June 8, 2012 – Benue State New: Gabriel Suswam’s Victory Affirmed
In a unanimous decision on Friday, the Supreme Court upheld the victory of the Benue state governor, Gabriel Suswam, in the 2011 governorship election.
The appeal was instituted by the candidate of Action Congress of Nigeria, ACN, Professor Steve Ugba, asking the apex court to direct the Benue state governorship election petition tribunal to commence hearing of his petition seeking to unseat Suswam irrespective of expiration of the 180 days provided by the constitution
In the lead judgment read by Justice Kayode Ariwoola, the apex court held that the constitution has prescribed that election petition at the tribunal should be heard and concluded within 180 days of filing such petition.
According to him, “no court can by any means or way elongate or extend the 180 days specified by the constitution. There is no contradiction between Section 36 and Section 285(6) of the 1999 Constitution.
The judge further noted that a petition needed not be heard completely before a tribunal could deliver its judgment.
“In compliance with Section 285(6), once a tribunal makes an order within 180 days and the party affected heads for an appeal, the 180 days keep running. The Court of Appeal can order a re-trial of that petition but not outside the 180 days provided for by the constitution. Any order outside this time frame is null and void. No court has the jurisdiction to go beyond the enabling law.”
The apex court held that it cannot alter the law and that the interpretation which it gave to Section 285(6) does not breach section 36 of the 1999 Constitution as the appellant had contended.
“It is clear that considering this appeal will not lead to any useful result, the appeal is not only an academic exercise but also an abuse of court process having been dismissed by the tribunal. We have no reason to depart from our decision in Goni’s matter.”
The court consequently dismissed the appeal for being an academic exercise and abuse of court process.
Prof Ugba, through his lawyer, Mr. Rotimi Akeredolu, a senior advocate of Nigeria and former NBA President, had approached the court to challenge the decision of the Court of Appeal, which affirmed the verdict of the Election Petition Tribunals that first dismissed his petition on the ground that it was not heard within 180 days as stipulated in Section 285 (6) of the Constitution.
He also wanted the court to overrule itself on its decision in the Borno governorship election appeal where it dismissed the petition of the Peoples Democratic Party’s governorship candidate, Alhaji Mohammed Goni because it was not heard within 180 days as stipulated in Section 285 (6) of the Constitution.
The appellant also contended that the decision was reached per incuriam because the court did not consider the effect of its interpretation of Section 285(6) of the constitution on some other basic and fundamental provisions of the Constitution.