The Delta State Election Petition Tribunal, sitting in Asaba, has ruled that all preliminary applications from all parties, including the preliminary objection filed by the Peoples Democratic, PDP against the petition of the Labour Party and All Progressive Congress, APC, be collapsed into the substantive trial proper, and ordered all pending applications to be tabled on July 9, 2015, the next sitting date of the tribunal.
This ruling was given by the three-man tribunal led by Chairman, Justice Nasiru Gunmi, on Tuesday, June 30, 2015 who said that by virtue of section 285(6) of the 1999 constitution as amended and section 12(5) of the electoral petition Tribunal Act, the tribunal is obligated to conclude the hearing of judgment of the petition within 180 days to the filing of the petition, hence the need to collapse the preliminary objection into the substantive suits.
Ruling on the matter of its jurisdiction to entertain petitions, averred that the Supreme Court had already laid the matter to rest, adding that specific provision in the 1999 Nigerian Constitution, as amended and 2014 Electoral Act as amended, had stipulated that the matter of jurisdiction must first be addressed before proceedings can commence on the petitions and citing Belgore vs INEC, ruled that it was properly constituted and endorsed by law to act as the Delta State Governorship elections petitions tribunal.
The ruling on jurisdiction became expedient according to the tribunal Chairman, in order to determine the position of the preliminary objection filed by PDP lead Consel Alex Iziyon, SAN, who had asked the tribunal to terminate the original petition brought by the Labour Party, LP and All Progressive Congress, APC, on the grounds that the petition lacks merit, having been abandoned for failure to apply for pre-trial hearing notice as provided for under paragraph 18(1) of the Electoral Act 2014 as amended.
Iziyon had urged the court to look at the nature of the objection, “as it is fundamental and touches on the spinal cord of the petition”, even as he averred that the tribunal cannot collapse the hearing of the preliminary objections into the substantive matter as the pre- trial hearing will enable the court to address all the court process, determine whether they are competent or not and in compliance with the new time frame of 180 days, provided a platform, even with new submissions, for controlling and managing the tribunal procedures expeditiously.
In his ruling ON June 30, 2015, Justice Gumi, having established the arguments by the respective Counsels and cited the relevant authorities, including the Supreme Court and the Electoral Act, struck out Okowa’s preliminary objections to hear the APC and LP petitions.
Having thus established its jurisdiction to entertain the substantive petition, brought by Chief Great Ogboru of Labour Party, (LP), Olorogun O’tega Emerhor All Progressive Congress (APC) and Mr. Paul Isamade, Allied Congress Party of Nigeria (ACPN, who was not represented), challenging the declaration of Dr. Ifeanyi Okowa of the People’s
Democratic Party (PDP) as winner of the April 11 governorship election by the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC), the tribunal then invited submissions from the contending parties to further establish the validity and relevance of their applications, subject to the service and receipt of such applications and affidavits.
In the determination of the relevant issues germane to the substantive petition, the tribunal established that four critical applications as agreed by all the contending parties, would be collapsed into the substantive trial, after lead Counsels Thomson Okpoko (SAN), for Olorogun Emerhor and APC, Dele Adesina (SAN), for Chief Ogboru and LP, Mr. Kehinde, (SAN), for PDP and Mr. Nwaononye Esquire, for INEC, respectively, had prayed to the tribunal to withdraw certain applications and strike out other specific paragraphs from other earlier submitted applications.
The Tribunal equally ruled that the preliminary objection of the PDP to terminate the substantive petition by the Labour Party, LP and the All Progressive Congress, APC, for failure of the petitioners to apply for Pre-trial hearing as stipulated by law, will also be entertained alongside the petition, when the court resumes on the next adjourned date, Thursday July 9, 2015.
Tribunal Chairman, Justice Nasiru Gumi said that, “it is better for all the issues adjudicated to be looked into, including the issues raised in the objection; any aggrieved party can take issues to the court of Appeal. The tribunal has resolved that the various preliminary objections filed by the respondents, which appears towards the prevention of this petition on merits are to be hard with the petition, hence the preliminary objection should be collapsed into the main trial of the substantive suit”.
Mixed reactions have however greeted the ruling of the tribunal. The Labour Party, LP, believes that, with the tribunal’s decision to uphold the laid down law on the time frame for the determination of elections petitions and it had succeeded in ensuring that its main of objective to prevent time wasting in the determination of their petition was achieved, adding that it was fully prepared and ready to prosecute its petition to a logical and successful conclusion.
The PDP on the other hand believes that nothing has changed much, and since its preliminary objection, which it referred to as ‘a live wire’ in the overall determination of the petition would still be entertained in the substantive hearing, the party was ready and poised to pursue its case to a satisfactory conclusion.