The Appeal Court sitting in Abuja has reserved judgment in the appeal filed by Kano State Governor Abba Kabir Yusuf of the New Nigeria Peoples Party (NNPP) against the judgment of the Governorship Election Petition Tribunal which declared the All Progressive Congress (APC) flagbearer, Nasiru Yusuf Gawuna, governor-elect.
Interestingly, the lead counsels digging it out before the appellate court on Monday were part of the legal team that defended President Bola Tinubu during the Presidential Election Petition Court sitting in Abuja.
Recall that the three-man panel of the Tribunal led by Justice Oluyemi Akintan Osadebay had sacked Yusuf on September 20, 2023, after deducting 165,663 of his votes.
The Independent National Electronic Electoral Commission (INEC) had announced Yusuf winner of the March 18, 2023 election, saying he garnered 1,019,602 votes to defeat Gawuna who got 890,705 of the votes cast.
But the APC approached the Tribunal, citing alleged electoral malpractice.
The Tribunal agreeing with the APC, nullified Yusuf’s election, adding that over 160,000 ballot papers “were not signed or stamped by INEC”.
Yusuf’s votes were subsequently reduced to 853,939 while Ganuwa’s 890,705 votes were not affected.
The governor then filed an appeal before the appellate court.
The APC, INEC and the NNPP also entered cross-appeals before the court.
On Monday, the governor’s lead counsel, Wole Olanipekun SAN (who was lead counsel for Tinubu at the PEPC), urged the court to allow the appellant’s appeal and set aside in its entirety, the judgement of the lower Tribunal.
Olanipekun argued that the lower Tribunal has created new precedents which depart from all the judgments made by the appellate or Supreme Court.
On the issue of ballot papers, he contended that this is the first time in the history of the court that a Tribunal will annul an election over non-signing of the back of ballot papers.
“In doing that, the lower Tribunal erred,” Olanipekun said.
He further argued that this was the first time that a political party filed a matter without joining its candidate as a party in the petition and the latter was declared winner of the polls.
“Can a political party be sworn after an election or take an oath?,” Olanipekun argued holding that the judgement of the lower Tribunal should not be allowed to stand
Akin Olujimi SAN, counsel for APC, in his reply on the issue of valid ballot, said the decisions of the Appeal Courts right from 2009 have emphatically stated if non signing of ballots amounts to electoral malpractice.
He argued that the INEC regulations have set out what presiding officers are to do at the point of voting, adding that the back of ballot papers must be signed and dated.
He said where there is a failure of presiding officers to do the needful, it amounts to non-compliance to the Electoral Act.
On the APC candidate who was not joined as a party at the Tribunal, Olujimi said it is settled law that votes are cast for the party in an election and that any decision affecting a political party embraces all its members.
“Judgement in this appeal is hereby reserved to a date to be communicated to the parties,” the court of appeal said.
In the APC’s cross-appeal, Olujimi also urged the court to hold that the Kano State governor was not a member of the NNPP as of the time he was sponsored by the party.
A.B Mahmoud SAN, counsel for INEC, asked the appeal court to dismiss APC’s cross-appeal for lacking in merit.