The Supreme Court on Tuesday reserved judgement on a suit filed by Gov. Caleb Mutfwang of Plateau State seeking to restore his mandate to lead the state.
John Okoro who led a five-member panel of justices reserved the judgment after he took arguments from lawyers to both parties in the case.
The apex court is expected to deliver a verdict on the matter before 16 January, when the appeal will expire.
Mutfwang of the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) had scored 525,299 votes to beat the All Progressives Congress (APC) candidate, Mr Nentawe Yilwatda, who garnered 481,370 votes during the March 18, 2023 governorship poll in the state.
The governor’s election was upheld by the Plateau State Governorship Election Petitions Tribunal in Jos, the state capital.
However, the Court of Appeal in Abuja overturned the victory, necessitating Mutfwang’s appeal at the supreme court.
Mutfwang had urged the apex court to nullify the judgement of the Court of Appeal, which sacked him from office.The governor, who made this request in his appeal filed before the apex court by an eight-man team of Senior Advocates of Nigeria(SANs), led by Chief Kanu Agabi, accused the lower court of not giving his and his party, the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP), fair hearing.
A three-man panel of the Court of Appeal led by Justice Elfrieda Williams-Dawodu had on November 19, 2023 nullified the election of Mutfwang and ordered the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) to issue a Certificate of Return to the candidate of the All Progressive Congress (APC), Nentawe Goshwe.
The appellate court held that the appeal brought by Goshwe was valid as the qualification issue was both a pre and post-election matter under Section 177(c) of the Nigerian Constitution and Sections 80 and 82 of the Electoral Act, 2022.
Dissatisfied with the judgment , the governor formulated eight grounds of appeal on why the Supreme Court should validate his election.
He argued that the issue of nomination and sponsorship, which underpinned Ground One of the petition by the APC, is not only a pre-election matter but within the internal affairs of the fourth
Respondent (PDP), and as such the first and second Respondents lacked the locus standi to canvass it.
The appellant also argued that the judgment of the lower court delivered on November 19, 2023 is fatally flawed for want of jurisdiction regarding Section 285(2) of the Constitution (supra).
He insisted that disobedience of court order is not one of the grounds for maintaining an election petition under Section 134 of the Electoral Act (supra), nor is it part of Section 177(c) of the Constitution (supra), let alone disqualifying the appellant from contesting the election.
The governor further maintained that given the overwhelming oral and documentary evidence, including but not limited to EXHIBITS U and 2RA3, the fourth Respondent complied with EXHIBIT G1 by conducting a state congress on September 25, 2021, in Plateau.
He also contended that the evidence of the 16th prosecution witness was thoroughly discredited and controverted, as such, the lower court was wrong to heavily rely on it against him.
“The first and second respondents woefully failed to discharge the requisite burden of proof on them and, as such, not entitled to the reliefs sought in their petition, more so that having impugned the election as invalid for non-compliance, it is absurd of them to lay claim to victory for the same election.
“The lower court was in grave error when it held that the Tribunal was wrong in striking out the offensive paragraphs of appellant’s reply and utilising evidence of PW16, PW24, PW27 and PW28 as a tribunal of first instance. NAN)