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February 25, 2021

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The Court of Appeal in Abuja on Friday affirmed Governor Oluwarotimi Akeredolu of Ondo State as the valid governorship candidate of the All Progressives Congress (APC) in the October 2020 election in the state.

The judgment which upheld an earlier verdict of the Federal High Court in Abuja, came few days to the inauguration of the governor for second term in office on February 24.

Okon Abang, the Federal High Court judge, had earlier on December 16, 2020 dismissed the suit filed by an APC governorship aspirant in the state, Nath Adojutelegan.

The trial judge had held in his judgment that the case was statute-barred as it was not filed within 14 days of the cause of action arising.

Dissatisfied with the judgment, Mr Adojutelegan appealed against the decision, urging the appellate court to grant his prayers by disqualifying Mr Akeredolu as a candidate in the last October election.

Appeal Court judgment

But delivering judgment on the appeal on Friday, a three-man panel of the appellate court led by Theresa Orj-Abadua, unanimously dismissed the appeal for lacking in merit.

Ibrahim Adeyangtso, a member of the panel, who prepared the lead judgment, said after considering all the issues raised by parties to the case, the appeal was found to be lacking in substance.

“The appeal is hereby dismissed. I make no order as to cost,” Mr Adeyangsto ruled.

Mr Adojutelegan’s lawyer, Isaac Aderogba, said he could not take the decision on whether or not to appeal to the Supreme Court until the copy of the judgment was released and reviewed with his client.

Suit

Mr Adojutelgan had contested the July 2020 primary election of the APC which he and others lost to Mr Akeredolu.

Dissatisfied with the results of the primary election, the plaintiff, through his counsel, Isaac Aderogba, on August 3, 2020, filed the suit marked, FHC/ABJ/CS/886/2020, to challenge the exercise.

He alleged among others that the exercise was marred by grave and substantial non-compliance with the spirit and purpose of the APC’s Constitution, Electoral Guidelines and the Electoral Act, 2010 (as amended), which he argued “substantially affected the outcome of the primary election.”

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He said the delegates’ list used for the primary election violated section 87(7) and (8) of the Electoral Act 2010 (as amended), Article 20 (iii) and (iv) (a), (b), (c) and (d) of the APC Constitution 2014 (as amended) and Electoral Guidelines.

He claimed “the list was unlawful and invalid on the grounds that it was filled with the names of principal officers of the part at wards, local governments, and state executive committees levels, none of whom was democratically elected to be delegates at the primary as prescribed by the laws and regulations cited”.

He added that the primary was conducted in violation of secret ballot principle enshrined in section 87 (4)(b) and (7) of the Electoral Act 2010 (as amended) and Paragraph 14 (III) of the Electoral Guidelines.

He urged the court to make an order nullifying the nomination of Mr Akeredolu as the party’s candidate in the October 10, 2020 governorship election in the state.

READ ALSO: UPDATED: OndoDecides2020: Akeredolu wins Ondo governorship election

He also urged the court not to allow Mr Akeredolu to gain from his alleged wrongdoings regarding the governorship primary election, and for an order nullifying the exercise and allowing for a fresh primary from which the governor should not be allowed to participate in.

Suit dismissed

But dismissing the suit in December 2020, Mr Abang of the Federal High Court in Abuja upheld the notices of preliminary objection filed by Mr Akeredolu and the APC.

The court held that the suit was statute barred for not being filed within the time prescribed by the Nigerian Constitution.

Mr Abang noted that from the facts presented by the plaintiff, the crux of his grouse was about the use of indirect mode of primary election, which he objected to.

He said its implication was that the plaintiff ought to have filed his suit within 14 days from the day the electoral committee adopted the indirect mode of primary election on July 17, 2020.

He added that the suit filed on August 3, 2020 was clearly outside the 14 days period provided for in section 285(9) of the Constitution for the filing of pre-election matters.

The judge also ruled that the court lacked jurisdiction to entertain the plaintiff’s challenge against the list of delegates compiled in 2018 and used for the primary election in July 2020.

The judge dismissed the suit without considering its merit.

He awarded a total cost of N120,000 against the plaintiff and in favour of the defendants – Mr Akeredolu, APC and the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC).

The court ordered him to pay Mr Akeredolu and APC N50,000 each and to pay INEC N20,000.

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