The judgment delivered in favour of Mr. Babajide Obanikoro of the Peoples Democratic Party as winner of the Obalende/Ikoyi Local Council Development Area has remained a subject of intense litigation for different reasons, chief of which is political. But with the final judgment slated for Thursday, January 31, the matter has renewed tension, writes Anayo Okolie
All things being equal, the legal disagreement surrounding the election into Ikoyi/Obalende Local Council Development Area (LCDA), between candidates of Peoples Democratic Party (PDP), Mr. Babajide Obanikoro and Mr. Adewale Adeniji of the Action Congress of Nigeria (ACN) will be laid to rest on January 31.
Obanikoro and the PDP had sued the Lagos State Independent Electoral Commission (LASIEC), the ACN and its candidate, Adeniji, at the Lagos State Local Government Election Petitions Tribunal sitting in Ikeja, asking that the election result declared in favour of the ACN candidate be upturned, citing the fact that the results were not collated at the ward and local government levels but were only declared at the LASIEC headquarters by its Chairman, Justice Abdulfatai Adeyinka.
Besides, Obanikoro claimed that he won the election after collating the results from LASIEC’s Form 9A, issued at each polling unit but which were not used by LASIEC in declaring the result.
Relying on evidence before it, the tribunal made up of five-man tribunal, presided over by retired Justice Dolapo Akinsanya, therefore held that Obanikoro scored the highest number of valid votes in the said election. It argued that Obanikoro scored a total of 3,770 valid votes, while Adeniji of the ACN, scored 3,248 votes and therefore nullified Adeniji’s election and ordered LASIEC to revoke the Certificate of Return issued to him.
"We order LASIEC to issue a Certificate of Return to the petitioner with immediate effect, having won the disputed election. We are also awarding N100,000 as cost in favour of the petitioner," the tribunal ruled.
Few weeks after the tribunal declared Obanikoro winner of the election, Adeniji pleaded the court to set aside the judgment of the tribunal, saying the judgment of the tribunal was against the weight of evidence adopted at the hearing of the petition. Also, in a different petition, he accused the panel of bribery and corruption and questioned their integrity. This would later lead to an indefinite adjournment of the case.
Having lasted over a year and two months, the general public had begun to sense deliberate attempt at delaying justice and ultimately hoping to deny Obanikoro just by ensuring that his petition is not determined before the deadline for the determination of the case expires. There is yet a rumour making the rounds that some of the judges on the new panel are being threatened against giving a judgment that would uphold the decision of the tribunal.
This, observers believe, might be responsible for the inexplicable delay in the delivery of judgment while the argument that the ACN is buying time on grounds of technicality also subsists.
But those conversant with the new judges on the matter vouch for them on the grounds of professionalism and honour, citing the fact that “these are men and women who would not vitiate their credentials for non-value adding cause. I believe they will live up to their billings, especially that the case is a bad one for the ACN; the evidence are too weighty,” the source said.
The PDP candidate, Obanikoro, in an interview with THISDAY, expressed dissatisfaction over the delay in giving the judgment. He is worried that in a situation where you have a bias referee in a game, it becomes very difficult for a good team to win and that is the situation we found ourselves. But we are optimistic that our case will be an exception.
“We found ourselves defending two cases, one from the ACN and its candidate, Adeniji and the other from the umpire, LASIEC challenging my judgment. It is sad and it is not what we are expecting from LASIEC, a commission that is supposed to be an independent body, appealing the judgment delivered in my favour,” he queried.
Citing the situation in Badagry, Obanikoro said: “Election was held on October 22 and on that same day, Returning Officer of the election declared the PDP candidate winner of the election and on October 24, LASIEC Chairman, Chief Justice of Lagos, Chief Fatai Adeyinka came on the air and declared all the ACN candidate winners of the election, leaving few councillorship position for the PDP and other parties.
“The law says that election should be collated, counted and announced at various wards and local government where elections were held. In my own case, that did not happened but it happened in Badagry where the PDP candidate was declared winner but on Monday, the LASIEC Chairman went above the law, took powers into his hands and declared the ACN candidates winners and said whoever is aggrieved should go to court.
“This is a man that won an election and LASIEC comes up to declare another person winner of the election. I believe that the judgment that upheld the appeal of the ACN candidate in Badagry is saying that when next election comes up, the LASIEC Chairman should do the same and get away with it. It is very sad and painful because a lot of time and money have been wasted and people’ hope have been dashed because those who voted did for a reason.”
“If a man can go and upturn an election that was won and said somebody else won the election, it shows that he is a corrupt person and we don’t need that kind of person in this nation,” he said, adding that: “An election that I won and someone announced a different winner. I kept wondering if the LASIEC chairman has a child and has he ever thought of the children needing somebody’s help tomorrow?
“What legacy is he going to leave? It is sad. The tribunal needs to be up and doing to make it difficult to upturn an election.”
On the need for council autonomy, he said: “If the local government becomes independent, we will see a huge progress in Nigeria because it is the closest tier of government to the people. For instance, a governor who lives in Surulere cannot know what is happening in Ikorodu because he does not live there. But the chairman who lives in the neighbourhood knows what is happening in the area and can best address it.”
Convener, Nigeria Centenary Group, Mr. Ariyo-Dare Atoye, noted that the election was a serious concern for all genuine proponents of democracy and sincere advocates of free, fair and credible elections and rule of law. He said it was a practical test for Nigeria's acclaimed progressives but failed. “It was bungled by LASIEC with the active connivance of the ACN-led government in Lagos State.
“It was a terribly low point for all those who think Lagos will be the shining example for the country in terms of election conduct. Sadly it was not, but a charade. The most painful aspect of that electoral disappointment was that the ACN and it pro-democracy allies raised the bar of expectation from the people with the regular and vociferous criticisms of the PDP.
“We thought they would do it better and organise a credible election than the PDP and the voice of the people will count. The 2011 Lagos local government election was a test case because the PDP boycott the one before that. It was good the PDP participated, as it helped to expose the electoral hypocrisy. Democracy can only get better when the main opposition party in a country has the opportunity of improving where the ruling party failed and to do it better. Unfortunately what the PDP has done bad, the ACN has done even worse.
He said the tribunal did a good and thorough job, “we only hope that the Court of Appeal will follow suit. We should allow democracy to thrive and it is going to be to the benefit of all in the long time. What goes around comes around. That is the law of natural justice and posterity.
He said “when you view the Lagos local government elections against the gang up of the opposition to unseat the PDP in 2015, you will not exude any hope. This is because the ACN is anything but democratic in deeds and actions. They are supposed to be the torch bearer of democracy and rule of law, doing right what PDP has done wrong. They are yet to conduct a single credible primary election within their party but the imposition and hand-picking of candidates.
“It took a PDP-led government to organise elections that have become internationally acceptable in 2011 and later in Edo and Ondo States in 2012. President Goodluck Jonathan, so far, has demonstrated his preference for a credible election and the will to organise same. We are also hoping that with Anambra, Ekiti and Osun coming earlier than 2015, he will leave no one in doubt about his sincerity to make our electoral process credible.”
Certainly, how the court and the ruling party in Lagos handle the local government cases in the state will play a defining role in the 2015 elections in the state. With public disenchantment on the way the ACN has been ruling the state, the outcome of the Thursday ruling would situate in context, the political direction of the state. But above all, it would reaffirm the place of the judiciary in the body polity.