By Ikechukwu Nnochiri
ABUJA – Respite came the way of Governor Aminu Tambuwal of Sokoto State on Friday, as the Federal High Court sitting in Abuja, declined to sack him from office over allegation that he was wrongfully nominated by the All Progressives Congress, APC, to contest the April 11, 2015, election.
Justice Gabriel Kolawole struck out the suit which was lodged before the court by two chieftains of the APC in the state, Senator Umaru Dahiru and Mr. Abubakar Sanyinna.
The plaintiffs were governorship aspirants in the state.
They alleged that Tambuwal was illegally nominated by the APC to participate in the 2015 general election in gross violation of section 87 of the Electoral Act.
They told the court that the APC had in its bid to ensure that Tambuwal emerged as its gubernatorial flag-bearer, conducted “a fraudulent” primary election in 2014.
Tambuwal who was initially a member of the Peoples Democratic Party, PDP, defected to APC few months before the 2015 election took place.
The gubernatorial ticket was handed to him by the party at the expense of the plaintiffs.
Dissatisfied with the development, Dahiru and Sanyinna took the matter to court, describing the December 4, 2014 APC governorship primary election that produced Tambuwal as “a sham and a hallowed ritual”
The plaintiffs alleged that the list of accredited delegates was swapped at the election venue and that votes were arbitrarily, unlawfully and fraudulently allocated to the aspirants after series of manipulation, intimidation and threat from the then state government.
Before the election was held, they sought for a declaration that the primary poll was unlawful, unconstitutional, null and void and inconsistent with the Electoral Act, 2010 and the APC guidelines.
Aside insisting that he was the authentic governorship candidate of the party, Dahiru, applied for an order restraining INEC from acting, publishing or recognising Tambuwal as APC gubernatorial candidate.
Though the high court, in a judgment by Justice Evoh Chukwu, ruled in favour of the first plaintiff, however, the Court of Appeal in Abuja later nullified the verdict, saying the respondents’ case was academic.
However, in a twist of events, the Supreme Court, in a judgment on December 9, 2016, held that Dahiru made out a valid case against Tambuwal.
The apex court directed that the case should be heard afresh on its merit by the high court.
Meantime, at the resumed hearing of the matter, the plaintiffs, through their counsel, Mr. I. N. Ikoro, sought leave of the court to amend their original reliefs.
They said the amendment was necessitated by the fact that Tambuwal went ahead and participated in the substantive election while the suit was still pending.
The plaintiffs sought for an order invalidating the Certificate of Return issued to Tambuwal by the Independent National Electoral Commission, INEC.
As well as an order declaring Dahiru who came second at the primary election, as the validly nominated candidate of the APC for the 2015 governorship election in Sokoto State.
All the defendants, except INEC, vehemently opposed the proposed amendment, even as Tambuwal challenged the jurisdiction of the high court to entertain the suit.
Tambuwal, who stormed the court in person with 35 lawyers to witness the proceeding, insisted that under section 285 of the 1999 constitution, as amended, only an election petition tribunal has the powers to adjudicate on issues raised by the plaintiffs.
He contended that the amendment, if allowed, would change the character of the suit which the apex court directed should be re-heard on its merit.
Similarly, APC lawyer, Mr. Jubril Okutekpa, SAN, also argued that only the Election Petition Tribunal could make an order capable of sacking Tambuwal on the basis of issues raised in the suit.
Okutepa however noted that the plaintiffs, having failed to within 21 days after the election, lodge their case before the Sokoto State Governorship Election Petition Tribunal, no longer have the platform to query Tambuwal’s election.
On its part, INEC, through its lawyer, Mrs. Halimatu Aliyu, said it would leave the matter at the discretion of the court.
In a ruling on Friday, Justice Kolawole, held that the plaintiffs anchored their application on a case-file that was different from the one the apex court remitted back for hearing.
He noted that whereas the original case file the apex court adjudicated upon was marked FHC/ABJ/CS/11/2015, the instant application was filed under a fresh suit number marked FHC/ABJ/CS/09/2017.
Justice Kolawole queried why the plaintiffs deliberately discarded the old case file and introduced fresh reliefs outside their original case.
“By my assessment, the instant casefile was not the one for which the apex court remitted for hearing on its merit”.
Justice Kolawole equally wondered why the plaintiffs wanted to benefit from a primary election they said was fraudulent.
“Plaintiffs had in their original suit condemned the primary election that produced the 2nd defendant. None of the plaintiffs laid claim that he had won the said primary election which they said was a sham and hollowed ritual as the party failed to follow its own constitution”.
The Judge said it would not have been difficult for the court to grant the reliefs in favour of the plaintiffs if their original case was that they won the primary election but were rigged out by the APC.
“By section 87 of the Electoral Act 2010, no candidate who never participated in a primary election can be sponsored by a political party.
“To grant the reliefs will not only change the character of the suit but will occasion grave injustice against the defendants.
“The said primary election which they never claimed to would have won cannot be a basis for grant of reliefs E, F and G”.
“The motion for amendment is malafide, dishonest, an abuse of court process, and intended to over-reach the Supreme Court and outsmart the 2nd defendant.
“It constitutes a gross of court process and it is accordingly dismissed”.
The court however disagreed with Tambuwal and APC that it lacked jurisdiction to hear the matter.
Having dismissed the motion, Justice Kolawole said their was nothing before the court to warrant an adjournment, saying the case file had become empty.
“In view of the fact that the application is dismissed, the case file has become empty and there is nothing to adjourn for or to be heard. Consequently, the case file is struck out”.