Supreme Court verdict on the Delta North senatorial district tussle finally put the matter to rest. INNEH BARTH examines the genesis of the protracted legal battle between Senator Peter Nwaoboshi and Hon. Ned Nwoko and how it was decided by Apex court.
The supreme court has finally declared Senator Peter Nwaoboshi as the senator representating Delta North senatorial district after a titanic legal battle with a philanthropist, Ned Nwoko who had challenged the outcome of the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP), senatorial primary held on 2nd October, 2018.
Amid allegations of irregularities occasioned by alleged manipulation of ballot materials, Nwoko, a former House of Representatives member for Aniocha Oshimili constituency, approached a Federal High court seeking to be declared as the winner of the said primary, where senator Nwaoboshi had already been returned as the senatorial candidate by the party. This was the beginning of the prolonged legal battle which the supreme court recently gave final judgment in favour of senator Nwaoboshi.
Nwoko had got a favourable judgment at the federal high court presided over by Justice A.R. Mohammed who on 3rd April, 2019 in Abuja, granted Nwoko’s prayers and declared him winner of the primary and consequently the senator-elect for Delta North senatorial district.
The FHC ruled that available evidence from PDP primaries showed that Nwoko won the primary election having scored 453 votes to defeat his closest rival, Nwaoboshi who scored 405.
The court then declared Nwoko as the authentic candidate of PDP for the 2019 senatorial election and equally ordered PDP and INEC to immediately publish Nwoko’s name as PDP’s authentic candidate for scoring majority of votes cast in the primary election for Delta North Senatorial district.
The court argued that the onus lied on PDP and Nwaoboshi as second and third defendants to prove that Nwaoboshi actually won the primary by producing the election materials and ballot papers, which they refused to produced.
Consequently, Justice Mohammed noted that evidence provided by the plaintiff proved that he won the PDP primary election held on October 2, 2019, while maintaining that constitutional provisions were also followed in filing a substantive suit against the first, second and third defendants.
He affirmed that the second and third defendants openly denied in court that exhibits tendered were not certified true copies of the ballot papers used for the primaries, even when they could not produce any other evidence to prove their case.
Nwoko, who predicated his suit on seven grounds, which were supported by a 20-paragraph affidavit evidence and five exhibits, claimed that he was screened and cleared for the Delta North senatorial district by the PDP Electoral Committee. He averred among other things, that at the end of the primary election, he scored 453 votes to defeat his closest rival, Nwaoboshi who scored 405 while Paul Osaji came third with 216 votes.
He further posited that to his surprise, the PDP jettisoned the result of the primary election and forwarded Nwaoboshi’s name as its candidate for the senatorial district. He stated that all efforts to redress the injustice through the party’s appeal panel were frustrated and thus unsuccessful.
Not satisfied with the outcome of the federal high court judgment, senator Nwaoboshi appealed the judgment through his counsel, Tony Idigbe (SAN) who urged the appellate court to discard the April 3, 2019 Federal High Court judgement against Nwaoboshi as the suit, which the lower court relied on was filed out of time and therefore, statute-barred.
But in his counter submission, Ned Nwoko’s counsel, Ahmed Raji (SAN) urged the court to dismiss the appeal, as it was defective, null and frivolous. Raji had noted that Nwaoboshi’s lawyer relied on issues alien to law and never emanated from the Federal High Court judgement.
He noted that the extraneous grounds counsel to Nwaoboshi stated in his submission was like telling a lie against the lower court, adding that the issues put forward were taken before a Federal Capital Territory (FCT) High Court and not Federal High Court.
Raji said Nwoko’s case was not statute-barred, because time limit concerning the matter was legally predicated on three grounds namely: PDP Primary election, party decision and Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC’s) publication of name.
He explained before the Appeal Court that the core of Nwoko’s case was rooted in INEC’s wrongful action to have published Nwaoboshi’s name based on PDP’s decision as consequence of a primary election freely won by Nwoko.
He further argued that wrong publication of Nwaoboshi’s name by INEC instead of presentation of Nwoko’s name was the issue for determination and could not be statute-barred, as the relief Nwoko sought was far ahead of constitutionally required time limit, hence urged the appeal court to dismiss Nwaoboshi’s appeal for lack of merit and to uphold the judgement of the Federal High Court in favour of Nwoko.
However, on May 30, 2019 the Court of Appeal, Abuja Division, granted the prayers of Senator Nwaoboshi and nullified the emergence of Ned Nwoko as the senator representing Delta North Senatorial District.
The court noted that the case instituted at the Abuja Division of the Federal High Court which resulted in the recognition of Nwoko as the winner of the election by the Independent National Electoral Commission was wrongly filed.
The appellate court ruled that the matter ought to have been brought at the lower court before the expiration of 14 days from the time of the incidence that birthed the suit.
It further ruled that the failure of the applicant at the lower court to file the case before the expiration of 14 days meant that the case had become statute barred and the lower court lacked jurisdiction to entertain the matter in the first place.
“As at the time the matter was instituted at the Federal High Court, the case was statute barred. We set aside the decision of the Federal High Court and strike out the case,” the court ruled.
INEC had withdrawn the certificate of return it issued to Mr Nwoko’s contender Peter Nwaoboshi, following the FHC decision.
With the appeal court decision, Nwaoboshi regained the position as senator-elect for the district.
Nwoko desatisfied with the appeal he again approached the supreme court for redress which declined to grant his request but instead reaffirmed Senator Peter Nwaoboshi as the winner of the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) primary held on October 2, 2018 and duly elected on February 23, 2019.
The apex court in upholding Nwaoboshi’s election, struck out the two appeals filed by Nwoko challenging Nwaoboshi’s election for lack of jurisdiction.
In a unanimous decision on Tuesday 16th July, 2019, the apex court pointed out that the originating summons filed by Nwoko on December 11, 2018 at the Federal High Court in Abuja was incompetent and that the trial court judge was therefore in error as the incompetent process had robbed the court of its jurisdiction.
Delivering the lead judgment, Justice Inyang Okoro stated that: “The originating summons is incompetent, judgment of the trial court is without jurisdiction.
“This court has raised the issue of jurisdiction so moto (on its own) in the light of section 295(8) of the Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria 1999 (as amended) as to when the cause of action arose.”
The appellant and indeed all parties agreed that the PDP declared Nwaoboshi winner of the primary election on October 2, 2018 and that the declaration set off the action taken by the appellant.
“The appellant (Nwoko) was aggrieved on October 2, 2018 when the result was announced,” justice Okoro held.
He said that the argument by Nwoko’s lawyer that the cause of action was a continuous injury did not fly at all in the light of the Fourth Alteration to the Constitution.
Meanwhile, the two political gladiators have reacted to the outcome of the supreme court judgment. Nwoko said he decided to leave everything in God’s hand and move on even as he expressed his appreciation to the good people of Anioma and numerous well wishers across political cleavages for their unwavering support throughout the period the suit lasted.
Ned Nwoko stated:”I will not give up on Anioma. It is my duty to drive a progressive movement and agenda for our people, steeped in integrity, dignity and service. That is what I will continue to stand for as a passionate and responsible son of Anioma.
“Supreme Court is the apex in our judicial system. The jurists have given their verdict. I fought a good fight to reclaim a clear mandate of the people, shortchanged by political subterfuge and the crudity of evil.
“The triumph of malvolence against good is temporary. I seek respite in the divine authority. God alone knows the end of everything. He will surely act as the final arbiter in the womb of time. I will continue to contribute my best to the development of the place of my birth – Anioma, a good land indeed.
“I thank my sincere party men, Anioma people, Deltans and Nigerians for standing with me all along. Thank you and God bless you all.
On his part, senator Nwaoboshi sued for peaceful coexistence among the people of Delta North senatorial district in order to faster the needed development in the area.
Nwaoboshi who spoke on the outcome of the supreme court judgment through the Director-General, Nwaoboshi Campaign Organisation, Hon. Pascal Adigwe stated that the endorsement of the election of Senator Peter Nwaoboshi as the authentic Senator representing Delta North Senatorial District at the 9th Assembly by the supreme court was not unexpected.
He said the judgment did not come as a surprise since it is a known fact that no one can ever reap where he did not sow noting; “you can’t be declared a winner when you did not win. It is good we come together as brothers to ensure, there is tremendous growth and development in our area.”
According to him, the litigation was a long one saying: “but i’m so excited that it has ended with the declaration of the valid winner of the 2019 senatorial election without any iota of sentimentality or doubt in the judgment.”
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