The Supreme Court last week ed the Court of Appeal to commence a fresh trial into a petition by the presidential candidate of People’s Mandate Party (MPM), Dr. Arthur Nwankwo, challenging the election of President Umaru Musa Yar’Adua on April 21, 2007.
The court sent the petition back to the lower court while delivering a judgement in an appeal filed by Nwankwo against the decision of the appellate court stopping him from presenting a motion after the pre-hearing conference. In the lead judgement delivered by Justice Ikechi Francis Ogbuagu, the apex court also held that all motions and preliminary objections according to practice’s direction guiding election petitions tribunal must be taken and considered during the pre-hearing conference stage and not after it.
Nwankwo had at the said tribunal sought to present a motion after a pre-hearing conference, but the tribunal declined. Dissatisfied, he approached the Supreme Court to challenge the lower court’s decision. In its verdict, the apex court ed the petition back to the tribunal for retrial in the interest of justice.
The five-man panel of the Supreme Court presided over by Justice Ogbuagu, held that no court can hear any matter, motion or application if it does not have jurisdiction to do so, saying otherwise, the outcome of such a hearing would be a nullity. “The best thing to do is to remit the matter to the trial court. In conclusion, the appeal is allowed” even as the court awarded the cost of N50, 000 in favour of the appellant against each of the respondents.
Responding to the judgment, counsel to the respondent, Chief Godwin Kanu Agabi (SAN), said the judgment would help other cases in future as well as expand the frontiers of the nation’s jurisprudence. He said the pronouncement of the apex court that once there is a provision for the proper way of doing something, no other way would be adopted in doing it aside from the laid out procedure provided for such. He also said that the practice direction in handling election petitions’ matters must be obeyed, noting that the next option for the appellant is to comply with the of the Supreme Court in beginning the case again at the trial court.
The presidential candidate of PMP had gone to the court of appeal seeking to annul the election of Yar'Adua and Vice President Goodluck Jonathan, alleging that the process that brought them to power contravened the electoral laws. He claimed that there were electoral inconsistencies and irregularities in the said polls and concluded that the best thing for the court to do was to pronounce the election a nullity.
But the decision of the apex court has raised suspicions in some quarters. Many observers see the ruling as another game plan to remove the Acting President, Jonathan, as quickly as possible before he consolidates his new office. They are wondering where the appellant was since December 2008 when the petitions filed by the presidential candidates of the All Nigeria Peoples Party (ANPP), General Mohammadu Buhari and the Action Congress (AC), Alhaji Atiku Abubakar were determined and concluded.
Since Yar’Adua travelled out of the country on November 23, 2009 for a medical treatment in Saudi Arabia without handing over to Jonathan, his deputy, the issue has generated a huge national debate. The President is said to be suffering from acute pericarditis. Since then, no one has seen or heard from him including all members of EXCOF. Although, he was rushed back to the country on February 24, this year, nobody including the Acting President has seen him, neither has he been able to make any public appearance.
But without seeing him or having any information on the condition of his health, members of EXCOF had, twice passed resolutions claiming that he was capable of discharging the functions of his office. The first resolution was passed on December 2, 2009 to frustrate the enforcement of the provision of Section 144 (2) of the 1999 Constitution while the second was passed on January 27, this year to allegedly rubbish the of the Abuja Federal High Court which directed that his health should be probed. Both resolutions were allegedly passed without any access to the medical report on Yar'Adua by EXCOF.
Drama started when the then Attorney General and Minister of Justice, Chief Michael Aondoakaa (SAN) and the Chief Judge of the Federal High Court, Justice Dan Abutu, held the view that Jonathan should start exercising the powers of the President pending his recovery and return to office. All these were perceived as a device to forestall any attempt by the Vice President to lay hold on power.
However, matters got to a head when the 2009 Supplementary Appropriation Bill passed by the two chambers of the National Assembly late last year was reportedly taken to the Yar’Adua on his sick bed in Saudi Arabia for endorsement and when the out-going Chief Justice of Nigeria, Justice Idris Kutigi, was meant to swear-in the incoming CJN, Justice Katsina-Alu. These functions and many others, could have been performed by Jonathan had he been sworn-in as the country’s Acting President.
While all these were ongoing, the two chambers of the National Assembly passed resolutions empowering Vice President Jonathan the Acting President. While the Senate predicated its resolution on the doctrine of necessity, the House of Representatives based its own resolution on the earlier court judgment which empowered Jonathan to assume presidential powers. This, as it was later discovered, did not go down well with the ministers and other loyalists of the president who had done ehttp://www.thisdayonline.com/nview.php?id=168208