By Emmanuel Onwubiko
The just ended election looks like it hasn’t ended going by the reverberation of pre and post-election petitions and litigation that have sprang up from all corners of the Country.
As a Constitutional democracy, Nigerians are encouraged to ventilate their angst through the due process of the law as provided for by section 6 of the Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria of 1999 (as amended). That section states as follows: ” “.
It was in line with the tenets of the constitutional norms, that a significant percentage of political office seekers who feel strongly that they were shortchanged by both their political parties (pre-election) or the Independent National Electoral commission (INEC) (post-election) have decidedly proceeded to the courts of competent jurisdiction to seek redress.
These approaches are to say the least acceptable, democratic, lawful and ennobling.
It was indeed in the pursuit of his constitutional right to legal redress that the Delta North-born Maritime lawyer and statesman prince Ned Munir Nwoko proceeded to the Federal High Court Abuja division to seek to retrieve what he believes is his mandate to represent his senatorial zone in the coming ninth session of the senate of the Federal Republic of Nigeria.
His main political adversary is Mr. Peter Nwaobosi who is the incumbent Senator and both of them are of the same political family of People’s Democratic Party (PDP).
Prince Ned Nwoko is convinced beyond the shadows of doubts that he defeated Peter Nwabosi during the party primary and therefore was the candidate of the party which went ahead to win the election.
It is not as if Prince Ned Nwoko was marooned somewhere in the comfortable cocoon of his imposing residence in the Central Area of Abuja and waited to ambush his political rivalry in the court so as to retrieve the mandate. Not at all. He fought hard. He made investments and took practical measures to convince the voters that he is the man of the people.
He, Prince Ned Nwoko indeed actively campaigned in and around all parts of the Delta North Senatorial Constituency. His legendary campaign activities were documented methodically by mainstream media. As a flamboyant political tactician, he was covered by leading television houses whilst he campaigned for both himself, his party (PDP) and the governor. He visited and held meetings with both the rich, the poor and the downtrodden whereby he strenuously prayed them to vote for him to work as their servant leader in the ninth session of the National Assembly.
Prince Ned Nwoko is by no stretch of imagination, a rookie or neophyte in politics by virtue of the obvious historical fact that when democracy returned in Nigeria in the year 1999, he was amongst the first sets of pro-democracy campaigners who won elective seats to represent his Federal Constituency for four quality years.
In those four years, the then young prince Ned Nwoko became the cynosure of all eyes because of the politic nature of presentations of bills and the qualitative attributes of those proposed legislations that he presented and vigorously sponsored. During that epoch you couldn’t read any newspapers without seeing the reports of his explosive presentations before the federal parliament. He was a parliamentarian of distinction and had no single dull moments. The president at that time respected him for his erudition and courage.
Ned Nwoko, thus has always remained a household brand even after he temporarily left politics to concentrate on his professional career as a maritime lawyer. So last year when he signified his intentions to stage a comeback to national politics his constituents welcomed him with open hands.
So when he ran for the senate slot for Delta North, he believed and millions of his supporters say that he indeed won the primary which was awarded to Peter Nwabosi.
Nevertheless, Ned Nwoko kept the tempo of his grassroots campaigns up and running even as he proceeded to court to claim the ticket.
Based on the unassailable evidence tendered before the judicial forum, the Federal High consequently sacked representative of Delta North Senatorial district, Peter Nwaoboshi as senator-elect, saying available evidence from Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) primaries showed that Ned Nwoko won.
The court, therefore, ruled that Nwoko was the authentic candidate of PDP for the 2019 senatorial election. Presiding Judge, Justice A.R. Mohammed delivered the judgment, which lasted for about two hours. He also 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.
Justice Mohammed also ordered Peter Nwaobosi to henceforth stop parading himself as senator-elect. Dissecting all matters in contention, the judge argued that the onus lied on PDP and Nwaobosi as second and third defendants to prove that Nwaobosi actually won the primaries by producing the election materials, but he refused to respect a court order to produce the ballot papers. He noted that evidences provided by the plaintiff proved that Nwoko won the PDP primary election held on October 2, 2019, while maintaining that constitutional provisions were followed in filing a substantive suit against the first, second and third defendants in the matter.
Speaking to newsmen immediately after the judgement, lead counsel to Nwoko, Barrister Onyeka Nwaokolo described the ruling as a landmark judgment. “The summary of the matter is to tell politicians that manipulation of the electoral processes was no longer in vogue because winning election through dubious mean could always be quashed except cases not properly challenged,” he said.
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 evidences to prove their case. “The judgment shows that there is hope for the common man. It is a landmark judgment, which has further deepened our democratic process,” he added. However, Nwaoboshi’s counsel, Emmanuel Enoiden, who came to court with other lawyers, declined comments on the ruling. Not satisfied, Nwaobosi proceeded on appeal. But since the Country is governed by law, the Independent National Electoral commission rightly obeyed the court and awarded the certificate of return to Ned Nwoko. There is nothing to show that any law was violated nor can anybody blame Prince Ned Nwoko for going to Court to seek justifiable redress. Those who think otherwise are simply engaging in meaningless romanticism with illogicality. Nwaobosi knows the fuller import of the order directing INEC to recognize Ned Nwoko as the Senator elect which the electoral commission complied with. Peter Nwaobosi filed an appeal.
The Abuja division of the Court of Appeal therefore fixed yesterday to hear the appeal filed by senator-elect for Delta North Senatorial District and serving senator, Peter Nwaoboshi who is challenging the nullification of his nomination as candidate of People’s Democratic Party (PDP) by a Federal High Court in Abuja.
Justice Ahmed Mohammed of the Federal High Court had in his judgment on a pre-election suit brought by Prince Ned Nwoko, nullified Nwaoboshi’s nomination, though he won the senatorial district’s election of February 23, 2019.
Dissatisfied, Nwaoboshi approached the Court of Appeal to set aside the judgment of the lower court which he claimed was delivered in error.
He is further contending that the trial judge overreached himself by deciding the suit on the basis of highly contradicted and conflicting evidence, particularly as the ballot papers upon which the trial judge based his judgment were seriously controverted and ballot counting was impossible without calling a witness.
According to the notice of appeal, the appellant is praying the appellate court to hold that the trial judge erred in law when he held that the suit was not caught by the 14 days rule in section 285(9) of the Fourth Alternation to the 1999 Constitution (as amended), as the primary election, subject matter of the suit, was conducted on October 2, 2018 and the 14 days’ time allowed started running on the same October 2, 2018 when the primary election took place.
The appellant has also prayed the Court of Appeal to hold that the trial judge erred in law when he held that he had jurisdiction to entertain the suit despite the same being filed on December 11, 2018 because the first respondent had earlier filed a suit before the High Court of the Federal Capital Territory (FCT), Abuja, which he withdrew and was struck out on December 11, 2018.
Specifically, as the said suit was caught by the same 14 days rule in view of section 285(9) Fourth Alteration to the 1999 Constitution (as amended) upon the filing of a preliminary objection by the appellant.
The Court of Appeal in Abuja subsequently ordered Ned Nwoko to respond within six days to the two appeals filed by the incumbent senator representing Delta North Senatorial District in the National Assembly, Senator Peter Nwaoboshi and Peoples Democratic Party (PDP).
The order was made following an application for accelerated hearing of the two appeals filed by Nwaoboshi and the PDP against the decision of the Abuja division of the Federal High Court, which nullified the emergence of Nwaoboshi as candidate of the PDP in the recently concluded National Assembly election.
Justice Ahmed Mohammed of the Federal High Court had in a judgment delivered on April 3, 2019, nullified Senator Nwaoboshi’s nomination for the senatorial district’s election that was held on February 23, 2019.
Issues raised by Nwaoboshi in the appeal include; whether the trial court was right when it held that this suit filed on December 11, 2018 was not statute barred in the light of the 14 days allowed in Section 285 (9) of the Fourth Alteration to the Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria 1999 (as amended).
“Whether the lower court was right to have assumed jurisdiction on the ground that the Plaintiff (Nwoko) had earlier filed Suit No. CV/ 3086/18 on October 19, 2018 challenging the same primary election of October 2, 2018, before the High Court of the Federal Capital Territory, Abuja, which was withdrawn and struck out on December 10, 2018.
‘Whether the learned trial court would have arrived at the conclusions it reached and proceeded to grant Nwoko’s prayers contained in his originating summons against the appellant (Nwaoboshi) had it properly evaluated the evidence before it, and had applied the law correctly”.
Nwaoboshi is contending that the trial court erred in law when it held that the 14 days’ time allowed by the constitution stopped running in view of Nwoko’s previous action on the subject matter before the High Court of the Federal Capital Territory, Abuja in Suit CV/ 3086/18, which was withdrawn and struck out on December 10, 2018.
Nwaoboshi is also contending that by the said grounds the Suit No. CV/ 3086/18, was itself statute barred as it was filed on 19th October 2018 outside of the 14 days’ time allowed, adding that it was not capable of giving jurisdiction to the trial court.
He further said that the conditions precedent for the court to exercise jurisdiction was not fulfilled, therefore the suit was dead on arrival for being statute barred.
Nwaobshi told the court that contrary to the claim of the respondent he won the PDP primary election of October 2, 2018, which was the issue complained of in the originating summons filed by Nwoko.
When the matter was called on Tuesday, Senator Nwaoboshi’s lawyer Anthony Idigbe SAN informed the Court that they had filed an application to abridge time within which the appeal should be heard because the respondent refused to respond to the appellant briefs of argument.
He said that the judgment being challenged was delivered on 3rd April, 2019 and that by the constitutional provision the appeal will expire on 3rd June, 2019, therefore the court should limit the time allowed for the respondent to respond to five days.
Nwoko’ s lawyer, Ahmed Raji, SAN, did not oppose the application but sought seven days to file his response. The Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) and Peoples Democratic Party (PDP’s) lawyers, Anthony Onyere and Emmanuel Enoidem did not also oppose the application.
In a short ruling, presiding judge of the three-man panel of the Court of Appeal, Justice Adamu Jauro, adjourned till May 22 for hearing of the appeal and ordered Nwoko and INEC to file their responses within the next six days while Nwaoboshi has just one day to reply. Let me state again that Ned Nwoko is right constitutionally to have asked the court to pronounce him the Senator elect because that is in line with the principles of rule of law. The Judge at the Federal High Court is a reputable and well respected jurist. There is no shreds of evidence to show that there was any shady deal before he reached the determination of the matter instituted by Ned Nwoko. Any criticism not backed up empirically is at vest shallow and speculative.
This is why the then chief of Justice of Nigeria, Dahiru Mustapha wrote; “Competence and diligence are prerequisites to the due performance of judicial office. The judicial duties of a judge take precedence over all other activities. A judge shall devote the judge’s professional activity to judicial duties, which include not only the performance of judicial functions and responsibilities in court and the making of decisions, but also tasks relevant to the judicial office or the court’s operations. A judge knowledge, skills and personal qualities necessary for the proper performance of judicial duties, taking advantage for that purpose of the training and other facilities that should be made available. A judge shall keep himself or herself informed about relevant developments of international law, including international conventions and other instruments establishing human rights norms. A judge must perform all judicial duties, including the delivery of reserved decisions, efficiently, fairly and with reasonable promptness”.
“The competence and diligence of a judge in the performance of his duties, is as important as his independence and impartiality. This is so because poor knowledge and understanding of legal principles could lead to miscarriages of justice. Delay in the writing of judicial decisions also impinges on integrity because justice delayed is justice denied”.