Governor Adams Oshiomhole
The Court of Appeal in Benin City yesterday set aside the judgment of the Edo State Election Petitions Tribunal which struck out the petition of the governorship candidate of the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP), Charles Airhiavbere, against the election of Governor Adams Oshiomhole.
The Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) had declared Oshiomhole winner of the July 14, 2012 governorship election in the state.
The lower tribunal before its dissolution by the National Judicial Council (NJC) last month, had ruled that it lack the power to hear part of Airhiavbere’s petition bordering on the qualification of Oshiomhole, saying that it was a pre-election matter.
But the three-man panel of the appeal court, led by Justice Helen Ogunwumiju, ordered that the Acting President of the Court of Appeal reconstitute another tribunal to hear Airhiavbere’s petition, saying that they were triable issues in his petition.
The court held that the lower tribunal was wrong to hold that it lacked jurisdiction to entertain the petition because the issue of Oshiomhole’s qualification to contest the election raised by the petitioner was a pre-election matter.
According to the court, the lower tribunal by the provision of Section 177 of the 1999 Constitution as amended, had jurisdiction to entertain Airhiavbere’s petition bordering on Oshiomhole’s qualification because the court can hear pre-election and election matters on qualification.
The appellate court said it and the Supreme Court had always warned lower courts against dismissing election petitions on technical grounds without allowing parties toventilate issues in their petitions on merit.
The court also held that the lower tribunal was wrong in striking out several paragraphs of the appellant’s pleadings on the issue of qualification, basing its decision on the ground that the pleadings were scanty.
According to the court, the appellant’s pleadings were clear and direct as stated in those paragraphs struck out by the lower tribunal, observing that the paragraphs formed a foundation of the appellant’s case.
The court therefore restored the paragraphs and ordered that a new tribunal to be set up by the Acting President of the Court of Appeal should try Airhiavbere’s petition afresh on its merit.
Justice Tom Yakubu while concurring with the lead judgment, said Governor Adams Oshiomhole’s integrity will be enhanced if the issue of qualification to contest the election was laid bare and trashed out at the lower tribunal.
Also, the Court of Appeal yesterday, in a unanimous judgment dismissed Oshiomhole’s cross-appeal against Airhiavbere’s appeal.
The court described the cross-appeal as a mere academic exercise in view if the court’s judgment arriving from Airhiavbere’s appeal.
Reacting to the judgment yesterday, Counsel to Airhiavbere, Barr. Sunday Agwinede, commended the court and said the judgment will strengthen the pillars of democracy.
Counsel to Governor Adams Oshiomhole, Omoruyi Omonuwa (SAN) and Counsel to ACN, Ken Mozia (SAN), said they will open their eyes and study the judgment carefully before taking the next step.
Meanwhile, Edo State Deputy Governor, Dr. Pius Odubu, reaffirmed that Oshiomhole was eminently qualified academically, as he was a graduate of Oxford, adding that their lawyers will study the judgment and advice on what steps to take, expressing confidence that the lower tribunal will do justice to the case.
Reacting also, an elated Gen. Charles Airhiavbere said he dedicate the victory to Edo people, the PDP and the judiciary for having the boldness to dispense justice.