· It’s temporary setback, says Plateau governor
· We saw this coming, warned against it, PDP declares
· Nentawe dedicates victory to God
Chuks Okocha, Adedayo Akinwale, Alex Enumah in Abuja and Seriki Adinoyi in Jos
The Court of Appeal, sitting in Abuja, has nullified the election of Mr. Caleb Mutfwang of the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) as the governor of Plateau State in the March 2023 general election, thus, setting aside the ruling of the election petitions tribunal, which had earlier affirmed Mutfwang’s election.
The court declared Dr. Yilwatda Nentawe of All Progressives Congress (APC) as the duly elected governor, and ordered the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) to withdraw the certificate of return it had given to Mutfwang, and issue it to Nentawe.
The appeal court held that PDP had no structure to nominate any candidate for the elections, having disobeyed an order of the court to repeat its congress.
But reacting to the verdict of the Court of Appeal, Mutfwang called it a temporary setback, saying it will not distract him from repositioning the state on the path of unity, peace and progress.
PDP, in its own reaction yesterday, said the sack of Mutfwang was part of a grand design by the APC-led federal government to use the judiciary to make Nigeria a one-party state.
However, the governorship candidate of APC, Nentawe, dedicated his court victory to God and the people of Plateau State.
Delivering the lead judgement, Justice Elfrieda Williams-Dawodu said, in her view, evidence failed to show that the PDP repeat congress was holistically held, as 12 local government areas were excluded from the congress.
Williams-Dawodu held, “There is nothing to show this court that the court order was complied with. As long as there was a breach of a court order, the appeal is hereby allowed and resolved in favour of the appellants (Nentawe and APC).
“The first petitioner is perfectly entitled to be returned as the duly elected Governor of Plateau State, having passed the constitutional requirements to be returned. The first respondent (INEC) is hereby ordered to withdraw the certificate of return of the second respondent and issue it to the petitioner.”
The judge said the appellant brought this appeal having been dissatisfied with the conduct of the election, adding that the appellants distilled six issues for determination, which would be found in the body of the judgement. She said in exhibit G1, the appellants contested that the qualification of the second respondent was questionable, adding that if any candidate escaped the issue of qualification before the election, it could be contested under section 177 of the constitution and 134a of the Electoral Act.
Citing the previous judgement, which indicated that PDP did not comply with an order of court, she said the judgement of Justice Kunda was hereby affirmed, adding, “I make no order as to cost.
“I personally fail to see what was difficult for the third respondent (PDP) to have taken steps to conduct another congress. There is no evidence that the PDP complied with the court order. I believe that the tribunal had jurisdiction to entertain whether any person has been validly nominated to be governor or deputy of a state.
“It cannot be said that the qualification of a candidate is a pre-election matter. This court had previously held that the issue of qualification is both pre-election and post-election.
“The appeal court reckons the tribunal struck out certain statements on oath of PW28 and others, as they were filed out of time. PW 49, which was a star witness, was by education not qualified, according to tribunal, and was expunged.
“How did the tribunal, which had refused to use evidence, find it convenient to use the same evidence? That is a gross injustice. I have read and found that it was contrary for the tribunal to have done such.”
Williams-Dawodu further scrutinised the tribunal judgement and said, “The tribunal appeared to have misdirected itself on the issue of compliance and obedience to court order. One finds that the tribunal was inconsistent when it expunged pieces of evidence only to use them. The courts or tribunals must be consistent. It cannot blow both hot and cold.
“The video of congress shown to the tribunal did not show that any delegates attended the congress, according to a witness presented by the petitioner, neither was there documentary evidence.”
Justice Waziri consented to the judgement read by Williams-Dawodu. But rather than affirm Williams-Dawodu’s judgement, the third judge, Justice Okon Abang, took time to read his own judgement, reiterating what Williams-Dawodu had said.
Abang said, “It is my considered view that the issue of sponsorship of a candidate by a political party is both a pre-election and post-election matter. The lack of sponsorship is certainly a post-election matter.
“The tribunal was in error when it said the appellants lacked the right to contest the conduct of the primaries. It was hard on the appellant when it likened the appellant to one crying more than the bereaved.
“If the appellant finds his neighbour with a goat that doesn’t belong to him, there is nothing wrong if he complains or raises the alarm. There was no party called PDP at the time of the election and it could not have sponsored a candidate in the elections. The issue in my view is not the right of PDP to contest the election, but its competence to do so.
“PDP was nowhere to be found in Plateau State, having failed to comply with exhibit G1 as at the time of the election. A political party with no structure cannot be qualified to sponsor a candidate for elections. So, the tribunal was in grave error when it held that the petitioner had no right to contest the election.
“I agree that failure of the tribunal to admit evidence tendered by the appellant amounts to a miscarriage of justice. By way of exhibit G1, PDP will always be on its way to self-destruction.
“Except PDP complies with exhibit G1, it loses the right to contest in any election. Sentiments and sympathy have no place in the law. It is the law and the law only. The duty of the court is not to make litigants happy but to do justice.”
Mutfwang: It’s Temporary Setback
Governor Caleb Mutfwang described the verdict of the Court of Appeal, which nullified his election, as a temporary setback that would not discourage him from repositioning the state on the path of unity, peace and progress.
Mutfwang expressed strong optimism that the mandate given to him by the people of Plateau State would be restored, saying he has instructed his legal team to file an appeal at the Supreme Court.
In a statement signed by his Director of Press and Public Affairs (DOPPA), Mr. Gyang Bere, the governor cautioned citizens of the state and supporters of PDP to remain calm and assured them that as long as God remained on the throne, the mandate of the people would be preserved and protected.
He reiterated his commitment to the rule of law and said there was light at the end of the tunnel, as he had unwavering faith in the judiciary and the constitution of Nigeria.
Mutfwang appealed to his supporters and residents of the state to maintain law and order, adding that Plateau would be victorious, to the glory of God. He restated his commitment to continually serve the state with dedication and integrity.
PDP: We Saw This Coming, Warned Against It
PDP, yesterday, reacted to the judgement of the Court of Appeal that sacked Governor Caleb Mutfwang of Plateau State, and said it was all part of a grand design to use the judiciary to make Nigeria a one-party state.
National Publicity Secretary of PDP, Debo Ologunagba, who spoke to THISDAY, contended that they saw it coming and warned against it, but Nigerians thought they was playing politics.
Ologunagba, however, added, “We certainly will approach the Supreme Court to test this judgement. This frightening pattern by the plateau appeal court panel constitutes a clear and present danger to our democratic process, national peace and stability; a bad precedent for judicial mischief and, particularly, a recipe for anarchy, chaos and breakdown of law and order in already tensed Plateau State.
“The people of Plateau State are unsettled by allegations in the public domain that the Plateau State Election Appeal Court Panel has been hugely compromised and induced by the failed All Progressives Congress (APC) in Plateau State to undermine the will of the people by snatching elections clearly won by the PDP and awarding same to the APC, as now evidenced in its inexplicable varying judgements on same election context and circumstances.
“What can explain the brazen departure by the appeal court panel from the judicial practice, where cases with similar facts and applicable laws, especially before the same court, at the same material time, result in different outcomes?
“Curiously, the panel, in the most concerning pattern, reached different conclusions with respect to election appeals with the same subject matter, same facts, same circumstances and same applicable laws in bias judgements clearly skewed against the PDP in favour of the APC.
“As you are aware, from the votes cast in the 2023 general election, the PDP recorded a sweeping victory over the APC in Plateau State.”
Ologunagba said PDP lawyers were already studying the case file, and, “We shall appeal this judgement at this Supreme Court.”
Nentawe Dedicates Victory to God
Governorship candidate of APC, Dr. Yilwatda Nentawe, dedicated his appeal court victory to God and the people of Plateau State.
In a statement by his spokesman, Mr Shittu Bamaiyi, the APC candidate expressed appreciation to God for the divine intervention from the beginning to the end of the litigation process at the Court of Appeal. He called on his party supporters to exercise restraint and maturity in celebrating the outcome of the judgement.
Nentawe said the Court of Appeal judgement was humbling and uplifting in many respects, particularly, as it concerned his person and his deputy, Pam Bot-Mang, as well as the entire APC family. He added that the court’s decision was fulfilling and rewarding in the APC family’s dogged commitment to achieving its mission and vision for the state.
Commending the justices of the Court of Appeal for the unanimity of opinion in the judgement, Nentawe noted that it was reassuring and inspiring, considering the overwhelming and unwavering faith APC supporters had in the rule of law, adding that their labour will not go in vain.
Chairman of the House of Representatives Committee on Navy, Hon. Yusuf Gagdi, congratulated Nentawe on his victory at the Court of Appeal.
Gagdi, in a statement, said his belief in the judiciary, as the bastion of justice and the last hope of the common man, had always been unwavering. He described the development as the dawn of a new era in the state.
The legislator stated, “The triumph of lies over truth is, indeed, fleeting! It is the dawn of a new era in Plateau State with the victory of our governor-elect, Dr Nentawe Yilwada Goshwe, at the Court of Appeal today, where his victory was affirmed as the legally recognised winner of the March 18, 2023 gubernatorial elections in Plateau State, following the nullification of PDP’s Pyrrhic victory.
“Our belief in the judiciary as the bastion of justice and the last hope of the common man has always been unwavering, and we hold same in the highest esteem as we look forward to approaching the final phase of the legal tussle.”