Ngige triumphs
•Tribunal strikes out petition
•Akunyili appeals verdict, says it’s not over yet
From Geoffrey Anyanwu, Awka
Wednesday February 22, 2012

The Election Petition Tribunal (Panel I) sitting in Awka, Anambra State yesterday struck out the petition of the All Progressives Grand Alliance (APGA) candidate in the April 2011 senatorial election for Anambra Central Senatorial District and former minister of information and communications, Prof. Dora Akunyili in which she was challenging the election of  the Action Congress of Nigeria (ACN) candidate in the election, Dr. Chris Ngige for lack of jurisdiction.

Ruling on a motion filed by counsel to the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC), O. J.  Nnadi (SAN) on the jurisdiction of the tribunal to continue with petition, the Panel Chairman, Justice Onajite Kuejubola whose panel had earlier on October 20, 2011 struck out the petition before the Court of Appeal returned it, held that the petition had been affected by the 180 days provision in Section 285 (6) of the Nigerian Constitution going by the Supreme Court interpretation of the said provision last week in ANPP versus Goni and Action Alliance (AA) Versus INEC delivered on February 14 and 17, 2012 respectively.

Kuejubola, who said the issue of jurisdiction was very important and could  be raised suo-moto, further stated that the highest court in the land, having handed its decision on the issue, a retrial order by the Court of Appeal would not overturn it.

She ruled that, “the court lacks the jurisdiction to continue to hear this petition and all issues entered into after the Court of Appeal decision amount to a nullity. There is no doubt that the provision of 180 days within which the petition should be argued and judgment entered in writing had elapsed. We are bound to so conform. The petition is hereby struck out.”

The tribunal ruling, however, threw the entire Awka city into jubilation as traders, civil servants and even bankers came out spontaneously to cheer Ngige who was shortly after the ruling led on a road show by members of his party and supporters including commercial motorcyclists popularly called Okada along the major streets of Awka.

At resumption of the hearing of  Akunyili’s petition after the Court of Appeal, Enugu, returned it, Ngige’s lead counsel, Chief Emeka Ngige had raised the issue of 180 days stipulated in the Constitution, which elapsed while they were in Court of Appeal but was overruled by the tribunal.
He appealed against the ruling of the tribunal but the Court of Appeal upheld the ruling of the lower court and the petition continued and Panel was already taking witnesses before the Supreme Court slammed its big hammer last week.

Contrary to the expectations of Dr. Chris Ngige and his supporters, it is not yet victory for them as Prof. Dora Akunyili has appealed yesterday’s decision of the National Assembly Election Tribunal sitting in Awka to throw out her case against Ngige on technical grounds.
The tribunal’s decision was based on last week’s Supreme Court judgment that election petitions not decided within 180 days of being filed have lapsed.

Information from credible sources close to Akunyili, however, confirmed that her lawyers had filed a notice of appeal because her case was different from the one decided by the Supreme Court. Confirming this on her facebook page, Prof. Akunyili said: “Clearly, the two cases are not the same as our case had already gone on appeal and was therefore being heard as a fresh case.”

She expressed gratitude to her supporters for their support and prayers, saying, “We’re unrelenting in our quest for justice. Let’s continue in prayers until the God of justice grants us justice.

“Today, the petition I filed challenging the declaration of Dr. Chris Ngige of the Action Congress of Nigeria (ACN) as winner of the April 2011 Senatorial Election for Anambra Central was thrown out on technicality by the National Assembly Election Tribunal sitting in Awka, the Anambra State capital.
“The tribunal based its decision on last week’s Supreme Court ruling that any case not decided within 180 days of the filing of the petition has lapsed.

“Aware that the election was rigged in his favour, Dr. Ngige did everything humanly possible to ensure that my petition would not be heard. His legal team employed delay tactics, using one crafty argument after another to frustrate the hearing of my case. Five times we went on appeal and five times we won, sometimes with fines against Dr. Ngige.

“Hearing into my case finally started following the Appeal Court’s order that my petition must be heard on merit and not thrown out on technical grounds against the spirit of the 2010 Electoral Act. My witnesses and I had finished our submissions and Dr. Ngige was to start his defense today. He must be relieved that the Supreme Court ruling on 180 days came to his rescue because he is aware that he did not win the election. If he won the election, why was he desperate to ensure that my petition should not be heard?

“I have reviewed the striking out of my case with my legal team and we took a decision to file an appeal against the ruling of the tribunal at the Court of Appeal. This issue had been raised and determined by the tribunal and Court of Appeal which is the final court with respect to this matter. There was no appeal to Supreme Court by my opponent and the very judgment relied on by the tribunal is clear that a subsisting decision of the court is binding on all the parties. In effect, the decision of the Court of Appeal on the issue is final and binding and cannot be revisited under any guise.
“We still believe very strongly that in the end, God of justice will give us justice.”

However, when INEC’s counsel application which queried the jurisdiction of the Tribunal to continue with the matter in view of the interpretation of Section 285(6) of the Constitution by the Supreme Court, which clearly ousted its jurisdiction, Akunyili’s lead counsel, Obiora Obianwu (SAN) argued that once an issue had been raised and discussed by a court, particularly the final court in election matter, unless that issue was set aside, it remains valid, whether the decision was right or not.
Obianwu argued that the Supreme Court decision would not apply in their matter because it did not set aside the final decision of the Court of Appeal, and that the decision being subsisting, the court can’t reopen the matter.

Responding, Ngige (SAN) said the whole argument was based on issue of ‘estopel’ once it has been decided and that the rule is not immutable but has its exception.
Nnadi (SAN), in his own response agreed with Ngige, and added that the matter was still ongoing and on trial hence counsel was at liberty to raise the issue of jurisdiction, insisting that in the instant case the court had no alternative than to abide by the decision of the Supreme Court.

He further said that though the Court of Appeal may be the final court on election matters, it was  not the final court in interpreting Section 285(6) of the Constitution hence the tribunal cannot out of bold deviance, ignore the decision of the Supreme Court.

Speaking to newsmen shortly after the ruling, Senator Ngige said, “The tribunal has today ruled that the Supreme Court decision and interpretation of section 285 (6) of the Nigerian constitution is sacrosanct and you see the intensions of the law makers while amending that section of the constitution is to limit the time for trial to 180 days is to stop election petitions tribunals not  to drag adinfinto.”

“If you recall at the early stages of the case the petitioners were playing tricks and they did not have enough evidence and tried to prolong time. They did not file the tribunal form 008 which allow lawyers to know questions and what to expert at trial.

“This is a waste of human material resources for the Appeal court to have sent us  back here but the petitioner was in court and was able to be convinced that she has no case.
We did not take her to Nimo, where she was inducing voters with vice, rapper money and everything which are caught on video camera.

We were to do that at our own defend. Our only regret is that we were not allowed to show to Nigerians that those or leaders who claim that they are rebranding the country, they preach one thing with left hand and does another thing with the right hand. This is hypocrisy and if Nigerians want we can play the tape. She had induced voters in Nimo Ward I and Ward III”.

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