The Peoples Democratic Party and the All Progressives Congress clashed on Sunday following the sacking of Governor Caleb Mutfwang of Plateau State by the Court of Appeal sitting in Abuja.
In a judgment on Sunday, a three-member panel of the Court of Appeal led by Justice Elphreda Williams-Dawodu ordered the Independent National Electoral Commission to withdraw the certificate of return issued to Mutfwang and issue a fresh one to Nentawe Goshwe of the APC whom the court declared as the valid winner of the March 18 governorship election.
Mutfwang was the third opposition governor to be sacked by the Court of Appeal within three days.
Last Thursday, the appellate court nullified the election of another PDP Governor, Dauda Lawal of Zamfara State, declaring that the governorship election in the state was inconclusive.
The following day, the same court invalidated the election of the Kano State Governor, Abba Kabir Yusuf, of the New Nigeria Peoples Party
Worried by the serial losses suffered by their governors and lawmakers at the courts, the PDP Deputy Legal Adviser, Okechukwu Osuoha, declared that the recent court judgments were not in tandem with the law.
But the Director of Publicity for the APC, Bala Ibrahim, riposted that it was people who did not understand how the judicial process works that were accusing both the APC and the Presidency of trying to turn Nigeria into a one-party state.
Mutfwang of the PDP had scored 525,299 votes while the candidate of the APC, Goshwe polled 481,370 votes in the March 18 governorship election in the state.
Goshwe challenged the victory of Mutfwang at the tribunal claiming that the governor was not validly nominated and sponsored by his party.
He also said there was non-compliance with the Electoral Act in the election.
The Governorship Election Petition Tribunal had dismissed his petition for lacking in merit, but Goshwe headed to the appellate court.
However, Justice Williams-Dawodu, in the lead judgment, set aside the decision of the tribunal.
The judge held that Mutfwang was not validly sponsored by the PDP and that he was not qualified to have contested the election because the PDP did not conduct valid state, local government, and ward congresses ordered by a High Court of Plateau State and it had no structure as at the time of the election.
Citing section 177 of the Constitution, she held that the governor was not validly sponsored by the PDP during the election.
She held that the party violated a court order, directing it to conduct a valid congress in the 17 Local Government Areas of that state.
Williams-Dawodu said there was no evidence that the PDP complied with a subsisting High Court order which had directed it to conduct the party congress prior to its sponsorship of the governorship and other candidates.
The court held that the issue of qualification is both a pre-election and a post-election matter contrary to the findings of the tribunal which held that the appellant lacked the locus to contest the validity of the respondent.
The court also noted that under section 134 of the Electoral Act, it is the sole right of a political party to sponsor its candidate having met the necessary requirements to do so.
She then ordered INEC to retrieve the certificate of return issued to the governor and issue a fresh certificate of return to the Goshwe.
Williams-Dawodu said,” The judgment of the Tribunal affirming the election of Governor Caleb stands to be set aside. The appeal is hereby allowed. The issue is resolved in favour of the appellants.”
Speaking on the verdict, the Deputy PDP legal adviser, Osuoha, who said he did not have a copy of the judgment yet explained that there were three grounds for the election petition matter.
He said, “One is that when somebody is claiming that he won an election with the most number of valid votes, the person will have to prove it. The second is malpractice; the person who alleged would have to prove it.
“Then qualification; whether the person was qualified or not. So these are the grounds. It is in the public domain that Nigerians and PDP are not too comfortable with judgment from the courts.
“In the ruling party, APC, impunity is so much. They try to influence some of these institutions to force their party on Nigerians. That is the ugly side of it.”
Osuoha stressed that “Most of the recent judgments are not really in tandem with the law. Most times the justices come up with technicalities.
“The court now portrays itself as a court of technicalities and not a court of justice and it is not too palatable for our system, our country, and democracy.”
The lawyer noted there is still a window for the party and Mutfwang to appeal the judgment.
“The people hold the judiciary in high esteem so that confidence should not be eroded.”
“Nigeria is suffering today because most of our institutions are not strong. I believe that our legal system, our Court should stand out. The court should be impartial in their decisions,” he admonished.
Also, PDP Deputy National Youth Leader, Timothy Osadolor alleged that “the highest bidders were getting favourable rulings.’’
Osadolor warned “The clock is ticking and the thin patience of our people is running out. Our judges should remember the heroes past or become today’s heroes by excusing themselves from money-tainted judgments and pronouncements.
“Some people want to force APC on Nigerians, but we will resist it.”
Meanwhile, the New Nigerian People’s Party’s National Auditor, Ladipo Johnson described the judgment as part of the “judicial rascality that is unfolding.’’
Johnson in an interview with our correspondent declared that APC has a long way to go to foist itself on Nigerians.
He said “The bottom line is that the judiciary have put themselves on trial because of some inconsistent principle that we are seeing. Most recent judgments by the judiciary are very troubling to a lot of us in the Country.”
On whether this is a deliberate effort to foist APC on Nigerians, he said “Even if this is not an attempt to foist APC on Nigerians, it will have the effect. It is a long way for them to force APC on Nigerians because PDP has many states. So, it is far away from it.’’
The NNPP National Auditor declared “So there is judicial rascality going on. Yes, I haven’t read the judgment, but from the extract have seen, there is a sort of rascality going on. We no longer have confidence in the judiciary.
“But we are hoping that the Supreme Court will put some clarity on these issues and follow their precedent as it were.”
The leadership of the Labour Party also expressed concern that the administration of President Bola Tinubu might have been “using the judiciary to hound opposition parties and steal the mandate of the people.’’
Reacting to the sacking of three opposition governors by the court, the chief spokesman for the LP Campaign Organisation, Yunusa Tanko, concluded that the judgments might have been spurred by some ‘vicious’ persons in the executive arm of government who were using the judiciary as a tool to capture the states.
He said, “As I said earlier, these particular set of people in power are vicious politicians. I repeat the word vicious again for emphasis.
“Gradually, we are beginning to witness completely captured states where all the institutions have already been bought, intimidated or blackmailed to do the bidding of the present political party and the government in power.
“There is no hanky-panky about it. They are clear on what they want to do and they are putting our democracy in power.
“It is now left for us to really challenge these particular people otherwise they are going to take us completely to the cleaners. And they don’t care how, when, and where they do it as long as it favours them. This is the danger.’’
“Now the electorates are being discouraged from going out to vote for candidates of their choice knowing that the mandate can be snatched. They are already in control of the state apparatus.
“We had a similar situation at a point when the PDP was in power. These particular people in power will be referencing how virtually everybody was joining the PDP (during President Olusegun Obasanjo’s administration) then.
“There was no clear ideology and that was what gave birth to the APC conglomerate. But in this case, it is a different matter entirely. These people in power are just too vicious,” he stated.
But the APC Director of Publicity, Ibrahim, dismissed the allegations that the judiciary was induced by his party.
He said, “Nobody is turning Nigeria into a one-party state. These are some of the baseless allegations coming from people who don’t know how the system works. The judiciary is independent.
“There is just no way any arm or the executive can intimidate or make the judiciary act against its own wish. People are not applying their logic sensibly.
“There are areas where the ruling party has lost and we have castigated, lambasted or cast aspersion on the judiciary. We know the judiciary may have their reason to take the decision against us.
“That is not to say people should think it is the executive that is manipulating the judiciary every time we win.
“People should learn to be good sportsmen. Where you lose today, you may win tomorrow. We should have confidence in the system, ourselves and democracy.
“As long as we continue to be selective in our assessment of the system, we will always get it wrong. We should allow the judiciary to work with the psyche of independence and continue to encourage the system to strengthen democracy. Let us not be judgmentally selective.”
In his reaction to the court judgment, Mutfwang described the loss as a temporary setback that will not deter him from repositioning the state on the path of unity, peace, and progress.
He expressed strong optimism that the mandate ‘’overwhelmingly given to him by the people of Plateau State would be restored,’’ as he had instructed his legal team to file an appeal at the Supreme Court.
The governor in a statement on Sunday, admonished citizens of the state and supporters of the PDP to remain calm, assuring them that “as long as God remains on the throne, the mandate of the people will be preserved and protected.’’
He reiterated his commitment to the rule of law and assured the people that there is light at the end of the tunnel, as he has unwavering faith in the judiciary and the constitution of Nigeria.
Mutfwang concluded with a strong appeal to supporters, as well as citizens of the state to maintain law and order.
He affirmed that Plateau will be victorious to the glory of God and reassured of his commitment to continually serve the state with dedication and integrity.
Meanwhile, former governor of Plateau State and Minister of Labour and Employment, Simon Lalong, has described the judgment as an affirmation of the mandate unanimously given to Nentawe and his running mate, Pam Bot-Mang, by the people of the state.
In a statement on Sunday by his Special Adviser on Media, Dr Macham Makut, the minister said the development is a good omen for Plateau State ‘’as the Governor-elect, Dr Nentawe Yilwatda and his running mate will now have the opportunity to implement the Generation Next mantra and the ACEES agenda to take Plateau State to the next level.’’
The minister said though the PDP and its ousted candidate have the constitutional right to exhaust all the legal opportunities available to them, he is confident that Nentawe’s victory would endure.
Lalong appealed to the members of the APC and the governor-elect to be magnanimous in victory “and consider this joyous moment as a celebration for the entire people of Plateau State who are yearning for good governance, security and development.’’
He further called on the citizens of Plateau State to continue to be law-abiding and shun any attempt to incite them to take any unlawful action that is capable of threatening the peace and security of the state.
Reacting to the judgment in a statement on Sunday, the Chairman of the House Committee on Navy, Yusf Gagdi, described the development as the dawn of a new era.
Gagdi, who represents Pankshin/ Kanke/Kanam Federal Constituency, Plateau State, said, “The triumph of lies over truth is indeed fleeting. It is the dawn of a new era in Plateau State with the victory of our Governor-elect, Nentawe Goshwe at the Court of Appeal today ( Sunday) where his victory was affirmed as the legally recognized winner of the March 18, 2023 gubernatorial elections in Plateau State, following the nullification of PDP’s pyrrhic victory.
“We have always indulged our teaming supporters to exercise restraint in their conducts, despite unwarranted provocation by our political opponents who unleashed all weapons of propaganda and emotional blackmail in their arsenals to sway the pendulum of justice and curry public sympathy in their desperation to hold unto power.
“Our belief in the judiciary as the bastion of justice and the last hope of the common man has always been unwavering, and we hold the same in the highest esteem as we look forward to approaching the final phase of the legal tussle.
“While I call on all APC supporters to be magnanimous in victory and celebrate this milestone with all sense of modesty, it is my fervent prayer that our joy shall never be cut short by the evil machinations of our adversaries.’’
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