Whether Local Government Elections are Appealable to the Court of Appeal or the Supreme Court

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CASE TITLE: BARR ILIYA IBN ALIYU v. ALL PROGRESSIVE CONGRESS & ORS (2022) LPELR-57345(SC) 

JUDGMENT DATE: 18TH FEBRUARY, 2022

JUSTICES:

  • CHIMA CENTUS NWEZE, JSC
  • AMINA ADAMU AUGIE, JSC
  • HELEN MORONKEJI OGUNWUMIJU, JSC
  • TIJJANI ABUBAKAR, JSC
  • EMMANUEL AKOMAYE AGIM, JSC

PRACTICE AREA: ELECTORAL MATTERS- ELECTION

FACTS:

The Appellant was interested in contesting for the position of chairman Nasarawa Eggon Local Government of Nasarawa State. He believed that he satisfied all the requirements for participation in the primary elections but to his disappointment, the primary elections were conducted behind him through some manoeuvres and intrigues. He was apparently sidelined. The Appellant, therefore, instituted an action against the 1st to 4th Respondents (as of 1st- 4th Defendants) challenging the primary elections conducted by the 1st Respondent (All Progressive Congress). He took out originating summons at the High Court of Justice, Nasarawa State, asking for among other things, a declaration that the Primary Election organized and conducted by the 1st and 2nd Defendants in Nasarawa Eggon Local Government Council is null, void and of no effect whatsoever.

At the trial, the 1st and 2nd Respondents filed a notice of preliminary objection seeking to strike out the suit on grounds that the Plaintiff had no locus standi to institute the action, that the action was, therefore, statute-barred, and that the Plaintiff had not exhausted the internal remedies for dispute resolution in line with the party Constitution among others. The 4th Respondent (Nasarawa State Independent Electoral Commission) also filed a notice of preliminary objection contending that there was no cause of action against it.

The High Court held that it had no jurisdiction to entertain the appeal and it was accordingly struck out. The Appellant became nettled by the decision of the trial Court and appealed to the lower Court. The Court of Appeal, Makurdi Division rendered a decision holding that it had no jurisdiction to entertain the appeal. The appeal was therefore accordingly struck out.

The Appellant again became aggrieved and further appealed to the Supreme Court against the concurrent findings of the trial High Court and the Court of Appeal.

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The 4th Respondent raised a Preliminary objection on the following grounds:

  1. The Court lacks jurisdiction to entertain this appeal.
  1. The suit was filed outside the required period of 14 days as provided by Section 285(9) of the 1999 Constitution (as amended) and the same is statute-barred.

ISSUES:

The Supreme Court determined the appeal based on the preliminary objection formulated by the 4th respondent’s counsel.

COUNSEL SUBMISSION

The learned Counsel for the 4th Respondent contended that appeals coming from the Court of appeal that border on Local Government Elections is not among the items listed under Section 233 of the Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria 1999 (as amended), he, therefore, urged the Court to hold that it lacked jurisdiction to hear and determine the appeal.

Counsel to the Appellant however submitted that the Appellant had consistently, constantly and persistently challenged the conduct of the primary elections held by the All Progressive Congress at Nasarawa Eggon Local Government on the 26th of July, 2021, and by so doing, Counsel said, falls within the rights of the Appellant under Section 87 (9) of the Electoral Act. Learned Counsel urged the Court to discountenance the objections raised by the Respondents.

DECISION/HELD:

In the final analysis, the Supreme Court held that the preliminary objection was meritorious and it was accordingly sustained. Consequently, the Supreme Court had no jurisdiction to entertain the Appellant’s appeal, it was therefore struck out.

RATIOS

  1. ELECTORAL MATTERS – ELECTION: Whether the provisions of the Electoral Act apply to Local Government Elections; whether the same is appealable to the Court of Appeal or the Supreme Court

“It is very clear that jurisdiction is donated to this Court and all other Courts by statutes, why must the Court deliberately open flood gate to endless frivolous litigations? Does the Constitution talk about Local Government elections? Does the Electoral Act talk about Local Government elections? To address this issue in support of the position taken by the lower Court, I must embark on navigation into the Electoral Act to unveil where the Appellant thought he could find solace in clothing himself with the right to approach the Court of Appeal in his bid to contest for the office of Chairman in a Local Government?

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I will refer to part VI of the Electoral Act in particular Sections 103 (1) of the Electoral Act which provides for election into Local Governments as follows:

“103(1) The conduct of elections into the offices of Chairman, Vice-Chairman and a member of an Area Council and the recall of a member of an Area Council shall be under the direction and supervision of the Commission in accordance with this Act.

(2) The register of voters compiled and the polling units established by the Commission and other regulations, guidelines, rules or manual issued or made by the Commission shall be used for elections into the Area Council or recall of a member.”

From the provisions of Section 103 of the Act, it is very clear to me that the case of the Plaintiff/Appellant is wholly and exclusively regulated by the Nasarawa State Electoral Law, the National Electoral Commission or the Electoral Act have no place in the election, the elections contemplated by the Electoral Act, are elections into local area Councils as defined under Section 156 of the Electoral Act. Section 156 of the Act defines area Councils as:

“Area Council” means Area Councils recognized and existing by virtue of Section 3 (6) of the Constitution and as set out in Part II of the First Schedule thereof and any additional Area Council provided by an Act of the National Assembly in accordance with Section 8 (5) of the Constitution.”

Section 3(6) of the Constitution provides for 778 Local Governments and six area Councils as set out in the I and II Schedules to the Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria (1999) (as amended), the Appellant in the instant appeal falls within the 778 Local Governments, (Nasarawa Eggon Local Government) he does not come within the schedule to the Constitution where the Electoral Act applies, in other words, he does not belong to a local area council. For the avoidance of doubt, the II schedule to the Constitution where Area Councils are provided is also reproduced as follows:

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FEDERAL CAPITAL TERRITORY, ABUJA

Area Councils

Area Council Headquarters

Abaji Abaji

Abuja Municipal Garki

Bwari Bwari

Gwagwalada Gwagwalada

Kuje Kuje

Kwali Kwali?

From the provisions of Section 103 of the Electoral Act, it is very clear to me that elections into Local Government offices conducted under State Laws cannot find their way to the Court of Appeal or Supreme Court under any guise, this is therefore so as rightly found by the lower Court. Politicians operating under the State Electoral laws must begin and end their squabbles and skirmishes within the State, such wrangling must not extend to this Court. The Appellant has no business whatsoever taking his grievance before the lower Court. It is necessary to sound a note of counsel to politicians to learn to respect their Constitution so doing will enrich internal democracy and promote the culture of voluntary compliance, not every irritating claim is deserving of judicial time and attention. Politicians must begin to have faith in their own internal dispute resolution mechanism, they must graduate into managing their internal domestic affairs without running for judicial intervention at all times.” Per ABUBAKAR, J.S.C. 

  1. COURT – JURISDICTION: Whether the Courts have jurisdiction over matters emanating from the conduct of election to posts in the Local Government Councils

“The complaints of the Appellant and the cause of action at the trial Court is against the primary elections conducted by his party for the purpose of selecting candidates for the Local Government Council elections to be conducted by the Nasarawa State Independent Electoral Commission. The trial Court, the Court below and consequently, this Court has no jurisdiction to hear and determine any cause of action or petition emanating from the conduct of election to posts in the Local Government Councils of the Country. Such cases end at the State level in accordance with the electoral law of the State.” Per OGUNWUMIJU, J.S.C.

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