CASE TITLE: ALIYU v. NAMADI & ORS (2023) LPELR-59742(SC)
JUDGMENT DATE: 13TH JANUARY, 2023
- KUDIRAT MOTONMORI OLATOKUNBO KEKERE-EKUN, JSC
- UWANI MUSA ABBA AJI, JSC
- MOHAMMED LAWAL GARBA, JSC
- IBRAHIM MOHAMMED MUSA SAULAWA, JSC
- ADAMU JAURO, JSC
PRACTICE AREA: ELECTORAL MATTERS
The Appellant was a participant in the primary election of the 2nd Respondent conducted on 26th May, 2022 to select its gubernatorial candidate for Jigawa State in the upcoming 2023 General Elections. The party adopted the indirect method in making the selection as provided for in Section 84(1), (2) and (5) of the Electoral Act 2022. The 1st Respondent was declared the winner, having scored 1,220 votes, while the Appellant came 3rd with 13 votes. Being dissatisfied with the outcome of the primary, the Appellant instituted an action via an originating summons before the Federal High Court, Dutse, Jigawa State seeking several declaratory reliefs and orders. Among other complaints, the Appellant complained that there was breach of Article 26 (e) – (i) of the 2nd Respondent’s Guidelines for Nomination of Candidates for 2023 General Election, as it pertains to the issue of non-compliance with the date and time of the conduct of the Gubernatorial Primary election.
Respondents filed applications challenging the jurisdiction of the Court to entertain the suit, principally on the ground that the Appellant’s complaints relate to the emergence of 827 ward delegates at the 2nd Respondent’s congress held on 17th May, 2022 and their alleged disenfranchisement which is a pre-primary matter and not justiciable. They also challenged the locus standi of the Appellant to institute the action on behalf of the said delegates who were not parties to the suit. They also filed counter-affidavits opposing the originating summons.
The Appellant filed various affidavits in opposition to the applications challenging the Court’s jurisdiction and further affidavits in response to the counter-affidavits filed.
In a considered judgment delivered on 18th September, 2022, the learned trial Judge upheld the objections of the Respondents. Accordingly, the summons was struck out. The Court however went ahead to determine the Appellant’s case on its merits but dismissed same on the ground that the Appellant failed to prove his claims.
Dissatisfied, the Appellant appealed to the Court of Appeal, which set aside the part of the judgment of the trial Court wherein it held that the Appellant lacked the locus standi to institute the action. It held that the issue of disenfranchisement of his alleged 827 delegates was not the only complaint made by the Appellant and that in so far as he participated in the primary election and had a complaint alleging non-compliance with the provisions of the Electoral Act and the 2nd Respondent’s electoral regulations and guidelines as regards the time for conducting the Governorship primary, he had the locus to ventilate his grievance. After a careful consideration for the merit of the appeal, the Court dismissed same. Dissatisfied with the part of the judgment dismissing his appeal, the Appellant further appealed to the Supreme Court.
ISSUES FOR DETERMINATION:
The Court determined the appeal on the following issues thus:
“1. Whether the lower was not wrong in holding that the Appellant did not prove the complaint of the breach of Article 26 (e) – (i) of the 2nd Respondent’s Guidelines for Nomination of Candidates for 2023 General Election, as it pertains to the issue of non-compliance with the date and time of the conduct of the Gubernatorial Primary election regards being had to the provisions of the Electoral Act, 2022 and the interpretation of these provisions and Guidelines by this Honourable Court in EMMANUEL AND NNAMDI UBA v. CHIEF DR. GEORGE MOGHALU AND 2 ORS (2022) LPELR – 57876 (SC) APC v. MOGHALU (2022) LPELR – 56993 (CA), as well as the totality of the affidavit and documentary evidence adduced by the parties particularly, Exhibits FAA 10, FAA 36, FAA 37A, FAA 37B, FAA 38, APC 5B and JIGAWA 9?
- Whether the lower Court was not wrong in dismissing the Appellant’s claim that those who voted at the Primary Election in issue were not eligible delegates- duly elected in line with the extant laws and Guidelines of the 2nd and 3rd Respondents, regard being had to Section 84 (9) of the Electoral Act, 2022, the 2nd Respondent’s Notice for the conduct of the Special Ward Congresses (Exhibit FAA5), affidavit and documentary evidence, particularly, Exhibit FAA8 (1-246) and Exhibit MDA 1 – MDA, 16 among others?”
Appellant’s counsel stated that the 2nd Respondent failed to give at least 21 days’ notice of the proposed conduct of the primary to the 3rd Respondent as stipulated in Section 82(1) of the Electoral Act.
That by a letter dated 5th May, 2022, (Exhibit FAA 35A), the 3rd Respondent was informed that the primary would hold on 18th May, 2022 and that by a second notice dated 23rd May, 2022, the 3rd Respondent was informed that the primary was to be rescheduled to 26th May, 2022. It is the Appellant’s contention that the letter dated 5th May, 2022 was delivered on 6th May, 2022 while the notice of rescheduling was delivered on 24th May, 2022. Applying Section 15(2) (a) of the Interpretation Act, learned counsel argued that in calculating the period, the day on which the event occurs must be excluded and therefore, 6th May, 2022 to 26th May, 2022 is a period of 20 days.
He submitted that in determining whether the requisite 21 days’ notice was given, although the learned trial Judge conceded that from the date of delivery of Exhibit 35A to 26th May, 2022 was less than 21 days, he took into cognizance reference to an earlier letter of 6th April, 2022. He argued that there was no evidence that the said letter was ever delivered to the 3rd Respondent and that the Court of Appeal was wrong to have affirmed the trial Court’s finding on the issue.
Counsel submitted further that the 2nd notice for the rescheduling of the primary breached Article 7.2. of the INEC Regulations and Guidelines for Political Primaries in that the notice must be given not later than 7 days to the new date. He submitted that from 25th May, 2022 to 26th May, 2022 when the letter was delivered to the 3rd respondent is less than 7 days.
In response, learned counsel for the 1st Respondent argued that the provision of Section 82(1) of the Electoral Act ought to be given its natural meaning and that it cannot be the intendment of the law that after the necessary notice has been given in accordance with the law, in the event of a rescheduling, as happened in the instant case, a further 21 days’ notice ought to be given. It was argued that it would amount to importing extraneous matters into the legislation, which is not permitted. See A.G. Federation Vs A.G. Lagos State (2013) 16 NWLR (Pt.1380) 249 @ 317 D – C. He argued that both the notice of 6th May, 2022 and the rescheduling notice of 24th May, 2022 refer to the same primary election and that in the notice of 6th May, 2022 (Exhibit FAA 35A), reference was made to the earlier notice dated 6th April, 2022. He submitted that since the documents relate to the same transaction, they were rightly considered as a whole and the learned trial Judge rightly found that the computation of time commenced from the date of the original notice of 6th April, 2022 and not from the date of the notice of rescheduling. He referred to Animashaim & Amor Vs Ogundimu & Ors (2015) LPELR- 25979 (CA).
Relying of the case of Ngige Vs INEC (2015) 1 NWLR (Pt.1440) 124, learned counsel argued that due to the sui generis nature of election related matters, where time is of the essence, the provision of Interpretation Act as it not applicable, as time stipulated in the Electoral Act, Practice Directions and the 1999 Constitution, as amended, from the day of the act and date on which the event occurs is not excluded. He submitted that in any event, there is no denial by the 3rd Respondent that it did not receive the earlier notice dated 6th April, 2022 and the Appellant is not in a position to admit or deny receipt of the letter since it was not addressed to him.
On behalf of the 2nd Respondent, counsel submitted that the date of the primary was never postponed so as to require the issuance of a notice of a new date to the 3rd Respondent and other interested parties.
3rd Respondent’s counsel submissions were similar to that of the counsel to the 2nd Respondent.
In a unanimous decision, the appeal was dismissed.
ELECTORAL MATTERS- POLITICAL PARTY PRIMARY: Whether a fresh twenty-one days notice is required where party primaries of which proper notice was given to INEC is rescheduled
“There was evidence before the trial Court vide Exhibits FAA 35A and FAA 35B at pages 3426 and 3428 of Vol. 5 of the record that notices were issued for the rescheduling of the primary election. By Exhibit FAA 35A dated 5th May, 2022 but received on 6th May, 2022 by the 3rd Respondent, the 2nd Respondent gave notice that it had reviewed and re-scheduled its Governorship primaries to 18th May, 2022. By Exhibit FAA 35B dated 23rd May, 2022 but received by the 3rd Respondent on 24th May, 2022, the 2nd Respondent gave a further rescheduling notice for the Governorship Primary to 26th May 2022, Exhibit FAA 35B refers to the 2nd Respondent’s previous letter dated 18th May, 2022 with Ref. No. APC/NHDO/INEC/19/022/56, while. Exhibit FAA 35A refers to its earlier letter referenced APC/NHDO/INEC/19022/46 dated 6th April, 2022 on the above subject i.e., “Notice for conduct of primaries for the nomination of candidates.”
There is no doubt that by virtue of Section 82(1) of the Electoral Act, every registered political party shall give the 3rd Respondent (INEC) at least 21 days notice of any congress, conference or meeting convened for the purpose of nominating candidates for elective office under the Act. The provision is mandatory and failure to give the said notice shall, by virtue of Section 82(5) of the Act, render the convention, congress, conference or meeting invalid. As observed above, Exhibits FAA 35A and FAA 35B are notices of re-scheduling of previously scheduled primaries.
The learned trial Judge examined some excerpts from the documents and held thus:
“It is not hard to decipher from these excerpts that the 2nd Respondent had previously issued notices to the 3rd Respondent, the earliest dated 6th April, 2022 and that in my humble view would be the date time began to run and not the subsequent notices to reschedule the primaries…
It is crystal clear that an earlier notice was issued by the 2nd Defendant to the 3rd Defendant on the 6th of April, counting from which 21 days would have elapsed long before the 26th or 27th May, 2022 when the primary election was purportedly held and I hold that there is no breach of Section 82 of the Electoral Act.”
In affirming this finding, the Court below held thus;
“Here the trial Judge made the necessary calculations and held that 2nd Respondent met the 21 days’ time stipulated by Section 82 (1) of the Electoral Act 2022 for Notice of Primary election to be given to INEC. That the notice of the rescheduling from 25th May to 26th May, 2022 cannot be counted as a new notice that needs 21 days’ notice, so 2nd Respondent was in order. That argument is impregnable. The 21 days’ notice stipulated is to afford INEC sufficient time to prepare for its monitoring duty. INEC has not complained that the 2nd Respondent gave it insufficient notice of its said primary election and even issued a report tendered by the Appellant as Exhibit FAA 36. Appellant, in my opinion is simply quibbling with this complaint.”
Has the Appellant satisfied this Court that the concurrent findings are perverse? I think not. As already stated, in the interpretation of a statute, the Court must give the words their plain and ordinary meaning and must not interpret the provisions in a manner that would lead to absurdity. I agree with their Lordships of the two lower Courts that in election matters, which are time bound, it cannot be the intention of the legislature that not only the initial notice but every notice of rescheduling must be given at least 21 days before the date fixed for the particular election. Such an interpretation would lead to absurdity.
Furthermore, it is quite evident from Exhibit FAA 35A that an earlier notice had been given dated 6th April, 2022. I agree with learned counsel for the 1st and 2nd Respondents that it does not lie in the mouth of the Appellant to query receipt of the earlier notice by the 3rd Respondent where the 3rd respondent itself has not challenged same.
I hold that the findings of the two lower Courts on this issue are supported by the record and cannot be held to be perverse.” Per KEKERE-EKUN, J.S.C.