The National Assembly Elections Petition Tribunal Panel 3, sitting in Lagos has delivered a watershed ruling on Thursday, 24 August, 2023.
The three-man panel led by Justice Ashu Ewa with Justice Abdullahi Ozegya and Justice Abdullahi Sambo as members, delivered a unanimous ruling that the House of Representatives member for Ojo Federal Constituency, Seyi Sowunmi of the Labour Party was not qualified to contest the 25 February 2023 election hence his purported declaration as winner is null and void.
In his stead, the Tribunal unanimously declared Honourable Lanre Ogunyemi of the All Progressives Congress (APC), as the authentic winner of the election.
The Tribunal also ordered the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) to cancel Certificate of Return issued to Sowunmi and issue another to Lanre Ogunyemi.
Ogunyemi and his party had petitioned the Tribunal protesting the declaration of the LP candidate as the winner of the election .
There have been many reactions and public comments on the ruling , without recourse to the judgement and proceedings of the Tribunal.
This article seeks to shed more light on the judgement and reasons for the nullification of INEC’s declaration of Sowunmi as elected.
The main thrust of argument at the Tribunal centred mostly on the eligibility of Sowunmi to contest for the election.
Documents, evidences and oral presentations at the Tribunal were more than enough to convince the Honourable Justices that Sowunmi was not qualified to contest the election.
As of June 9, 2022, the deadline set by the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) for conducting and submitting names of candidates, the Labour Party in the Ojo Federal Constituency had not conducted a primary election supervised by INEC.
Thus, the party lacked an INEC-recognized representative eligible to participate in the general elections. Consequently, Sowunmi’s candidacy was called into question under Section 134 (1) (a) (b) and (c) of the Electoral Act, 2022, as well as Section 65 (2) (b) of the 1999 Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria.
Another major factor that disqualified Seyi Sowunmi was that evidential documents tendered before the tribunal, revealed and confirmed that he was nominated by the Labour Party to contest for the House of Representatives in Lagos Island Federal Constituency 2 and not Ojo Federal Constituency.
Mr. Ifeanyi Ukachukwu was the selected candidate of the Labour Party in Ojo Constituency. Ironically, Ifeanyi Ukachukwu also does not have his name in the Labour Party register and did not undergo a primary election. A report from INEC was tendered before the tribunal indicating that Labour Party never held primary elections in Ojo Federal Constituency contrary to section 29 (1) (2), of the Electoral Act.
It should also be noted that Ukachukwu himself even though, he was not qualified to contest the election, also lodged a petition against Seyi Sowunmi’s candidacy before the Tribunal, asserting that he (Sowunmi) is not a member of the Labour Party in Ojo Federal Constituency and had never campaigned there.
He highlighted that Seyi Sowunmi lacked a residential address in Ojo Federal Constituency; his residential address was in Lekki, Eti-Osa Federal Constituency. This raised concerns about his qualification as a member of the Labour Party in Ojo Federal constituency, let alone running for office there.
The Tribunal also discovered through compelling evidence presented by the All Progressives Congress, that Seyi Sowunmi’s name was not listed in the Labour Party Membership register for Ojo Federal Constituency, contravening Section 65 (2) (b) of the 1999 Constitution of Nigeria which makes membership of a political party the first condition for a candidate to participate in all stages of a general election .
Furthermore, Seyi Sowunmi did not complete or submit INEC’s candidates’ nomination Form EC(9), an affidavit supporting the personal particulars of individuals seeking election into political positions, prior to the February 25, 2023 election.
However, in an attempt to evade legal action and petitions, he submitted it on March 10, 2023, after the elections had been held, flouting the Nigerian electoral procedure.
The petitioners: APC Lagos and Ogunyemi Olanrewaju; produced certified true copies of documents from INEC through a subpoenaed witness before the tribunal to prove that Seyi Sowunmi’s candidacy was fraught with a lot of discrepancies and irregularities
To worsen his case before the Tribunal, Seyi Sowunmi’s response to the filed petition against him was done outside the stipulated time frame. The Tribunal discovered that his response was filed after the 21-day period prescribed by Paragraph 12 (1) of the First Schedule to the Electoral Act, 2022.
The evidences presented against the LP and Sowunmi were weighty, substantial and overwhelming that he was not duly sponsored to the extent that even his legal team was not able to controvert them.
Finally, the Petitioners confidence was further boosted by the ruling delivered in Asaba in the case between PDP’s Ndudi Elumelu and LP’s Okolie Ngozi Lawrence where the Tribunal members unanimously agreed that Okolie was not qualified to contest the 2023 National Assembly Elections due to non-compliance with the provisions of the Electoral Act and the 1999 Constitution of Nigeria.
The judgment was also presented by petitioners at the Tribunal.
These were some of the major evidences before the Honourable Justices at the Tribunal that made it to reach a unanimous decision in the landmark judgement.
By recent developments in the political space, it is becoming incumbent on political players and parties to adhere strictly to the stipulations of the 1999 Nigerian Constitution, the Electoral Act 2022 and INEC regulations guiding the conduct of elections in the country.
Madukwe B. Nwabuisi is an accomplished journalist renown for his fearless reporting style and extensive expertise in the field. He is an investigative journalist, who has established himself as a kamikaze reporter.