In Landmark Decision, Court of Appeal Reverses Itself

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The Court of Appeal in Kaduna last Friday humbly reversed its earlier decision, sacking the member representing Lere Federal Constituency, Kaduna State in the House of Representatives, Davidson Iriekpen writes

History was made last Friday when the Court of Appeal in Kaduna reversed itself in a case on the tussle for the Lere Federal Constituency seat in the House of Representatives between first, two aspirants of the All Progressives Congress (APC) and second, the candidates of the APC and the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP).

In an unanimous decision, the court, presided over by Justices Obietonbara Daniel-Kalio, Saidu Tanko Hussaini and Olutodun Adepope-Okojie, did not only set aside its earlier decisions in suit number: CA/K/EPT/NA/18/2019 and suit number: CA/K/EPT/NA/19/2019 for being nullities, but ordered the reinstatement of Suleiman Aliyu Lere as the member representing Lere Federal Constituency of Kaduna State in the House of Representatives after he was sacked in November 2019.

The court consequently ordered the enforcement its decisions in CA/K/40/2019 which was affirmed by the Supreme Court in SC/222/2019 and CA/K/EPT/NA/4/2019 which had earlier declared Lere as both the candidate of the APC and the winner of the February 23, 2019 House of Representatives election for Lere Federal Constituency.

The case started on October 7, 2018 when Lere participated in the primary election conducted by the APC for the Lere Federal Constituency and emerged the winner. However, the APC submitted the name of one Ahmed Mohammed Munir to the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) as its candidate for the federal constituency. Dissatisfied, Lere went to the Kaduna State High Court where he filed a suit to challenge the APC and INEC’s decision. The state High Court declined jurisdiction on the grounds that the dispute was an internal party affair. Not satisfied with the decision, the lawmaker proceeded to the Court of Appeal which after assuming jurisdiction, two days to the 2019 general election, precisely on February 21, 2019, in a unanimous judgment, ordered INEC to recognise, accept and treat him as the candidate of the APC in the election. The court added that it was unlawful for the APC to recognise and forward the name of any candidate other than the appellant (Lere) to INEC as its candidate for the election. It further held that it was unlawful for the APC to have changed the result of the primary election in which the appellant emerged winner and was so declared by the party.

It equally restrained the 2nd respondent in the appeal, Munir, from parading himself as the candidate of the party in the 2019 general election, and awarded a cost of N500,000 each are awarded against the APC and Munir.

At the end of the general election, which held on February 23, 2019, the APC scored 64,442 votes to emerge victorious while PDP came second with 29,709 votes.

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Meanwhile, at this point, Munir and the APC had appealed the decision at the Supreme Court and on May 10, 2019, the apex court in its judgment, upheld the decision of the Court of Appeal that Suleiman Lere was the candidate of the APC. The apex court concurred with the order of the Court of Appeal asking INEC to recognise, accept Suleiman Lere as the candidate of the APC in the 2019 general election, holding that it cannot be faulted.

Consequent upon the decision of the Supreme Court, the INEC issued a certificate of return which was hitherto withheld pending the judgment of the court dated May 14, 2019 to Suleiman Lere.

While the pre-election dispute was being resolved at the Supreme Court, the PDP and its candidate, Lawal Muhammed Rabi’ufiled, filed a petition before the National and State Houses of Assembly Tribunal in Kaduna, challenging the outcome of the general election. They, however, did not join Suleiman Lere, the lawful candidate of the APC, as a respondent in the petition, instead they joined Ahmed Munir who as at the time of filing the petition, was not only a disqualified candidate, but was also restrained by the courts from parading himself as the APC candidate.

Even though the main grounds of the petition before the tribunal was premised on nomination and candidature of Ahmed Munir vis-à-vis his disqualification by the Court of Appeal, the petitioners vehemently opposed a motion filed before the tribunal seeking to join Suleiman Lere, who was recognised by the electorate and presumed by law to be the APC candidate, as a necessary party in the petition.

In its ruling delivered on June 1, 2019, the tribunal agreed with the petitioners and rejected the application seeking to join Suleiman Lere as the 4th respondent and a necessary party to the petition, a decision which analysts considered as shaving a man’s hair in his absence.

Upon Lere’s interlocutory appeal to the Court of Appeal, a full panel of the court presided over by Justice Hussein Mukhtar, with Justices Obietonbara O. Daniel-Kalio, Saidu Tanko Hussaini, Oludotun A. Adefope-Okojie and James Gambo Abundaga, gave a unanimous judgment and held that Suleiman Lere was a necessary party and his joinder application in the petition was essential to the proper adjudication of the matter before the tribunal.

At pages 19 to 20 of the judgment of the Court of Appeal delivered on July 26, 2019 in Appeal No: CA/K/EPT/NA/4/2019 between Suleiman Lere Vs. Rabiu Muhammad Lawal, the Appeal Court according to Justice Hussaini held thus: “It is important to note that the judgment of the Court of Appeal under reference was delivered a day or two before the general election took place. The general election was held on February 23, 2019. The Court of Appeal judgment was delivered on the February 21, 2019. It goes without saying, flowing from the decision above that as at the 23rd February 2019 when the general election was held or took place.

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“The 3rd respondent that is (Munir) was not the candidate of the APC rather the appellant, Suleiman Lere, was that candidate. The 5th respondent (INEC) was, by the reason of the judgment of this court put on notice to accept, recognise and treat the appellant herein as the candidate of the APC.”

The court concluded that based on the reasons above, Suleiman Lere participated in the general election of 2019 and contested for Lere Federal Constituency.”

The court further held: “Like the plaintiff in the case of Amaechi Vs. INEC (Supra), the appellant herein was an aspirant in the primary election organised by his party where he secured the highest number of votes, but unlike in the case of Amaechi Vs. INEC (Supra) the appellant herein was a candidate in the general election held on the February 23, 2019 where the APC and indeed, it was the appellant that won in that election, for the seat of Lere Federal Constituency in the House of Representatives. By reason of the appellant being the candidate, he participated in the general election held on the February 23, 2019 and thus had fulfilled all the requirements set by section 285 (13) of the Constitution (as amended) in terms of his participation.”

The same Court of Appeal in Appeal No: CA/K/EPT/NA/12/2019 between Mohammed Shamsuddeen Bello Vs. Suraja Idris Kanawa presided over by the same Justice Hussein Mukhtar and comprising of Saidu Tanko Hussaini and Oludotun A. Adefope-Okojie delivered a judgment on October 25, 2019 relying on the judgment of the full penal of the court in Appeal No: CA/K/EPT/NA/4/2019 between Suleiman Lere Vs. Hon. Rabiu Muhammad Lawal & Others in holding that Mohammed Shamsuddeen Bello participated and won the election into Takai/Sumaila Federal Constituency.

However, in a dramatic somersault, the same Court of Appeal presided over by the same Justice Hussein Mukhtar in CA/K/EPT/NA/19/2019 set aside the decision of the Supreme Court on the basis of which the APC issued a Certificate of Return to Suleiman Lere and also set aside the decision of the full Court of Appeal in Appeal No: CA/K/EPT/NA/4/2019.

The court in Appeal No: CA/K/EPT/NA/19/2019 with the same panel, reversed itself, saying that the APC which it hitherto adjudged to have sponsored a candidate and won the election for Lere Federal Constituency, did not now have a valid candidate in the February 23, 2019 general election. It consequently sacked Lere from House.

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The decision, no doubt, had raised many eyebrows with observers wondering that if the Supreme Court could determine that Suleiman Lere was the candidate of the APC for Lere Federal Constituency and the Court of Appeal endorsing the decision, how did the same panel arrive at a contrary decision that the APC did not have a candidate in the election? They were confused that the same court with the same justices would deliver conflicting decisions on the same subject matter, wondering if the decisions of the Court of Appeal in CA/K/40/2019, CA/K/EPT/NA/4/2019, CA/K/EPT/NA/12/2019 and CA/K/EPT/NA/19/2019 could be justified?

Convinced that the Court of Appeal goofed in the face of glaring evidence, the APC took up the battle on behalf of its candidate. Through its lawyer, Ms. Kehinde Oyeniran, it again approached the Court of Appeal with Suit No: CA/K/127/M/2020, asking the court to set aside its decisions in CA/K/EPT/NA/18/2019 and CA/K/EPT/NA/19/2019 for being nullities. It urged the court to enforce its decisions in CA/K/40/2019 which was affirmed by the Supreme Court in SC/222/2019) and CA/K/EPT/NA/4/2019. The party contended that the decisions of the court in CA/K/EPT/NA/18/2019 and CA/K/EPT/NA/19/2019 were only a miscarriage of justice, but an aberration. It noted that since the decision of the Election Petition Tribunal cannot stand in the face of the superior courts’ decisions by virtue of Section 287(2) of the 1999 Constitution, the court should make consequential orders re-instating it candidate (Lere) as the member representing Lere Federal Constituency in the House of Representatives.

The counsel to INEC, Messrs T.S. Inuwa (SAN), A. A. Umar and others, urged the court to dismiss the application. They not only argued that the court cannot reverse itself in a matter it had concluded and foreclosed, they also argued the application was an abuse of court process.

With last Friday’s reversal, many observers are of the view that if the Court of Appeal did not reverse itself, and the case went back to the Supreme Court, the panel would have been seriously scolded and reprimanded by the apex court. The court on many occasions had seriously frowned at situations where its judgments were often misinterpreted or reverse by courts with subordinate jurisdiction.

QUOTE

The case started on October 7, 2018 when Lere participated in the primary election conducted by the APC for the Lere Federal Constituency and emerged the winner. However, the APC submitted the name of one Ahmed Mohammed Munir to the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) as its candidate for the federal constituency. Dissatisfied, Lere went to the Kaduna State High Court where he filed a suit to challenge the APC and INEC’s decision.

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