowd to celebrate the Appeal Court’s ruling.
Some market women hurriedly closed their shops and joined the procession while some state civil servants abandoned their jobs to join in the celebration.
On the other hand, the mood at the Jimoh Ibrahim campaign office was sombre, as the place was under lock and key. Also, the flag of the PDP in front of the office had been removed while security operatives at the office had vacated the premises.
Similarly, the office of Biyi Poroye, the factional chairman of the PDP in the state, was deserted.
Earlier yesterday, the Court of Appeal in Abuja had declared Jegede as the rightful candidate of the PDP for the Ondo governorship election billed to hold on Saturday.
In a unanimous judgment, the panel vacated the June 29 judgment of Justice Okon Abang of the Federal High Court, Abuja, which directed INEC to recognise Ibrahim as PDP governorship candidate for the poll.
The battle for the PDP candidacy in Ondo turned out to be a proxy war between the two factions laying claim to the national leadership of the party.
While the Ali Modu Sherrif-led faction continued to claim to be the authentic leadership of the party, the Ahmed Makarfi-led group said it had the mandate to lead the party.
Ibrahim belongs to the Sherrif group, while Jegede who enjoys the backing of the incumbent governor of Ondo State, Dr. Olusegun Mimiko, is loyal to the Makarfi’s faction.
Jegede, who was dissatisfied with the judgment of the Federal High Court, applied for leave of the court to challenge it on appeal because he was not a party in the case at the high court. He had earlier applied to Justice Abang to be made a party but his application was turned down.
However, his appeal to the Court of Appeal was successful, as the appellate court granted him the right to appeal against the high court’s judgment.
His lawyer, Chief Wole Olanipekun (SAN), had argued that his client was denied fair hearing at the lower court, which the Court of Appeal accepted.
While the appeal was being heard, those loyal to Ibrahim sought to frustrate the hearing.
First, they accused the judges on the appeal panel of collecting bribes. The allegation forced them to step down.
When the President of the Court of Appeal, Justice Zainab Bulkachuwa, constituted a new panel, Ibrahim’s team also challenged her powers to set up the new panel.
But when the new panel insisted on going ahead with the appeal, Ibrahim’s team quickly went to the Supreme Court. They filed an application to stay hearing on the appeal and also listed the justices hearing the appeal as respondents.
However, the Supreme Court in a ruling on Tuesday dismissed all the applications and ordered the Court of Appeal to go ahead and determine the appeal.
Delivering judgment yesterday in the appeal filed by Jegede, Justice Ibrahim Saulawa who presided held that Justice Abang’s refusal to allow Jegede to participate in the trial amounted to a breach of fair hearing.
He held that the denial of fair hearing “rendered the entire proceedings before his court a nullity”.
He further held: “Indeed it is obvious from the records that the appellant’s name had been duly published as the governorship candidate of the 11th respondent (PDP) for the November 26 Ondo governorship election.
“The lower court was in grievous error when it ordered the publication of Ibrahim’s name. The decision of the high court was in total breach of the provision of Section 36 of the 1999 Constitution, which forbids any court from denying fair hearing to a party likely to be affected by the final decision of the court.”
Justice Saulawa held that the action of the court violated the legal doctrine of audi altarem partem (hear the other party).
“The tenets of natural justice entails that a party ought to be heard prior to the determination of case against him,” he added.
The appellate court also noted that Justice Abang ordered INEC to “immediately” recognise Ibrahim who was never a party in the suit that culminated in both the June 29 and October 14 judgments.
“The court below had no jurisdictional competence to make such order. I have no restriction in the circumstance in resolving this issue equally in favour of the appellant,” he held.
The Court of Appeal also noted that Justice Abang “unilaterally” raised issues that were not included by the plaintiffs, an action it said amounted to “a violent attitudinal disposition to the rule of law”.
Besides, the Appeal Court held that the primary election that was conducted by the state chapter of the PDP loyal to Sheriff, which produced Ibrahim, was a nullity, stressing that the law was very clear on which organ of a political party should conduct governorship primary elections.
“It is worth reiterating at this point that any primary election by a state chapter of a party, be it the PDP or any other party, is undoubtedly, in the eye of the law, an illegal contraption that carries with it no legal or equitable right at all. It is in its entirety a nullity,” the Appeal Court held.
Prior to the delivery of the judgement, Justice Saulawa had said that the panel was at a time “subjected to intimation and brow-beating by the counsel to the respondents”.
“Most regrettably, the respondents have deemed it expedient to shoot themselves on the foot. Instead of adhering to the wise counsel of the court to file their brief within the time limit, even the extra day that was granted to them, they refused to do so.
“The consequences of the respondents by failing to file their brief by virtue of Order 18 of the Court of Appeal Rules is very obvious and we have made it clear in our judgment,” he said.
Justice Saulawa noted that instead of filing their brief of argument, the respondents insisted that the appellate court had lost its jurisdiction to entertain Jegede’s suit by virtue of the appeal they lodged at the Supreme Court.
He held: “I have most critically appraised the preliminary objection by Nwofor (SAN) and I found that it is most grossly lacking in merit and it is accordingly dismissed.
“Having effectively dealt with the preliminary objection, I now proceed to determine the appeal on its merit.”
INEC Declares Jegede Candidate
In compliance with the ruling of the Court of Appeal, INEC last night declared Jegede the candidate of the PDP in the Ondo governorship election scheduled for Saturday.
A statement by the commission said that Jegede would now fly PDP’s flag in the Ondo election.
“In compliance with the judgment delivered on Wednesday, November 23, 2016 by the Court at Appeal, the Independent National Electoral Commission hereby declares that Mr. Eyitatyo Jegede is now the candidate of the PDP for the Ondo State governorship election scheduled for Saturday, 26th November 2016.
“It will be recalled that in compliance with the order made by the Federal High Court on Friday, 14th October 2016, the commission recognised Mr. Jimoh Ibrahim as the PDP candidate for the governorship election.
“However, with today‘s judgment by the Court of Appeal, the commission hereby recognises Mr. Jegede as the candidate of the PDP for the said election.
“The commission wishes to appeal to the good people of Ondo State to come out and exercise their franchise on the election day in a peaceful manner.
“All the political parties and their candidates participating in the election are also presumed to play by the rules and cooperate with the commission to ensure the smooth conduct at the election,” INEC said.
Ibrahim Faults Ruling
However, Ibrahim faulted the Court of Appeal verdict, saying that the ruling given by Justice Saulawa that nullified the proceedings of October 14 when Justice Abang ruled in his (Ibrahim’s) favour was without a consequential order and therefore not binding on him.
Addressing journalists after the ruling, Ibrahim described the Appeal Court verdict as “one day ruling”, given that the Supreme Court is scheduled to sit on the same case today.
“I have read the decision of the Court of Appeal delivered today (yesterday) without a consequential order,” an unruffled Ibrahim said.
“The ruling failed to specifically say that my name should be substituted by INEC. Since there is no consequential order directing INEC to do so, the judgment is therefore not binding on me and INEC cannot remove my name and as such I remain the PDP candidate for Saturday’s election.
“But we are optimistic that we have nothing to lose, as the Supreme Court sits on same case tomorrow. We shall get the justices at the Supreme Court decide and if PDP wins Saturday’s election, we shall have our four-year mandate to rule Ondo State.
“Let me advise the good people of Ondo State and my supporters nationwide not to abuse anyone or fight over this one day ruling which was paid for from the state’s treasury.
“Mimiko will not succeed himself with Jegede. This is too sure as we continue with our work and remain in our great party, PDP. I love the great people of Ondo State and I thank you all for your continuous support,” Ibrahim added.
Jegede, PDP, Others Hail Judgment
In his reaction to the verdict, Jegede thanked the people of the state for their support and prayers during his travails.
He said: “There is no doubt that the past few weeks have been very challenging and trying for us as we contended with anti-democratic and evil forces who tried to subvert the will of God and the mandate of the people freely given to us.
“It was a tortuous journey that tested our faith in God and our conviction in the refreshingly different days ahead of us as we were taunted and harassed by hired propagandists while we tenaciously forged ahead and submitted our grievances to the court despite the contraband and manipulation of those who are opposed to democracy
“We insisted we would explore all legal means in our avowed belief in the rule of law and judiciary. Today our mouths are filled with laughter and hearts with praise, our resilience has paid off and our conviction to this doggedness of purpose has made our case another judicial precedence in the country.”
He expressed his gratitude to the judiciary for remaining the bastion of the democratic process and refusing to be “blackmailed, brow beaten and intimidated by those who do not mean well for our state and nation”.
The PDP in the state also commended the people of the state and members of the party for their loyalty and thanked God for the outcome of the ruling.
A statement by the Publicity Director of the PDP in Ondo, Ayo Fadaka, said: “The PDP in Ondo State uses this opportunity to thank God for this victory that we attained in the Court of Appeal over the substitution of Mr. Eyitayo Jegede’s name as the party’s candidate on the order of Justice Okon Abang, a development that the Appeal Court judgment described as fraudulent and a charade.
“We use this opportunity to appreciate the President of the Court of Appeal and the judges who sat on the matter for being professional and dedicated to their callings. We also thank the Supreme Court judges who also sat on this case and did justice in the most dispassionate manner.”
Joining its state chapter, the PDP at the national headquarters said it received the judgment of the Appeal Court reinstating Jegede as the party’s candidate for the Saturday’s governorship election in Ondo State with great relief and appreciation.
However, PDP said that it was not yet done and that INEC should heed its call for the postponement of the Saturday’s poll in the interest of justice and fair play.
PDP described the judgment as sound and well-researched, adding: “That it has rekindled the hope of the common man that justice might be delayed, but will surely come to be.”
The party’s spokesman, Mr. Dayo Adeyeye, said the PDP applauded the judiciary for rising to the occasion and for righting the wrongs done by the lower court in the PDP governorship candidacy.
A statement by Mr. Uche Anichukwu, media aide to the Deputy President of the Sentate, Ike Ekweremadu, also described the decision as “just, courageous, and expeditious”.
Ekweremadu commended the Supreme Court and the Court of Appeal for their promptness in handling the matter, noting that democracy could only thrive where there is respect for the rule of law.
He added: “The freeness, fairness, and credibility of an election goes beyond what happens on an election day. The process, especially the right of the party faithful to choose a flag bearer of their own freewill unhindered by subterfuge, manipulation, intimidation, and abuse of any form, are equally as important and indeed foundational to the soundness of the election itself.
“I am therefore happy that the Court of Appeal has spoken loudly, and in a speedy and just manner that raises hope for the nation’s democracy. This judicial victory is good tonic that will unite the PDP family the more and spur us to a more resounding victory in the Ondo governorship race.”
He called on the people of Ondo State to vote massively for the PDP.
In addition, a former Aviation Minister, Femi Fani-Kayode, congratulated Jegede, Mimiko and Makarfi on what he described as “our historic victory at the Court of Appeal”.
He said: “Shame on Ali Modu Sheriff, Jimoh Ibrahim and their Justice Okon Abang. The usurpers, spoilers and agents of darkness have been exposed, justice has been done, the PDP is back and we are now on the rise.”
In his reaction, Ekiti State Governor, Mr. Ayodele Fayose, also commended the verdict, but was pessimistic about PDP’s chances at the poll, saying that time was against the party to be able to make a headway in the poll.
Fayose, who called for the postponement of the election, added that INEC in cahoots with the All Progressives Congress (APC) had succeeded in undermining the strength of the party through this unwarranted judicial impediment.
The governor maintained that the postponement of the election remained the best option, if INEC was truly an unbiased umpire.
Fayose said: “The judgment shouldn’t have been otherwise, because you can’t cover the truth. I have said it ab initio that charlatans in the PDP are colluding with INEC and APC to undermine our party.
“INEC had no reason in the first instance to change Jegede’s name. So, this mistake was caused by INEC. It was INEC’s making and the best way forward is for the election to be postponed. This is not the best of time for us in the PDP and the good people of Ondo State. This is not the best time this judgment should have come.
“But we are still looking at Nigeria as our own, I mean Nigeria where there will be fairness and equity. It is regrettable that some charlatans can be colluding with INEC and APC to destroy our party.
“This is very regrettable and unfortunate. But they will still be defeated. The commission has no reason not to postpone this election, because what the INEC did was a deliberate action to weaken our party.
“This judgment coming at this time is a major setback for our party, which I believe can only be cured if this election is postponed.”
He appealed to members of the PDP in Ondo State to remain calm and resolved in the party’s leadership to weather the storm and come out stronger out of this political imbroglio.
He further noted that the judgment of the Court of Appeal, de-recognising Senator Sheriff as the National Chairman of the PDP was getting rid of a “bad smelling onion that wants to pollute the entire lot”.
He said getting Sheriff out of the national chairmanship seat of the party was good riddance to bad rubbish, adding that Sheriff misused the opportunity given him and wanted to pull down the party.
“It was later we got to know Sheriff’s true colours. He came and wanted to kill a party that gave him a rare opportunity. All the entreaties made to him, even though he didn’t deserve them, fell on deaf ears.
“That the Court of Appeal described him as an impostor was very apt. We are happy that our party has been liberated from the claws of those that wanted to kill it. We are going to come out stronger. We are the party to beat,” he said.
Also, the Delta State Governor, Senator Ifeanyi Okowa, hailed the Court of Appeal ruling which declared Jegede as the authentic gubernatorial candidate of the PDP for Saturday’s election.
Okowa described the decision of the court as the triumph of good over political bitterness aided by selfish interests.
Okowa, in a statement by his Chief Press Secretary, Charles Aniagwu in Asaba yesterday, urged the Sheriff-led faction of the party and its candidate, Ibrahim, to stop distracting the party and support Jegede to deliver for the party in the Ondo election.
Mimiko Wants Poll Shifted
The Ondo State governor, on the other hand, called for the postponement of the election is his state to give Jegede to to meet with the electorate.
The governor, who returned to Akure airport to a tumultuous crowd that welcomed him, said his suggestion was in line with the provisions of Electoral Act.
He said the law provides that an election should be held at least one month before the swearing in of a new governor.
Mimiko said since he would not be leaving until February next year, the INEC could conduct the election in January 2017, observing that there was no need for the commission to be in a hurry.
He also exonerated President Muhammadu Buhari from all that happened within the last few weeks, saying the president was sincere on the two occasions he was compelled to visit him on the Ondo election.
He blamed some “elements within the presidency” who were determined to prevent Jegede contesting the election.
Buhari Begs Ondo Residents
But as the PDP and its leadership hailed the Appeal Court ruling, Buhari yesterday called on all residents of Ondo State to go out to the polling stations on Saturday and cast their vote for change.
In a last minute pitch for the APC governorship candidate, Rotimi Akeredolu (SAN), Buhari said the right to vote was not only a civic responsibility, “but the opportunity to determine the course of our lives as a people”.
According to him, a vote for APC in the forthcoming gubernatorial election in Ondo State, is a vote for progressive and people-oriented policies.
In a statement signed by his media aide, Mr. Garba Shehu, Buhari said since the creation of Ondo State in 1976, the people of the state have contributed immensely to the growth and development of Nigeria, especially in the domain of agriculture and education.
He said: “A vote for Rotimi Akeredolu, a renowned lawyer of guileless reputation who rose to the peak of his profession as the President of the Nigerian Bar Association, is a vote for the continued development of Ondo State.”
The president said he looked forward to a free and fair election and true representation for the good people of Ondo State.
APC: We’ll Beat Jegede
Also, sounding confident of its chances at the ballot yesterday, the APC informed the PDP that its victory at the Appeal Court by getting its preferred candidate back in the race, would not stop its imminent defeat at the polls.
The Deputy National Secretary of APC, Ogi Ngorfa, who congratulated Jegede for his victory at the Court of Appeal, dismissed the view that the ruling had turned the tables of the governorship election in Ondo State.
He said the campaign of the APC from the beginning was to displace the PDP from Ondo State Government House.
Ngorfa said: “The ruling is a welcome development; it shows that our judicial system is working and it has continuously proved that it is the hope of every person, especially the so-called common man.
“However our party is ready for Jegede. Even if you put them together, we are prepared. Come Saturday, the Ondo State chapter of the APC would be the party to celebrate.”