A panel of the Court of Appeal led by its President, Justice Monica Dongban-Mensem has in a unanimous judgment obtained by CITY LAWYER laid to rest the controversy surrounding the qualification of Labour Party presidential candidate, Mr. Peter Obi to contest the just concluded Nigeria presidential election.

CITY LAWYER recalls that Obi’s membership of the Labour Party is one of the major grounds the All Progressives Congress (APC) presented to the Presidential Election Petition Tribunal in response to Obi’s petition. The Court of Appeal will sit as the Presidential Election Petition Tribunal and court of first instance to determine petitions arising from the presidential election.

In the judgment which upheld the decision of Justice James Omotosho of the Federal High Court sitting at Abuja, Justice Danlami Zama Senchi, who read the Lead Judgment, held that INEC merely complied with the law “as it has done no more than scrupulously comply with the provisions of the Electoral Act, 2022 by publishing the names of the candidates submitted by the political parties as required by sections 29(3) and 32(1) of the Electoral Act, 2022.”

In the appeal brought by the Allied Peoples Movement (APM) against Obi, Labour Party and the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC), the Court of Appeal further held that “The complaint that INEC, the 1st Respondent, accepted and published the name of the 3rd Respondent upon its being submitted by the 2nd Respondent/Cross Appellant as its candidate for the Presidential election cannot be non-compliance by the 1st Respondent as envisaged by Section 285(14)(c) of the Constitution, as amended, since by Sections 29(3) and 32(1) of the Electoral Act, 2022, the 1st Respondent has the duty to accept and publish the list of candidates submitted to it by a political party.”

Continuing, the Appeal Court held that the Appellant lacked the locus standi to bring the appeal, saying: “Assuming that the Appellant’s evidence established violation of Section 77(2) and (3) of the Electoral Act, 2022, but I still maintain that it did not; it does not appear to me that such non-compliance is such on the basis of which it can be said that the 3rd Respondent (Peter Obi, emphasis supplied) is not qualified and/or disqualified from standing as a candidate for the Presidential Elections.”

Noting that the “qualification requirement” as it relates to membership of a political party “is in section 131(c) which provides that a person shall be qualified for election to the office of President if he is a member of a political party and is sponsored by that party,” the Court of Appeal held that “The quest by the Appellant to read into this clear and unambiguous provision what is not there” with the integral interpretation that ‘the person’s name must be on the Register of Members of the Political Party and must have been so for at least 30 days before the party primaries’ “has no support in law. It is hornbook law that you cannot read into a statute what is not contained therein.”

Putting the matter beyond debate, the Court of Appeal held that “The Constitution is the grundnorm, it is supreme and ranks over and above all other laws. It has made specific provisions in section 131 and 137 for the qualification and disqualification of a person for the office of President of Nigeria. The constitutional provisions having covered the field in this regard, the Appellant cannot import Section 77(3) of the Electoral Act, 2022 and seek to add the same to the qualification provision elaborately stated in the Constitution. It is not permissible.”

Justice Senchi stated that the judgment of the lower court was unassailable, adding that “The above finding of the lower court cannot be faulted. The 3rd Respondent (Peter Obi, emphasis supplied) was qualified by the provisions of Section 131 (c) of the Constitution and he was not disqualified under any of the stipulations in Section 137 of the Constitution.”

Aligning with the Lead Judgment, Justice Dongban-Mensem held that “The law is unequivocal that the issue of nomination of candidates to represent a Political Party in an Election is strictly an internal affair of the political party. This means that outsiders, other Political Parties and persons who did not participate in the primaries being complained of are precluded from instituting an action challenging same.”

The Court of Appeal President sought copious support for the view in the case of AISHA JUMMAI ALHASSAN & ANOR VS MR. DARIUS DICKSON ISHAKU & ORS (2016) LPELR-40083 (SC) where the Supreme Court held that “On the issue of sponsorship and nomination, it is now settled in a plethora of authorities of this Court that this issue is in the domestic affairs of political parties,” adding that “No other person, whether within the political party or outside of it, can ventilate his grievance arising from party nomination as there is no law backing him up.”

Contributing to the ALHASSAN judgment, Justice Mary Odili held as follows: “As I said earlier, the appellant is a member of the PDP, not APC and even if he is a member of the APC, he would have no locus to challenge the nomination of the 1st Respondent as he is not one of the aspirants who participated in the primary election. In my view, the Appellant is a meddlesome interloper who, having assumed the role of a hired mourner, is crying more than the bereaved.”

Justice Dongban-Mensem also described the Appellant as “a meddlesome interloper and a busybody trying to poke its nose in the domestic affairs of a Political Party to which it does not belong. The conduct of the Appellant/Cross Respondent in filing this suit can be likened to a case of crying more than the bereaved or taking Panadol for someone else’s headache who has evidently waived its requirements for the 3rd Respondent.”

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