A panel of judges at the Supreme Court, in a unanimous decision, has upheld the election of the governor of Benue state, Gabriel Suswan in the April 2011 elections.
The ruling thereby dismisses the appeal by the governorship candidate of the Action Congress of Nigeria (ACN), Steve Ugba which prayed the Court to order the state’s governorship election tribunal to commence hearing of his petition seeking to unseat Mr Suswam irrespective of expiry of the 180 days provided for by the constitution.
In the lead judgement 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 as such “the appeal is just an academic exercise and abuse of court process.”
According to him, “no court can by any mean or way elongate, extend the 180 days specified by the constitution. There is no contradiction between Section 36 and Section 285(6) of the 1999 Constitution.
He added that “a petition need not be heard completely before a tribunal will deliver its judgment, in compliant with section 285(6), once a tribunal makes an order within 180 days and the party affected heads for an appeal, the 180 days keeps running.
“The lower court can order a re-trial of that petition but not outside the 180 days provided for by the constitution as any order outside this is null and void. No court has the jurisdiction to go beyond the enabling law” he added.
Professor Ugba had through his counsel, Rotimi Akeredolu, approached the apex court to challenge the decision of the Court of Appeal, which affirmed the verdict of the election petition tribunals that 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 People’s Democratic Party (PDP) governorship candidate, Alhaji Mohammed Goni because it was not heard within 180 days as stipulated in section 285 (6) of the constitution.
He 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.
The apex court last week, struck a similar application against the election of the Akwa Ibom state governor, by the ACN and its gubernatorial candidate.