In Ado Ekiti on Monday some people trooped out to celebrate with Governor Ayodele Fayose over his legal victory at the Court of Appeal, Abuja. The court had upheld the victory of the governor at the Ekiti State Governorship Election Petitions Tribunal that also sat in Abuja. The All Progressives Congress had dragged the Peoples Democratic Party and its candidate, Fayose, to court over the result and conduct of the election held on June 21, 2014.
Against the backdrop of this jubilation were allegations raised by the PDP against the APC and the Court of Appeal justices.
The Ekiti Governorship Election Petitions Tribunal had on December 19, 2014 upheld Fayose’s victory, dismissing the APC petition for lack of merit. The APC candidate in the election was Dr. Kayode Fayemi, the immediate past governor of the state. Both the APC and Fayemi were appellants in the case.
Dissatisfied, the appellants went to the appellate court to challenge the victory of Fayose on the grounds that he was not qualified to stand election as a candidate because of his impeachment on October 16, 2006 – when he was the Ekiti governor. The APC also alleged that Fayose forged his academic certificates and violated the Code of Conduct Rules.
The 1st to 5th Respondents in the case were the PDP, Fayose, the Independent National Electoral Commission; the Chief of Army Staff and the Inspector General of Police.
The five-member panel chaired by Justice Abdul Aboki in its judgment upheld the verdict of the tribunal, which affirmed Fayose as the winner of the election.
INEC had declared that Fayose polled 203, 090 votes to defeat the then incumbent governor, Fayemi, who polled 120, 433 votes in the election.
Though the Justice Aboki-led five-man panel dismissed the appeal filed by the APC, it found merit in the appellant’s complaints that the military was used to harass and intimidate its supporters and leaders during the polls.
In a unanimous judgment, the appellate court held that the Justice Muhammad Sirajo-led tribunal in its verdict delivered on December 19, 2014, “hurriedly” dismissed the appellant’s allegations of harassment by the military on the grounds that it lacked jurisdiction to hear such.
He held that though the tribunal had rightly struck out the names of the Chief of Army Staff and the Inspector General of Police as respondents in the petition – in accordance with provisions of the Electoral Act – it ought to have determined the appellant’s complaints and considered the two parties as agents of INEC or individuals working on behalf of the commission.
The court, however, held that the entire appeal lacked merit since the main issues of alleged forgery of a Higher National Diploma certificate by Fayose and request for his disqualification on the grounds of his earlier impeachment from office in 2006 had been resolved against him.
It, however, reiterated that the use of Armed Forces in the conduct of the election was in violation of Section 217(2)(c) of the Constitution and Section 1 of the Armed Forces Act.
It cited and relied on a judgment delivered by Justice R. M Aikawa of the Federal High Court in Sokoto on January 29, 2015, barring the use of the Armed Forces in the conduct of elections.
The appellate court, therefore, barred the use of the Armed Forces in the conduct of future elections in the country as such constituted a violation of both the constitution and the Electoral Act.
Justice Aboki held, “Even the President of Nigeria has no powers to call on the Nigerian Armed Forces to unleash them on peaceful citizenry who are exercising their franchise to elect their leaders.
“In the event of insurrection or insurgency, the call on the Armed Forces to restore order must be with approval of the National Assembly… as provided in sections 217(2) and 218(4) of the constitution as amended.
“The question is that who ordered deployment of military or soldiers at the Ekiti governorship election? Was there any act of insurrection to warrant the call on the military to restore order? And was such deployment in accordance with sections 217 (2)(c) and 218(4) of the constitution? There is nothing before us in the records in answering the posers positively.
“With this, whoever unleashed soldiers on Ekiti State disturbed the peace of the election on June 21, 2014, acted in flagrant breach of the constitution, and flouted the provisions of the Electoral Act which required an enabling environment by civil authorities in the conduct of elections.
“We resolve that although the tribunal has no jurisdiction over the 4th and 5the respondents (Inspector General of Police and Chief of Army Staff), in the circumstances, that did not stop it from making a pronouncement on deprecating the unlawful role of the military in the conduct of election in Ekiti State. It must be stated, by way of emphasis, that the Armed Forces have no role in the conduct of election, (they) must not be involved except, perhaps, in the area of providing logistics services to the agencies of government in the preparation for the election.”
Fayose and his supporters, however, received the judgment with joy on Monday. The governor, who was at the popular Fajuyi Park, Ijigbo Roundabout, Ajilosun area, and the Kayode Oluyemi Stadium, was surrounded by his supporters, who sang and thanked God for the victory.
For Mr. Adeniran Alagbada, a PDP House of Assembly candidate in the coming polls, the confirmation of the governor’s victory by the court further proved that truth cannot be suppressed.
“I hope the APC and their leaders would have seen their folly by now. The voice of the people is the voice of God and I know that the people’s resolve to support and identify with Governor Ayo Fayose has been strengthened,” he said.
Also, the former Publicity Secretary of the PDP in Ekiti State, Pastor Kola Oluwawole, said the APC ought to know that propaganda does not win polls. “They have lost again. We hope that they would have learnt their lessons. They have now embarked on the so-called audio clip fantasy and that one is total nonsense too. Fayose is loved by the people of the state and they showed that by voting massively for him. We thank God for the victory,” he said.
An overwhelmed Fayose described the decision as a triumph of the will of the people over political bitterness aided by selfish interests.
In the midst of the celebration, the Ekiti APC has reacted to the Court of Appeal judgment, saying the law will take its course in the final determination of the matter at the Supreme Court.
The Ekiti State Publicity Secretary of the APC, Taiwo Olatubosun, said that despite the ruling in favour of Fayose, “It is gratifying that judicial declaration was given to APC’s complaint on illegal deployment of troops to harass and intimidate the opposition during the election.”
He added that the party also succeeded in proving that Fayose was legally impeached in 2006 as resolved by the Appeal Court in its judgment. Olatubosun stressed, however, that the party would appeal the judgment at the Supreme Court, as there were other issues that should have been addressed by the judgment.
“The judgment has vindicated us on our complaint that it is illegal for the ruling party to deploy troops to intimidate opponents during election to influence victory for its candidates because this is a clear infringement on the constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria. The recent audio leak about how the election was rigged by PDP chieftains, including the present beneficiary who used the Army to terrorise innocent Ekiti citizens, has further lent credence to our petition that the election was neither free nor fair.
“We are also vindicated that Fayose was legally impeached in 2006. As observed in the judgment, it is now left for the National Assembly to look into the nation’s law whether it is right and lawful to allow a man that was impeached over gross misconduct, public funds embezzlement and violation of the constitution to re-contest the position he had earlier lost over such constitutional breaches,” he said.
Olatubosun added that other issues that were not addressed by the Appeal Court in the judgment would be trashed out at the Supreme Court. He urged APC members to be law-abiding as the party employs all constitutional means to get justice in the matter.
A fresh twist was, however, added to the issue when the PDP in Ekiti State accused the justices of the Court of Appeal that upheld the June 21 governorship election victory of Fayose of being compromised for condemning the use of the military in conducting the election.
The party said it suspected an alliance between the appeal court justices and the APC because the appellate court dissipated energy on an issue that had been dismissed by the lower court.
The secretary of the party in Ekiti, Dr. Tope Aluko, made the allegation in a statement in Ado Ekiti on Tuesday. According to him, the appeal panel deliberately dissipated much energy on the use of military during the election in a manner which has aroused the suspicion of the party. Aluko who said that the party will appeal that aspect of the judgment, wondered why the panel after dismissing the appeal by the APC “for lack of merit should go ahead to condemn those who made it impossible for Dr. Kayode Fayemi and his party, APC, to rig the election.”