There was jubilation yesterday in Osogbo, the Osun State capital, following the verdict by the Supreme Court upholding the September 2018 election of Governor Gboyega Oyetola. Immediately the apex court’s decision filtered in, residents, particularly supporters of the ruling All Progressives Congress (APC), trooped to the streets in jubilation over the party’s victory.Scores of party supporters later moved to the Government House in Okefia, Osogbo, to join the governor and other top governmentfunctionaries in celebration.
The Supreme Court, by a split decision, yesterday, dismissed the appeal filed by the candidate of the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP), Senator Ademola Adeleke and consequently affirmed the election of Adegboyega Oyetola of the All Progressives Congress (APC) as the duly-elected governor.
The apex court, in a majority judgment of five to two, upheld the decision of the Court of Appeal, Abuja Division, which had nullified the judgment of the Osun State Governorship Election Petition Tribunal earlier delivered in favour of Adeleke, saying the tribunal was not properly constituted with regards to numbers. Elated Oyetola later drove in a motorcade of about 60 vehicles from the Government House through Olaiya, MDS, Old Garage, Igbonna and converged on Freedom Park to a rousing welcome by other waiting party members.
Addressing the crowd, Oyetola thanked the judiciary for upholding the truth, saying the judgment would enable him to concentratefully on governance to deliver democratic dividends to the people.While expressing gratitude to the people for their support, the governor assured them that his administration would place top priority on the development of agriculture, education, health and women empowerment, adding: “I am the governor of the state, the governor of everybody.
I want all stakeholders to come on board in order to take Osun to greater heights.”In his reaction, Adeleke congratulated Oyetola and wished him well. The PDP candidate, in a statement by his spokesperson, Olawale Rasheed, said: “I congratulate Oyetola on his victory at the Supreme Court,” while affirming that his (Adeleke) ambition was never a do-or-die affair.He noted: “Supreme Court, being the apex court in the land, their decision, regardless of my disagreement and disappointment with same, remains final. Thus, as a democrat and law- abiding citizen, I accept the ruling, no matter my misgivings.
“I wish Oyetola well in the governance of Osun state.”He expressed immense gratitude and appreciation to his teeming supporters and PDP leaders and members for their massive support throughout the duration of the case, lauding“our high spirit and commitment to the cause of democracy, which we championed from last year till date.
“In all circumstances, we must thank God Almighty. We gallantly fought a good fight in pursuance of a democratic cause. The ideals we fought for lives on.“Our ambition was never a do-or-die affair. We aspired to serve and deliver democratic dividends to the people of Osun State. Our ambition was altruistic. We wish Oyetola the best in governance of the State.”
There was peace in Osogbo, the state capital, and other major towns, including Ede, Adeleke’s hometown.The Guardian observed that armed policemen were drafted to flashpoints in the state, while Armoured Personnel Carriers (APCs) were stationed in front of the Government House and the State Secretariat in Osogbo.
The apex court’s majority verdict, which was delivered by Justice Bode Rhodes-Vivour, agreed with the appellate court that the absence of Justice Peter Obiorah, who delivered the lead judgment from the proceedings of February 6, was fatal to the case of the appellants.
Adeleke and PDP had asked the court to set aside the split judgment of the Court of Appeal, which upheld Oyetola’s election. But the country’s highest court, in a majority decision, aligned with the argument of Oyetola’s lawyer, Wole Olanipekun (SAN), that the entire majority judgment was a nullity, because it was written and delivered by Justice Obiorah, who was said not to have participated in the February 6 proceedings of the tribunal, where vital documents relating to the election were tendered and when vital witnesses gave evidence.
Justice Obiorah, according to the court’s record, was absent on February 6 when the respondents witnesses (RWs) 12 and 13- Ayoola Soji and Oladejo Kazeem- testified and tendered exhibits, which the tribunal admitted in evidence. The Supreme Court held that having not attended the tribunal’s sitting on February 6, Justice Obiorah did not see the two witnesses and was unable to examine their demeanour, as required, and therefore, it was unlawful for the Judge to have authored a judgment in which he reviewed the evidence given by the witnesses.
“The writing of and or the participation of the Honourable Justice P. C. Obiorah in the writing of the judgment of the lower tribunal of March 22 and delivery of same vitiates the entire judgment,” Justice Rhodes-Vivour held. The court stated that the main issue for consideration in arriving at its decision was whether Justice Obiorah participated in the February 6 proceedings, adding that it was clear from both parties that he did not sit on that day.
“Failure to sit rendered the proceedings a nullity and the judgment suffers a fundamental error and irredeemably affected the competence of the Judgment of the tribunal,” it ruled.The court also agreed with Olanipekun that the decision of Obiorah to write judgment in a proceeding he did not participate was irregular and inconsistent with the law and made the judgment to run contrary to the provisions of the law.
Aside Justice Rhodes-Vivour, others who supported the majority judgment are the acting Chief Justice of Nigeria (CJN), Justices Tanko Mohammad, Justices Kudirat Kekere-Ekun, Amir Sanusi and Uwani Aba-Aji. But Justices Kummai Akaahs and Paul Galinje, in their minority judgment, delivered by Justice Akaahs, disagreed with the findings in the majority judgment that Obiorah was absent on February 6.
They held that even if the issue was to be legally resolved, the respondents ought to file affidavit to challenge the record of proceedings of February 6, insisting that the findings of the majority judgment was based on conjecture and a well-articulated speculation by relying on certified true copy of the tribunal’s proceedings, instead of the original record. The minority judgment also held that cancellation of election in seven polling units of four councils of Osun State by a returning officer of INEC was illegal, unlawful and unconstitutional and that going by Section 179 of the 1999 Constitution, as amended, Adeleke, who scored highest votes in the main election and fulfilled the section, ought to have been declared winner of the election.
It said INEC is supposed to be an unbiased umpire, cancelling election by a Returning Officer is not allowed by law, just like using manual to cancel election is also illegal. The minority judgment further accused INEC of using inconclusiveness in election to perpetrate fraud and to do what it wants to do, even when it is illegal.They consequently set aside the judgment of the Court of Appeal and declare Adeleke winner of the September 22, last year’s governorship election.
Yesterday’s judgment has put to rest, apprehension and speculations over the legal tussle between the two major political parties, which has journeyed from the election tribunal through the appellate court before arriving at the apex court. While APC members and supporters busted into jubilation on hearing the judgment, their PDP counterparts felt that justice was not seen to have been done.