The State and National Assembly Appeal Court sitting in Lagos has dismissed two separate appeals, filed by Labour Party candidate, Gbadebo Rhodes-Vivour and his Peoples Democratic Party counterpart, Olajide Adediran, (also known as Jandor) and affirmed the re-election Governor Babajide Sanwo-Olu in the March 18 governorship election.
A three-member panel of the Appellate Court led by Justice Yargata Nimpar, upheld the decision of the election petition tribunal, and held that the two appeals were lacking in merit.
Other members of the panel were Justice Samuel Bola and Justice Paul Bassi.
The Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) had on Saturday, March 18, 2023, conducted an election for the Office of the Governor of Lagos State.
At the conclusion of the poll, INEC had declared and returned the incumbent Sanwo-Olu as winner, having scored 762,134 votes to defeat his closest rival Rhodes Vivour who polled 312,329 votes. Adeniran came a distant third with 62,499 votes.
Dissatisfied, Rhodes Vivour and Adeniran had filed separate petitions challenging the election result and INEC’s declaration.
Adediran and the PDP had claimed that at the time of the election, Sanwo-Olu, Hamzat, and LP candidate, Gbadebo Rhodes-Vivour were not qualified to contest the election.
They had also claimed that Sanwo-Olu failed to attach a copy of the GCE O/Level result he claimed to have sat for in 1981 along with his form EC9 as required by the Electoral Act 2022.
However, the Lagos Governorship Election Petition Tribunal on September 25, 2023 dismissed the two petitions filed by the PDP, candidate, Adediran and that of the Labour Party and affirmed the election of Sanwo-Olu and his deputy, Dr. Obafemi Hamzat.
Still not satisfied, Rhodes Vivour and Adeniran had further appealed against the judgement of the Tribunal.
But delivering its judgments on Wednesday, the Appeal Court was unanimous that the appellants failed to prove their claims.
Justice Nimpar, who read the lead judgment against Adeniran and the PDP held that Sanwo-Olu and Hamzat, were qualified to contest the March 18, 2023, governorship election in the state under section 177 of the Constitution.
She held that the appellants failed to prove that the 2nd & 3rd respondents were not jointly sponsored, adding that ‘the Appeal has hit the rock’.
The court held that the Appellant failed to prove the allegation of non-qualification of the respondents without establishing any ground of non- qualification or disqualification known to law.
The court further held that the Appellants also failed to establish the allegation of non-compliance” with the provisions of the Electoral Act, 2022, and did not present any quality of evidence required or demonstrating how such non-compliance, if any, substantially affected the outcome of the election.
On the Appeal filed by Rhodes Vivour and Labour Party, Justice Samuel Bola in his lead judgement agreed with the decision of the lower Tribunal and held that PW8, (Olubusayo Fasidi), a US immigration lawyer, did not qualify as an expert witness, and that all the exhibits (Exhibits P985-989 and PE 990 1033) tendered through her were inadmissible, being computer-generated evidence that did not have accompanying certificate of compliance pursuant to section 84 of the Evidence Act.
The Court agreed with the submission of the lead counsel to the 2nd and 3rd Respondents, Chief Wole Olanipekun that PW8 came to the Tribunal as a subpoenaed witness with a witness Statement on oath that was not front loaded alongside the petition.
“The Tribunal, is bound by the doctrine of stare decisis to hold that such oral testimony in chief is neither permissible nor cognizable under the applicable rules in election petitions”, the court held.
On the allegation that the 3rd Respondent (Dr. Obafemi Hamzat) voluntarily renounced his citizenship of Nigeria and thereby violated section 182 (1a) of the Constitution, the court held that while the Appellant pleaded a specific Oath of Allegiance to the United States of America, no such personal oath of allegiance sworn to by the 3rd Respondent was put in evidence before the lower Tribunal.
The court stated that the legal parameters governing the burden of proof remained the same, adding that “he who asserts must prove.
“The burden of proof in election matters in Nigeria is on the petitioner. It is the petitioner who alleges noncompliance with the provisions of the Electoral Act and the petitioner who alleges non-qualification of the person declared as the winner of the election. “The law is trite that he who asserts must prove. It is not for the respondent who was declared as the winner to prove his eligibility. The burden is on the Appellant to prove that the Respondents did not meet the constitutional requirements to contest the election.”
Reacting to the judgement, Governor Sanwo-Olu in a statement he signed and issued on Wednesday, said he accepted the Court of Appeal verdict with a sense of responsibility and a desire to continue with the giant strides of his administration to leave a great legacy for the people of Lagos State.
He said: “With a sense of humility, I welcome the decision of the Court of Appeal, which ruled today in our favour, thereby validating the position of Lagosians who freely cast their ballots to return my deputy, Dr. Obafemi Hamzat and I as Governor and Deputy Governor of our dear State. We do not take it for granted.
“Today’s judicial pronouncements, like those of the Lagos State Elections Petition Tribunal, have buoyed my confidence in our country’s judicial system. The Court examined all the issues and did justice to them, without leaving anyone in doubt as to who was the rightful winner of the election.
“Our party, the All Progressives Congress (APC) will continue to maintain its firm belief in the judicial process.
“My deputy and I have satisfied all the constitutional requirements and are now more focused on delivering the democratic dividends to our people.”
The governor while recommitting himself to the Greater Lagos Agenda, said “The judicial victory has further strengthened my resolve to impact the lives of Lagos residents positively, regardless of their political persuasion, in line with our THEMES+ development agenda.
“We urge our opponents to embrace the olive branch and join our sure march to Greater Lagos that keeps rising by the day.”
Segun James and Wale Igbintade