In a judgment lasting three tension-soaked hours, the Appeal Court, Abuja, resolved the controversy surrounding the governorship ticket of the Ondo Peoples Democratic Party in favour of Mr. Eyitayo Jegede, sending the PDP supporters in the 40-year-old state into wild jubilation.
The judgment delivered on Wednesday by the Justice Ibrahim Saulawa-led three-member panel lifted the pall of uncertainty hanging over the governorship ticket that had pitted business mogul, Jimoh Ibrahim, against a Senior Advocate of Nigeria, Eyitayo Jegede.
In the landmark judgment, the Court of Appeal sitting in Abuja set aside the judgment of the Federal High Court in Abuja by which the Independent National Electoral Commission had declared Ibrahim the PDP’s governorship candidate for the November 26 election in Ondo State.
The three-man panel of the appeal court in a unanimous judgment, upheld the appeal by Jegede, who was earlier dropped by INEC and replaced with Ibrahim, as the governorship candidate of the party.
In a separate judgment delivered by the panel, the appeal court also upheld the appeal by a factional chairman of the party, Ahmed Makarfi, and the secretary of the faction, Ben Obi, against the judgment of the Federal High Court, recognising Biyi Poroye and eight others as state executive members of the party in their various states.
All the three Justices on the panel, Justice Saulawa, Justice George Mbaba and Ignatius Agube, agreed on the decisions reached on the two judgments.
Poroye and others who are backing Ibrahim as the governorship candidate of the party belong to the Ali Modu Sheriff faction of the PDP.
Justice Okon Abang of the Federal High Court, Abuja, had on June 29, 2016, delivered a judgment recognising Poroye and others as the authentic state executive members of the PDP in their various states.
Subsequently, the judge, in a post-judgment ruling delivered on October 14, 2016, ordered INEC to drop Jegede and substitute him with Ibrahim as the governorship candidate of the PDP in the election slated for Saturday.
Justice Saulawa, in setting aside the two decisions on Wednesday, described them as “highly misplaced and most fraudulent”.
He resolved all the seven issues formulated for determination in favour of Jegede, describing the failure of the judge to grant fair hearing to Jegede, who was not a party to the suit before the Federal High Court, as “violent attitudinal disposition to rule of law.”
He said the judge committed a “grave error by violating the principles of natural justice” which he said required all parties that could be affected by an order of court to be heard before judgment was delivered.
Another member of the panel, Justice George Mbaba, who read the lead judgment on Makarfi’s appeal, also described Justice Abang’s judgment, as a “charade and fraud”.
Justice Mbaba ruled, “The entire proceedings leading to the judgment delivered on June 29, 2016, were, in my view, a fraud and it was intended to defraud the appellants. It appeared to be arranged by the same people who paraded as the plaintiffs and the defendants.
“The first to ninth respondents (Poroye and others) did not have a proper course of action.”
He noted that Justice Abang was “a willing party to achieve an ignoble goal”.
The appeal court held that Justice Abang acted without jurisdiction when he made orders against those that were not parties before him.
The panel also faulted the order granted in favour of Ibrahim on the grounds that the governorship candidate of the Sheriff faction was never a party to the suit and the prayer asking that he be recognised as the governorship candidate was not sought by the plaintiffs.
Justice Saulawa held that Justice Abang contravened judicial principles by granting an order not sought by the party.
He said Justice Abang, having earlier in the main judgment delivered on June 29, ruled that the recognition he granted Poroye and others as state executive members of the party was with respect to the 2019 general election, the judge on his own, in his October 14, 2016 ruling, “targeted his orders at the November 26 governorship election”.
“The court mistook his robe for that of Father Christmas and was handing out orders like Christmas gifts,” Justice Saulawa ruled.
The appeal court also nullified the primary said to have been conducted by the Poroye-led state executive of the Sheriff faction of the party which produced Ibrahim as the governorship candidate of the party in the state.
The appeal court described the primary that produced Ibrahim as an “illegal contraption” with “no legal effect or equitable remedy”, adding that the only valid primary could be the one conducted by the National Working Committee of any political party.
The court also held that the provisions of section 287 on which the October 14 post-judgment ruling was based could not be applied for judgment enforcement as Justice Abang did, describing the proceedings as fraudulent.
The court also dismissed Exhibits B21, B23 and B24 relied on by Abang as inadmissible because they were not properly certified.
Justice Saulawa ruled, “Having come this far. Having resolved each and all the total number of seven issues in favour of the appellant, Mr. Eyitayo Jegede (SAN), what else should the court do?
“Against the background of the foregoing, there is no gainsaying the fact that the appeal is meritorious and it is hereby allowed.”
But the court said it could not make any “consequential order” because Jegede’s lawyer, Chief Wole Olanipekun (SAN), only prayed the court to allow the appeal and set aside the order of Justice Abang of the Federal High Court and nothing more.
Justice Saulawa explained that a court was not allowed to make an order not sought by parties, adding that Jegede’s prayer in his notice of appeal “is incongruous” with the prayers his lawyers asked the court to grant during hearing.
Justice Saulawa ruled, “The reliefs are incongruous and rather mutually exclusive. It is the law that the court does not grant the prayers not sought by parties.”
The Supreme Court had on Tuesday given the Justice Ibrahim Saulawa panel of the Court of Appeal in Abuja, which was handling the various cases relating to the dispute over the PDP governorship ticket in the forthcoming election in Ondo State, the nod to continue with its proceedings.
In two separate rulings, the five-man panel of the apex court led by the acting Chief Justice of Nigeria, Justice Walter Onnoghen, unanimously dismissed the motions asking for a stay of the appeal court’s proceedings and others seeking an order disbanding the Justice Saulawa panel.
The two categories of motions dismissed by the apex court on Tuesday were filed by nine applicants led by Poroye.
The apex court arrived at the decisions when 14 separate appeals relating to the dispute over the PDP’s governorship ticket for the forthcoming election in Ondo State came up for hearing on Tuesday.
Other members of the Supreme Court’s panel – Justices Tanko Muhammad, Kumai Akaahs, Kudirat Kekereekun and Ejembi Eko – all agreed with the lead rulings read by Justice Onnoghen.