Ten months after the Osun State governorship election and the legal fireworks that followed, the Supreme Court, on Friday drew the curtain on the election dispute by affirming the victory of Governor Gboyega Oyetola, writes Yinka Kolawole
Finally, after almost a year of intense legal battle, the Supreme Court, on Friday, dismissed the appeal of Senator Ademola Adeleke of the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP), challenging the declaration of Gboyega Oyetola of the All Progressives Congress (APC) as the winner of the September 22 Osun State governorship election.
In the lead judgment by Justice Bode Rhodes-Vivour, the apex court declared that the absence of the judge, who read the majority decision of the election tribunal, made the judgment a nullity.
The judge upheld the decision of the Court of Appeal and noted that the proper thing to have done in the absence of Justice Peter Obiorah was to start the entire trial afresh. Thus, four of the seven Justices of the apex court, sat to deliver the judgment, with Justice Rhodes Vivour presiding.
In the end, there was a majority judgment of 5 and dissenting judgment of 2, in Oyetola’s favour.
The Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) had declared Oyetola and the APC winner of the Osun State governorship election based on the cumulative results of the September 22, 2018 main election and the September 27, 2018 supplementary poll.
Displeased with the results declared by INEC, the PDP and Adeleke filed a petition before a three-man Osun State Governorship Election Petition Tribunal, where they contended that they won the election in the first ballot held on September 22, 2018 poll, adding that there was no need for the supplementary poll held on September 27, 2018.
Thus, in its March 22, 2019 split judgment of two-to-one, the tribunal nullified Oyetola’s victory and declared Adeleke and the PDP winner of the election.
But chairman of the tribunal, Justice Ibrahim Sirajo, in his minority judgment, dissented from the majority judgment credited to Justices Peter Obiorah and Adegboye Gbolagunte, a development believed to have encouraged Oyetola to file an appeal.
The Appeal Court, in its May 9 ruling, weighed in favour of Oyetola as winner of the election. The five-man panel led by Justice Jummai Sankey upheld the appeal filed by Oyetola, challenging the tribunal verdict.
While delivering the lead majority judgment of the four members of the panel, the court resolved 10 out of the 12 issues raised in favour of Oyetola and the two others in favour of Ademola and PDP.
The appellate court thus anchored its judgment on a member of the tribunal, Justice Peter Obiorah, who read the lead majority verdict of the tribunal, but was absent during the February 6, 2018 proceedings of the tribunal.
Justice Sankey held that absence of Justice Obiorah on that date nullified the entire proceedings and the verdict of the tribunal, even as three other members of the panel: Justices Abubakar Yahaya, Isaiah Akeju, and Bitrus Sanga, also agreed with Justice Sankey.
But a member of the panel, Justice George Mbaba, dissented from the majority judgment and held that the alleged absence of Justice Obiorah from the February 6, 2018 proceedings of the tribunal was a mere speculation.
However, with Friday’s judgment of the apex court, an end had come to the legal battle that dragged for almost ten months.
President Muhammadu Buhari was amongst the first to congratulate Governor Oyetola, saying “The decision of the apex court lays to rest the tussle over the governorship of Osun State and removes all encumbrances on the path of the governor from fully delivering dividends of democracy to the good people of the state.”
According to a statement by the president’s spokesman, Mr. Femi Adesina, Buhari commended “the government and people of Osun in allowing the rule of law to run its entire course, urging them as well as security agencies to sustain the peace.”
But the Presidential candidate of the Peoples Democratic Party ((PDP), Atiku Abubakar, reached out to Adeleke and said he would continue to stand with the defeated PDP candidate in Osun.
Reacting to the Supreme Court judgment, Atiku said, “I join with people of goodwill all over Nigeria to say to Senator Ademola Adeleke, and the people of the great state of Osun, that we stand with them in good times and in difficult days.
“The Supreme Court has ruled and because of its judicial finality, the legal case is over. However, the love, acceptance and endorsement that the people of Osun bestowed on both Senator Adeleke and the Peoples Democratic Party is not over and cannot be overlooked.”
Meanwhile, wild jubilation followed the judgment of the apex court across the state, as political parties, groups and Individuals defied the rain and trooped out to rejoice with the governor.
Cadets of the Osun Youth Empowerment Scheme (OYES) made a big deal of it as they flooded the streets on motorcycles following the newsbreak and held a parade simultaneously in various local governments across the state.
Oyetola, while reacting, said since the matters of the last governorship election had been laid to rest by court, all stakeholders should come together to move the state forward.
“It is time to move forward. I extend hands of friendship to the opposition. We are all Omoluabi. I will focus on security, and peoples’ welfare especially, women.”
Adeleke also has congratulated Oyetola on his victory at the Supreme Court, affirming that his ambition was never a do-or-die affair.
“As a Democrat and law-abiding citizen, I accept the ruling, no matter my misgivings. I wish Governor Oyetola well in the governance of Osun state, “ he said.
An Elder statesman, Chief Abiola Ogundokun, in a statement personally signed, charged the Governor to see his victory as an act of prayers answered.
Speaker of the State of Osun House of Assembly, Rt. Hon. Timothy Owoeye described the judgment as a confirmation of the people’s mandate, which was freely given to Oyetola and the APC.
Chief Whip of the Osun State House of Assembly, Mr. Tunde Olatunji, said, “God had clearly spoken since September last year and the apex judicial body in Nigeria has just confirmed that truly, God rules in the affairs of men.”
He however added that, “The efforts of the PDP and its candidate is commendable, for adopting a civil approach in challenging the process from the beginning to the end. This remains the only attitude to deepening democracy in the interest of tranquility, peaceful coexistence and socio-economic development of our dear state and country.”
A socio-cultural group, Oranmiyan worldwide has, through its Director-General, Hon Olajide Sadiq expressed gratitude to God for vindicating Oyetola, saying the will of the people had finally prevailed.
With the Osun matter completely off the table, it is believed that the state can now move on to governance proper.