The recent warning by the Supreme Court to lawyers in a recent case involving Delta State Governor, Sheriff Oborevwori, to refrain from instituting actions on issues that had already been decided by the apex court, could be what is needed to reduce the burden on the wheels of justice, Alex Enumah writes
The Supreme Court recently warned lawyers to refrain from instituting actions on issues that had already been decided by the apex court. The apex court gave the warning in its judgment delivered in the appeal filed by Chief Ikie Aghwarianovwe, seeking the disqualification of Delta State Governor, Sheriff Oborevwori for allegedly supplying false information about his academic qualification and date of birth to the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC).
In a judgment in the pre-election matter, the five-member panel of the court unanimously held that Aghwarianovwe’s appeal failed due to his inability to show that the concurrent decisions of the two lower courts were perverse.
Aghwarianovwe, a governorship aspirant on the platform of the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) had filed the suit in October 2022 to challenge Oborevwori’s eligibility to contest the March 18 governorship election.
The plaintiff alleged that the documents contained in the Form EC9, which Oborevwori submitted to INEC to aid his qualification for the governorship election were forged.
The case was initially filed at the Federal High Court in Abuja but was later transferred to the Asaba Division of the Federal High Court. Both the PDP and Governor Oborevwori filed preliminary objections to challenge the competence of the suit.
But while denying the allegation of forgery, Oborevwori and PDP raised an objection that the suit was statute-barred, pointing out that documents submitted to INEC in 2018 towards the 2019 general election could not be a ground for disqualification of a candidate in 2023.
The trial court upheld this objection, saying the plaintiff failed woefully to substantiate the allegations of forgery.
Dissatisfied, Aghwarianovwe through his counsel, Dr. Alex Izinyon (SAN), approached the Abuja Division of the Court of Appeal. He asked the appellate court to overturn the decision of the Federal High Court.
But the court in a unanimous judgment delivered by Justice Peter Olabisi Ige, upheld the ruling of the lower court and resolved all the issues for determination in favour of Oborevwori. Justice Ige who cited a plethora of authorities, chided Aghwarianovwe for alleging falsification of documents without calling the institutions that issued the certificates to Oborevwori, saying the plaintiff’s case was moribund and could not be revived under any guise.
Equally not satisfied with the decision, Aghwarianovwe again through Izinyon headed to the Supreme Court, asking the apex court to overturn the verdict of the Appeal Court, citing miscarriage of justice.
But the apex court, after listening to Oborevwori’s lawyer, Mr. Damian Dodo (SAN), dismissed the appeal for lacking in merit and upheld the judgments of the Court of Appeal and Federal High Court, Asaba. It held that no matter how the appeal is viewed, it is bound to fail as same was dead on arrival.
Justice Adamu Jauro who wrote the lead judgment, which was read by Justice Emmanuel Agim, said the appellant failed to prove his case and that Oborevwori was qualified to contest the last governorship election in the state. He noted that none of the grounds of the appeal indicated that the concurrent findings of the two lower courts were perverse.
He added that the appellant failed to prove his case beyond reasonable doubt, saying “the mere fact that there were differentials in names does not amount to falsity” and “an error in date of birth in a certificate not shown evidentially to emanate from the respondent cannot amount to falsity.”
Justice Jauro held that its decision in the case of PDP & Ors. v Degi-Eremienyo has been departed from in the cases of Dantiye v APC and APC v. Ebeleke. He further stated the mere fact that a person states different names in sequence or omission, does not amount to falsification or forgery.
The jurist said Oborevwori’s date of birth on his WAEC certificate was not imputed by him, but by WAEC, and as such any error made in such certificate is not from his part. It stated that the provision of Section 29 of the Electoral Act, 2022 relates to information submitted for the purpose of the election, and not any information given prior to that.
The court, after reading its judgment, advised the bar that in election matters, counsel should refrain from instituting actions on issues that had already been decided by the court. It stated that counsel should refrain from testing waters on decisions already decided by the court, as the same is wrong practice. The court noted that counsel can ask for a departure from such a decision, but not act ignorant as to already decided cases of the court on the matter.
Justice Jauro added: “After a very detailed consideration of every argument of all the parties on the various issues raised, I find that no matter how the instant appeal is viewed it is bound to fail. There is no saving grace for it. Right from the grounds of appeal, to the prominent issue of jurisdiction and now to the merit itself, the appeal was dead on arrival, with zero chance of success.
“Flowing from the foregoing, I find no merit in the instant appeal. I dismiss the same,” he said and proceeded to affirm the earlier decisions of two lower courts.
Justice Jauro awarded a cost of N6million against the appellant, with each of the first and second respondents – PDP and Oborevwori, receiving N3 million each.
“Counsel should refrain from instituting actions on issues that have already been decided by the court. Counsel should refrain from testing waters on decisions already decided by the court, as the same is wrong practice.
“Counsel can ask for a departure from such a decision, but not act ignorant as to already decided cases of the court on the matter,” the court admonished.
It would be recalled that the apex court had also dismissed a similar suit filed by another governorship aspirant, David Edevbie, in October last year.
Though Edevbie had first won his case at the Federal High Court in Abuja, the Court of Appeal and Supreme Court dismissed the case in its entirety.
Edevbie during the PDP primary in May 2022, scored 113 votes, while Oborevwori polled 590 votes. But feeling aggrieved, he approached the Federal High Court in Abuja to contest the credentials the governor submitted to INEC.
In his judgment, Justice Taiwo Taiwo on July 7, 2022, disqualified Oborevwori. The court ordered INEC and the PDP to recognise Edevbie as the candidate of the party in the election.
The trial judge agreed with Edevbie that Oborevwori ought not to be on the ballot for the PDP primary election on account of supplying false and forged documents to INEC to aid his qualification for the governorship election.
But not satisfied with the judgment, Oborevwori through his lawyer, Dodo (SAN), headed to the Court of Appeal which overturned the judgment.
Not satisfied, Edevbie proceeded to the Supreme Court with about 23 grounds of appeal.
In a unanimous decision by a panel led by Justice Amina Augie, the apex court held that the High Court was wrong to have given Edevbie victory. It added that the Appeal Court rightly upheld the eligibility of Oborevwori to contest the governorship election.
A day before the Supreme Court judgment penultimate week, the governor was again victorious when the Governorship Election Petitions Tribunal sitting in Asaba dismissed the petition filed by the governorship candidate of the Labour Party, Mr. Ken Pela, to challenge his election as governor.
In the course of the proceedings, the governor’s lead counsel, Dodo (SAN), argued that the LP’s petition had been abandoned. He stressed that the petitioner failed to avail himself of the seven-day window to apply for a pre-hearing notice and that the petitioner also failed to apply for another pre-hearing notice, therefore effectively rendering his petition abandoned.
He added that the petitioner applied for pre-hearing notice on May 19 before the close of pleadings, and as such, the petition was premature and incompetent and should be dismissed.
The chairperson of the tribunal’s panel, Justice C.H Ahuchaogu, consequently dismissed the petition because Pela abandoned his petition.
Responding to his string of victories, Oborevwori dedicated his recent legal victories at the Governorship Election Petitions Tribunal and the Supreme Court to God. He thanked God for stamping His feet on the affairs of the state and pledged to continue to be the governor of all the people of the state.
He called for the support of all in the task of building a virile and prosperous state.