A Federal High Court in Abuja on Wednesday stopped the Independent National Electoral Commission from conducting governorship elections in Kogi, Adamawa, Sokoto, Bayelsa and Cross River states.
In his judgment which lasted for about two hours in the consolidated suits by Governors Ibrahim Idris (Kogi), Murtala Nyako (Adamawa), Timipriye Sylva (Bayelsa) and Liyel Imoke (Cross River), Justice Adamu Bello held that there were no vacancies in the affected states for now.
The judge added that the tenure of the concerned governors would not expire until 2012.
He held that the tenure of the governors legally started in 2008 when they took fresh oaths of office and allegiance following the nullification of their April 14, 2007 elections by the courts.
The court held that since the 2007 elections were nullified and set aside by competent courts, the oath of office and allegiance subscribed to by the five governors had all been nullified and set aside along with the elections.
Justice Bello held that in line with section 180 of the 1999 Constitution, the tenure of the governors legally commenced in 2008 and not in 2007.
According to the judge, the 2007 elections used by Independent National electoral Commission to determine the tenure of the governors did not exist in the eyes of the law, having been legally declared null and void by competent courts as nothing can stand on nothing.
He, however, said that although section 180 of the 1999 Constitution was amended in 2010 by the National Assembly and signed into law by President Goodluck Jonathan, the amendment had no effect on the five governors since their rerun elections were conducted in 2008.
The judge said, “There is nowhere in the world where a constitution takes retroactive effect as erroneously held by INEC.
“The said amendment cannot be used to determine the tenure of the governors who took oath of office in 2008.” He, therefore, directed INEC to put on hold governorship election in the states and ordered that elections would only take place in the states next year.
He said, “INEC cannot validly conduct elections in the five states until 60 days to the expiration of the tenures of the present occupants.
“The notice of elections, received nominations, and timetable issued by INEC for the April 2011 elections are unlawful, illegal and contrary to section 180 of the constitution.”
Reacting to the verdict, INEC on Wednesday said that it would give the judgment to its legal team to study.
Director of Information and Public Affairs in the commission, Mr. Emmanuel Umenger, said this shortly after the verdict was delivered in Abuja.
He said, “It is too early for us to speak about the Court judgment delivered today. The Commission does not just react on issues like this, besides, the judgment has not been served on us yet.
“We have a consortium of lawyers who will have to study the judgment and advice the commission accordingly, we can only act based on their advice.”
In their reaction, Idris and his Bayelsa state counterpart, Sylva, said it was a triumph of the rule of law and victory for their states and the nation.
Speaking with journalists in Abuja, Idris said, “I am grateful to God, it is a victory for the people of Kogi State. I will lay a proper foundation for whoever is going to take over from me.”
In a statement by his Chief Press Secretary, Mr. Doifie Ola, Sylva said, “The extension will give the administration more time to deepen development and democracy in Bayelsa.”
The plaintiffs had sued INEC and the Peoples Democratic Party, seeking legal interpretation on whether their tenure in office would be extended beyond May 29 this year.
They had challenged the decision of the INEC to conduct governorship elections in their states in April 2011, claiming that their tenure would still subsist beyond 2011.
The plaintiffs, who were represented by Lateef Fagbemi (SAN), Samson Ameh (SAN), Kanu Agabi (SAN), Ladi Williams (SAN) and Paul Erokoro (SAN) respectively, stated that INEC was wrong to have concluded that the tenure of their clients would expire in May based on the fact that their elections conducted on April 14, 2007 were nullified by the courts.
They had contended that their tenure could not lapse in 2011 because they took oath of offices and oath of allegiance in 2008 after those of 2007 had been voided and set aside by different courts.
The Federal Government, a defendant in the case had, through its lawyer, Chief Niyi Akintola (SAN), asked the court not to grant the tenure elongation on the grounds that the amended constitution was in opposition to the request of the governors.
He had argued that since the governors won the rerun, their tenure started from their first oath of office in 2007 in line with the amended constitution.
But the PDP supported the governors, saying that their tenures commenced on the day they were inaugurated after the rerun.
The national legal Adviser of the PDP preparations, Chief Olusola Oke, had argued that the 2007 elections which brought the governors to office in the first instance were declared illegal, unlawful, null and void and set aside by law courts.
He contended that the oath of office taken along with the voided elections were of no effect in law.
With this development, the tenure of the affected governors will end on the following dates: Ibrahim Idris (April 5, 2012); Aliyu Wamakko (May 28, 2012); Murtala Nyako (April 30, 2012); Timipre Sylva (May 29, 2012) and Liyel Imoke (August 28, 2012).
Governor Rotimi Amaechi of Rivers state had a similar suit.
But Justice Abdul Kafarati of a Federal High Court in Abuja had on October 7, 2010, held that Amaechi must quit office on May 29, 2011, though it was Mr. Celestine Omehia who was first sworn in as the winner of the governorship election in the state on May 29, 2007.
Delivering judgment in a suit by a former legal adviser of the Peoples Democratic in Rivers State, Chief Cyprian Chukwu, Justice Kafarati had also held that Amaechi was not entitled to stay in office beyond May 29, 2011.
The judge had held that since Amaechi was deemed to be the candidate of the PDP in the governorship election, he would be deemed to have assumed that office on May 29, 2007 when Omehia was sworn in.
He held that Amaechi’s tenure was a continuation of Omehia’s term, at the time of election.
The judge said that the case of Anambra State Governor Peter Obi v. INEC did not apply on the grounds that the election petitions tribunal sitting in Anambra State nullified Dr. Chris Ngige’s election.
Justice Kafarati said Omehia’s election was not nullified.