Hurdles before Obaseki: Will interpretation of Supreme Court judgment on Nwosu in Imo State Governorship Election, apply?
Kingsley Abavo, Benin
Few days ago former Chairman of the Nigerian Union of Journalists, Edo State Council, Comrade Godwin Erhahon caused a stir when he was reported in the media to have advised the Edo State Governor, Godwin Obaseki to stop wasting time and money in an election he is not a candidate.
Erhahon was quoted to have made reference to the very recent Supreme Court ruling on Nwosu, participating in the Imo State Governorship Election on the Action Alliance (AA) Party platform.
In the prevailing scenario in Edo, Erhahon argued that the Supreme Court ruling is applicable, thus nullifying the eligibility of Obaseki participating in the September 19 Governorship Election. The Governor is the flag bearer of the Peoples’ Democratic Party (PDP).
In our characteristic journalism practice, we went out to seek some legal Practitioners interpretation of the Supreme Court judgment. Here, Benin based legal Practitioners, Prince Peters Uwadiae, and Isah Aigbokhabho states their argument.
Prince Peters Uwadiae Igbiniie
The judgment of Nwosu was delivered on the 20th of December, 2019. My brother, Erhahon’s assertion is not far from the true position of the law. The APC has a wide margin of grounds of argument to explore in the legal parlance whether Obaseki is qualified to carry/wear the toga of the PDP in the Edo 2020 Governorship Election.
The Court has said; having gone through the primary of one political party, you cannot go through the primary of another political party in the same election.
That being so, the Court also said that the said primary begins from the purchase of nomination form. In other words, if you have bought the nomination form of a particular political party and you have participated in the nomination process whether it was terminated mid way or not, or there are intervening issues that made you not to get to the final stage, having participated at all, forbids you from participating in another process commencing from the purchase of nomination form of another party to being a candidate of that political party.
What has happened in Edo State is this; the sitting Governor bought the nomination form of the APC, filled same, attached his documents, went through the screening and he was disqualified.
Going by this judgment, he has participated in the nomination process of the APC. If you go to APC Secretariat now, you will find the expression of interest form, the nomination form, bought and filled by the Governor of Edo State.
You will also find from the screening Committee, his participation and outcome of that screening. In other words, he has gone through the process of screening in APC.
We are also not unaware that the same Governor has gone through the process of screening of the PDP. He bought the PDP form; he went through the screening and primary and eventually became the candidate of the party.
The question now is; the two nominations are they not for the purpose of the same Governorship Election in Edo?
If the nominations are for the purpose of the same Election, the Governor who had participated in the APC nomination process, by law is he still allowed to participate in the nomination process of another political party in the same Election? If the answer is in the negative going by this judgment what now befalls the Governor?
It therefore means what has happened in the PDP is an aberration going by this judgment. It is an affront going by this judgment. It is an act inimical to our democratic practices going by this judgment. It is something that is not only alien; it is an obtuse act, moribund act that the law cannot sustain. And if the law cannot sustain what the Governor has done in PDP, what is the consequence? It is disqualification.
Uwadiae exuding confidence asserts that the APC will sit down and analyze judgment of the Supreme Court which is the Apex Court in Nigeria and its judgment is final. “And it is the locus classical of the issue. Nobody, no lower Court has the right or audacity to go contrary to what the Apex Court has said.
That would be tantamount to judicial rascality if any Judge attempts to do that.
That being so, the APC need to critically look at that judgment in relation to what has transpired in Edo State in this time past whether by this judgment of the Supreme Court whether Governor Obaseki stands the chance of representing the PDP in the State 202O Governorship Election as a candidate.
If the APC finds that he is not qualified by law, it is a matter of filing its case at the Federal High Court and let the Court look at the facts as they are, and take a position.
This is because allowing that to happen in Edo, it will ultimately mean that the ideas, democratic tendencies and intentions of the Supreme Court as enunciated in that judgment has been thwarted.
I say because the Supreme Court is the arm of Government that is supposed to promote democracy in Nigeria and ensure that things are done in a manner that the foundation of democracy is solidified and built upon in this country.
I want to conclude that I have looked at that judgment; I have been part of what is happening in Edo State, what my brother Erhahon has said is not far from the legal position. His words are not aberration; they are quite in consonant with the Supreme Court judgment on the matter.
Responding to the argument in some quaters that Obaseki did not participate in the APC primary let alone emerging as candidate of the party unlike the Nwosu case, hence the Supreme Court judgment cannot apply, Uwadiae further explain;
“I beg to differ! When you say a process, it does not mean until the end. The Advance Learner’s Dictionary defines a process as a continuing act and not the end of the act.
Continuing of the act and not the ultimate result, is a process. The Court has said the process. And what is the process? Indicating interest that you want to participate in an election by buying the expression of interest form, that is when the whole thing begins. When you buy the expression of interest form, the process has started, then you now buy the nomination form, fill and submit, the process is ongoing, then participate in the screening and if you succeed, you go to the next stage of the process of party primary and ultimately if you win, you become the candidate.
The process commences from the expression of interest form. Governor Obaseki bought the expression of interest form, bought the nomination form, filled the same and submitted, participated in the screening; that is the process.
If you ultimately did not become the candidate that does not mean that you did not participate in the process.
This is why I said if the APC files their papers, it is left for the Court to look at the issue raised vis-a- viz the ratio desidenda in the Nwosu’s case. If they are in similatum to the reason why the Court said Nwosu cannot be the AA party candidate, then of course, they must apply to Edo State because that is the position of the Supreme Court, the law and precedent as at today.
Let me say this, the PDP still does not believe that what they have done is abnormal in the eye of the law. But by the Electoral Act, the window of possible substitution of candidate would soon close against them, and it is a dangerous a scenario. Once the window closes, because the party has 60 days to the election to substitute candidate.
The problem with the Electoral Act is that it is time bound. If PDP fails to act within the period given by the Electoral Act, they will not be able make substitution anymore.
Similarly, because it is a pre Election issue, the APC also has time frame within which to file their papers against the nomination of Godwin Obaseki. By the Electoral Act, APC has 14 days within which to file. The 14 days begins from Saturday, 4 July, 2020 and if the window elapses without any of the opposing political parties including the APC filing, the issue will become status barred.
If this happens, Governor Obaseki can now contest the Governorship Election safely because INEC does not have the legal right to disqualify anybody but the Courts in the circumstances of this nature.
Isah Miminu Aigbokhabho Esq
Nwosu’s case is was that he participated in the primary one party, emerged as candidate and for certain reasons he left to go participate in the primary of another political party and again became candidate by virtue of that Nwosu offended the law.
But the truth is that it is a little dicey here because in the Nwosu’s case, he did participate in the APC primary; he bought the nomination form, he went for screening, and emerged as candidate then some inter disagreement, he opted for the ticket of the Action Alliance (AA) Party. This is onus of the Supreme Court judgment.
Now, relating that judgment to Edo State is a little dicey. Reason being that Obaseki picked the expression of interest form, nomination form, went for the party screening and was disqualified and he opted for the Peoples’ Democratic Party (PDP) where he emerged as candidate so it is going to be a strong constitutional issue here.
Interpreting the Nwosu’s case; if beginning of the nomination process is about picking up the expression of interest form, according to the Supreme Court judgment then we are going to be having problem in Edo State.
But if it is rather about running the whole hug up to participating in the primary, before going to another party to participate in the nomination process and emerged as candidate in the same Election, then there will be no problem, Edo State scenario will be different.
Explaining what a process is, Isah held that “if you collect the nomination form, the process has started. Though I have not seen the judgement, but I Know that the process begins with collection of the expression of interest form, then nomination form. This is so because it signifies subjecting oneself to the political party processes.
The fact remains that Obaseki having subjected himself up to the stage of screening of the APC party shows he was an active participant in the nomination process of the party as a member.
What makes one a participant in the process? Is’t not when you pick the expression of interest form and nomination form?
Aigbokhabho expressed the fears that by his own evaluation, the PDP may end up not Fielding a candidate in the Edo State Governorship Election.
Judgement has no Implication for Obaseki – PDP
But the State Publicity Secretary of the PDP, Chris Osa Nehikhare in reaction has dismissed the judgment in relation to Obaseki in Edo.
“Those making the claims to muddle the waters are being smart by half and at best ignorant of the law and circumstances surrounding the governor’s emergence as the candidate of the PDP.
“Obaseki only contested for the primary of the PDP after he was disqualified by the APC primary election and was not on the ballot during the party’s poll.
“While on the converse, Uche Nwosu in Imo State was the factional candidate of the APC after the primary election. He was returned elected and only ran to Action Alliance after he was edged out of the contest. The Supreme Court, in fact, ruled that he had a valid ticket with the APC, which invalidated his candidacy in AA.”