I was reading a post and reactions on Facebook to a story written by Daily Trust Newspaper online concerning the judgment of the Court of Appeal Abuja in the Plateau State Gubernatorial tussle between Dr Nentawe Goshwe of the APC and Mutfwang of the PDP delivered on 19 November 2023; which declared Dr Nentawe Goshwe as the winner of the plateau State governorship election held on 25 March 2023.
I felt despondent about the castigation of the judiciary by those who do not understand a whiff of the mechanics and intricacies of how the law works.
Almost 80 % of the commentators were heaping insults and invectives on how the judiciary has been compromised.
They were suggesting that the judgment was wrong because the Supreme Court had ruled that the nomination of candidates is a pre-election matter; and that the election tribunal does not have jurisdiction to entertain.
They wondered therefore why the case of the case of Governor Caleb Mutfwang was an exception.
I, therefore have undertaken the responsibility of writing this essay to demonstrate to the reading public the differences between the cases of Dr.
Nentawe Goshwe and Mutwang; and Peter Obi, Labour Party, Atiku Abubakar & PDP against INEC, President Bola Tinubu; Senator Kashim Shettima, and APC.
In Caleb Mutfwang’s case, the PDP in Plateau State was enmeshed in a factional and leadership crisis that culminated in a High Court action by one of the factions.
The High Court issued an order restraining the caretaker committee set up by PDP in Plateau State y from conducting primaries to nominate candidates for all elective offices including the governorship.
Caleb Mutfwang belonged to a faction of the PDP which the caretaker committee was disposed to.
However, PDP violated the court order that a valid congress be conducted in the 17 local government areas of the State, by conducting congress in only five local government areas of Plateau State.
In law, the plaintiff claims that the court will look to ascertain whether or not it has jurisdiction.
When Dr. Nentawe Goshwe crunched his reliefs in his petition his lawyers crafted them creatively to confer jurisdiction on the election tribunal.
Dr. Goshwe premised his case on Caleb Mutfwang and PDP breached section 177 of the Constitution.
Section 177 (1) (a) (b)(c) & (d) of the Constitution provides as follows:
A person shall be qualified for election to the office of Governor of a State if:
(a) he is a citizen of Nigeria by birth;
(b) he has attained the age of thirty-five years;
(c) he is a member of a political party and is sponsored by that political party; and
(d) he has been educated up to at least a School Certificate level or its equivalent.
In the case of Caleb Mutgwang, the Petitioners (Dr. Nentawe and APC) grounded their petition on section 177(1) (d) of the Constitution which stipulates that a person shall not be qualified to be Governor of a State unless he is a member of a political party and is sponsored by a political party.
It is glaring that Caleb Mutfwang was not sponsored by a political party because the primaries that produced the candidate of PDP were conducted by an illegal caretaker committee which the court had restrained but in flagrant disobedience of the court order went ahead to conduct.
APC and its candidate Dr. Nentawe Goshwe also anchored their petition on section 134, subsection (1)(a)(b)(c)& (d) of the Electoral Act 2022.
Section 134, subsection (1)(a)(b)(c)& (d) of the Electoral Act 2022 provides that an election may be questioned on any of the following grounds :
(a) a person whose election was questioned at that time of the election is not qualified to contest the election ;
(b) the election was invalid because of corrupt practices or noncompliance with the provisions of the Act or
(c) the respondent was not elected by a majority of lawful votes cast at the election.
Therefore the construction of section 177 (1) (a) (b) (c) of the 1999 constitution and section 134 (1) (a) of the Electoral Act 2022 confers jurisdiction on the Election Tribunal to hand a petition that contains an admixture of pre-election and post-election as in the Petition filed by APC and Dr Nentawe Goshwe.
The Court of Appeal was therefore right to so hold.
In Peter Obi, Labour Party, Atiku Abubakar & PDP against INEC, President Bola Tinubu, Senator Kashim Shettima, and APC, it was the nomination of Senator Kashim Shettima, the vice presidential candidate of the APC that was challenged by the Petitioners.
The petitioners in their petition have challenged the nomination of Senator Shettima because he was already a senatorial candidate at the time he was nominated by President Bola Ahmed Tinubu to be his vice presidential running mate.
The Supreme Court held that Peter Obi and Atiku Abubakar have no locus standing to challenge the nomination of Senator Shettima because they are not members of the APC.
The Supreme Court also held in the circumstances of that case, nomination was a pre-election matter that the Petitioners could not incorporate in a post-election litigation.
In light of the above, it is clear that the facts and circumstances of Peter Obi, Labour Party, Atiku Abubakar & PDP against INEC, President Bola Tinubu, Senator Kashim Shettima, and APC on one hand and INEC, APC & Dr Nentawe Goshwe and Caleb Mutfwang and PDP are diametrical not the same.
When the facts and circumstances of two cases are dissimilar the principle of stare decisis( which means in Latin stand by things decided) (judicial precedent) cannot be applicable.
When a court faces a legal argument, if a previous court has ruled on the same or a closely related issue, then the court will make its decision in alignment with the previous court’s decision.
I, therefore urge lay people who don’t know a scintilla of thing about law to spare us their jaundiced interpretation of court judgments and desist from painting the judiciary in bad light.
They should also know that emotion and sentiments have no place in judicial deliberations.
This is why Lady Justice is blind while holding the sword in her left hand and the scale in her right hand ready to deal with anybody with ill will or affection that is brought before her.
@ Okoi Obono-Obla