By Mumini AbdulKareem
For the Kwara State chapter of the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP), Wednesday last week will no doubt go down as a historic day in the annals of the opposition party following what is expected to be the final sack of the All Progressives Congress (APC) candidate in the 2019 House of Assembly election for Ilorin South by the Appeal Court.
The road to the victory for the opposition party has been rough and tough and witnessed what many political observers described as delay tactic and underhand tactics by the leadership of the APC and the House of Assembly to deny the only opposition member a seat in the 24-member legislative house to represent his people.
According to the court in a unanimous judgment that has to be taken to Ibadan, Oyo State at some stage, the re-echoed its earlier position that the APC has no candidate in the said election since Elewu popularly called Oluwnilo was not the recognised candidates of the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) in the election.
The road to the tortuous litigation began last year November 10th, 2018 as an intra party when Elewu complained about the conspicuous omission of his name from INEC’s list of candidates for the election and replaced with Suleiman Abdulsalam.
He subsequently instituted a legal action before the Federal High Court, for which judgment was delivered in his favour as the lawful APC candidate for Ilorin South State Constituency and was issued Certificate of Return.
At the Appeal, appellate court ordered INEC to withdraw his Certificate of Return and issue a new one to the 2nd runner up in the March 9th, 2019 State Assembly election, Mr. Abdulraheem Agboola of the PDP, a decision that was contested at the Federal High Court, Ilorin for determination of legality of the ruling of the Court of Appeal.
In an originating summon, with suit number FHC/IL/CS/157/2019, Elewu joined the PDP Candidate, Jimoh Raheem Agboola, the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC), the Speaker, Kwara state House of Assembly, Honourable Salihu Yakubu Danladi and the Clerk of Kwara state Assembly, Hajia Halima Jumai Kperogi as defendants.
Agboola subsequent victories was reportedly challenged by the APC lawmaker before the court gave it final ruling on Wednesday.
In his judgment November 2019, the appellate court which fined Elewu and the APC N50,000 had declared Agboola as the winner of the election held on March 10, 2019 and ordered INEC to issue him Certificate of Return.
But Elewu, Elewu, the substituted candidate of the APC in the election, insisted he was not joined in case that challenged the election result at the election petitions tribunal, an action which was supported by the speaker and remaining lawmakers.
Subsequently, the Speaker and the APC headed to the Federal High Court to file a petition against the judgment of the Appeal Court which was subsequently dismissed by the court while another appeal was filed on the matter.
The appeal court in deciding the case set up a special panel of three Justices to look into the case.
Reading the lead judgment on Wednesday, Justice Onyemenan dismissed the motion filed by the four respondents that included Elewu, the APC, the Speaker and the Clerk of the Kwara State House of Assembly and the court frowned on the leadership of the Kwara State House of Assembly for allegedly refusing to swear in the PDP candidate as the duly elected representative of Ilorin South Constituency in the House, as ordered by the court.
She said the Speaker and the Clerk of the House of Assembly had no right not to recognise any member declared by the court as the duly elected winner of an election.
While Elewu was fined the sum of N200,000 by the court, he was also directed to return all the salaries and allowances he had collected so far as a member of the Assembly. The court also ordered the Speaker and the Clerk of the Assembly as well as the APC to pay a fine of N300,000.
The court also ordered that Agboola of the PDP should be admitted and sworn in as the duly elected member of the House, representing the people of Ilorin South.
According to the counsel of Agboola, Barrister Azeez Ibrahim (SAN), the judgment made them elated at the end of the as justice was not only served but seen to be so.
But his opponent, Bar Raheem Ismaila hinted on the possibility of heading to the Supreme Court if his client agrees. He rejected the Appeal Court as the final bus top on House of Assembly elections litigation.
According to him, “It’s unfortunate that the court in this case believe that he (Elewu) ought to have executed the judgment of the Federal High Court against INEC that refused to capture his name on the list and not to seek to be joined at this junction. But as it is, we still have hope upstairs and we will discuss we our client on the next line of action. Since the judgment affects him directly, he has that right to be heard in the case and to be given an opportunity to come and defend himself. For the court to have refused him to come and defend his case here, we believe we still have hope at the Supreme Court if our client agrees to that. We can still go to the Apex Court.
Counsel to INEC, Bar Ayodeji Akerele while reacting to the judgment disagreed with Bar Ismaila on the whether the case can still go to the Apex Court.
“It is a well delivered judgment and as a lawyer, we have an obligation to obey every court judgment as well as litigants and respondents. We have done our part in enforcing the judgment by issuing the winner of the election, Hon Jimoh Agboola the Certificate of Return since 28 November 2019.
“We were surprised and were bystanders seeing all the dramas that were happening when he was not inaugurated. But now, the court has given further flesh to its judgment and I am sure that at this stage, the necessary parties will comply or they will face the full wrath of the law.
“My understanding of the law is that litigation as regards the House of Assembly election starts at the election petition tribunal and ends at the court of appeal and it is clear in the constitution. I cannot speak for them (Elewu) on whether they want to approach the Supreme Court, they is their prerogative”, he submitted.
Reacting to the victory, many PDP stalwarts who went into jubilation at the court premises condemned the action of the APC and its leadership.
For Agboola, “This is victory to democracy and it shows that the judiciary is living up to its expectation as the last hope of the common man. It means we can’t continue to hide behind a finger and law is no respecter of anybody. For us, we are heading to the assembly to play our role as expected and by His grace Allah will see us through”, he noted.
Also the former Deputy Speaker of the 8th Kwara State House of Assembly, Hon Matthew Okedare who has attended the entire court session, “Today is the happiest day for me. People have been saying the court is the last hope of the common man but today I can clearly see that the court is a place where everybody can receive justice. Look at the way they have been trying to turn the judgment right from the High Court to Appeal Court. The APC candidate instead of them to remove him after his sack by the court of appeal, they continue to retain him at the assembly and he was happy collecting salaries. But now that court has ruled, this will serve as deterrent to others that he should refund all the salaries and allowances he has so far collected. I give kudos to the appeal court judges and thank almighty God for Hon Agboola, our leader, Dr Bukola Saraki, all our followers and the PDP for today’s victory. We are happy”, he submitted.
Former Commissioner for Health Atolagbe Alege said the judgment means “We are celebrating rule of law and democracy in Nigeria if we could continue along this line; I believe the notion that the court is the last resort of the common man will be fully grounded in us. This has reinforced our belief in the county’s judiciary that there are still people that are well respected on the bench.
“This is one of the best judgments in recent time declaring that Ilorin south constituency still belongs to Agboola. This issue should not have dragged to this level, the APC should have complied with the judgment of the Court of Appeal since November last year but surprisingly the speaker of the Kwara State House of Assembly who is a young man and supposed to defend the constitution and defend the oath that brought him in allowed himself to be partisan by denying Agboola to be sworn in or have access to the House of Assembly. But we thank God and judiciary for delivering a perfect judgment today on the enforcement of the Court of Appeal judgement whereby the speaker has been directed to immediately swear in the PDP candidate as the authentic winner and the lawmaker representing Ilorin South.
“I believe with this judgment and the previous ones coupled with the fines of the court against the Speaker, Clerk and the Hon Hassan Elewu who was falsely representing us, the issue has been resolved and we are celebrating the rule of awl and judiciary of this country.
“For us, the implication of this judgment is that today, we have a PDP member as one of the House of Assembly lawmakers representing Ilorin South constituency who will participate in the deliberations henceforth and who as a second time member will guide them where necessary going forward on any issue. Together with Saheed Popoola who is also another ranking lawmaker with Agboola, the majority of the others lawmakers who are first timers will be able to do the needful all the time in the governance of Kwara State and spread the dividends of democracy to the nooks and crannies of the states. This will ensure we have a truthful assembly that will see Kwara people benefit from the motions and bills moved in the House”.
By Mumini AbdulKareem