Sunday Ejike – Abuja
Barring unforeseen circumstances, the Court of Appeal sitting in Abuja, will tomorrow deliver judgment on the appeal filed by Governor Ademola Adeleke of Osun State to challenge the nullification of his election by the state Governorship Election Petition Tribunal.
The appellate court had, on March 23, 2023, reserved judgement in the appeal after parties in the matter adopted their written addresses and announced that the date for the judgement will be communicated to parties.
Adeleke, and his party, the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) are praying to the appellate court to set aside the verdict of the Osun State Governorship Election Petition Tribunal, which sacked him from office.
It will be recalled that Justice Tertsea Kume led a three-member panel tribunal, had on January 27, in a split decision of two-to-one, voided the declaration of Adeleke as the winner of the governorship election that was held on July 16, 2022.
In the majority judgement, the tribunal upheld a petition filed by the former governor of the state, Gboyega Oyetola of the All Progressives Congress (APC) who came second in the election.
It held that Adeleke did not score the majority of lawful votes, adding that the conduct of the election was not in substantial compliance with provisions of the Electoral Act, 2022.
According to the tribunal, the petitioners, Oyetola and APC, successfully established that there was overvoting in 744 polling units in the state.
After deducting the said invalid votes, the tribunal declared Oyetola as the winner of the governorship contest and directed the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) to withdraw the Certificate of Return it earlier issued to Adeleke.
However, in his dissenting judgement, the third member of the panel, Justice P. Agbuli, affirmed Adeleke as the valid winner of the election and struck out the petition that was lodged by Oyetola and the APC.
Dissatisfied with the majority decision that sacked him from office, governor Adeleke took the case before the Court of Appeal.
In his 31 grounds of appeal, Adeleke, maintained that the decision was a nullity, pointing out that the second member of the panel, Justice Rabi Bashir, failed to render her opinion on the petition, either orally or in writing, but merely appended her signature on the judgement.
“The second member of the lower Tribunal could not have validly signed the decision of the chairman of the lower Tribunal without an opinion”, he argued.
Adeleke, through his team of lawyers led by Dr Onyechi Ikpeazu (SAN) further contended that the tribunal decided the matter without considering the totality of evidence that was adduced before it.
The Osun state governor accused the panel of exhibiting its bias when it left the substance of the case and made reference to his dancing skill and noted that the tribunal, in the majority judgement, held that he could not “go lo lo lo lo” and “buga won” as the duly elected governor of Osun state.
“The tribunal, in its judgment, erred in law and displayed bias against the Appellant when it referred to the Appellant’s dance at his inauguration as governor of Osun state which was never an issue before the lower tribunal.
“By referring to the Appellant’s personal eccentricity for dancing, the lower tribunal derided and mocked him in a manner suggesting that it was biased against him.
“The appearance of bias manifests in the reference to the Appellant’s proclivity for dancing and particularly the Buga song, has rendered the decision of the lower tribunal a nullity”, Adeleke argued.
He also argued that reports of entries on the Bimodal Voter Accreditation System, BVAS, machines, that were used for accreditation during the poll, was superior and unique and told the appellate court that physical examination that was conducted on the BVAS established a case of over voting in only six polling units in the state and not 744 polling units as held by the tribunal.
Adeleke, therefore, prayed the court to affirm the minority judgement of the tribunal that dismissed the petition that was lodged against his election victory.
However, while adopting his brief of argument, Oyetola’s lead counsel, Prince Lateef Fagbemi (SAN) urged the court to uphold the majority judgement of the tribunal.
He insisted that evidence that was obtained from INEC’s back-end server, clearly established that there was massive over-voting in the 744 polling units across the state.
The senior counsel argued that the fact that a member of the panel merely signed the judgement without making any comment on the petition, did not render the verdict invalid.
After it had listened to both sides, a three-member panel of the appellate court led by Justice Mohamed Lawal Shuaibu, reserved judgment till a date to be communicated to the parties.
Though the appeal was filed before the Court of Appeal at Osogbo, the panel subsequently relocated to Abuja to conduct its proceedings.3