Plateau: APC’s Nentawe ‘no more coming’ as PDP’s Muftfwang floors him @Supreme Court

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The Supreme Court has upheld the election of Gov Caleb Mutfwang of Plateau State, and killed the governorship dream of his APC challenger, Dr Nentawe Goshwe, who was controversially declared gov-elect by the Court of Appeal.

The Court of Appeal had in a controversial judgment on November 19, 2023, sacked Mutfwang, who is of the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) and declared the 2023 state governorship candidate of the All Progressives Congress (APC), Nentawe Yilwatda, as the winner.

Mutfwang, a lawyer, who was earlier declared winner of the election by the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC), as well as the Governorship Election Petition Tribunal, had, however, faulted the Court of Appeal’s  judgment, and approached the Supreme Court to restore his stolen mandate.

Delivering judgment on Friday, however, a five-member panel of the apex court, led by Justice Emmanuel Agim, reversed the decision of the Court of Appeal, which it described as “perverse, null and void.”

The apex court held that the issue of PDP’s primary election, which produced Mutfwang was outside the jurisdiction of the lower court, stressing that the validity of nomination and sponsorship of a party’s candidate was not a valid ground to void an election.

According to the Supreme Court, the Court of Appeal lacked the jurisdiction to entertain the issue of sponsorship of a candidate of a political party, adding that the APC petitioners were not members of the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP), hence, had no locus to challenge the party’s primary election.

The Court added that, besides the Tribunal and Court of Appeal’s lacking jurisdiction to entertain the matter, the issue of sponsorship had elapsed long ago, making it an academic exercise.

Justice Agim further stressed that the issue of primary election is an internal matter of political parties, in which both the Tribunal and Court of Appeal lacked jurisdiction to poke-nose.

On the issue of whether the order of the Plateau State High Court can affect the National Executive Committee (NEC), the apex court held that the appellate court was wrong in holding that the order affected the NEC.

Justice Agim also pointed out that contrary to the claim of the petitioners and the judgment of the Court of Appeal, the order of the Plateau State High Court was not disobeyed by the PDP, adding that evidence showed that a fresh primary was conducted.

The erudite Judge warned the legal profession to wake up or else it would render itself irrelevant to the society.

Justice Agim said: “Can the tribunal and the Court of Appeal determine the validity of the nomination of a candidate? The justice asked.

“The order of the High Court of Plateau State had nothing to do with power of NEC of the PDP; it is a jurisdictional matter!

“For this reason, this appeal is allowed. The judgement of the Court of Appeal is set aside, inclusive of the orders made therein.

“The judgement of the tribunal is restored. The election of the governor is further restored. The legal profession must wake up.”

Justice John Okoro, the Presiding Justice of the Supreme Court Panel, aligned with the lead judgment, and expressed dismay for the fact that a lot of people have suffered because of the wrongful judgments of the Court of Appeal.

According to him, the Court of Appeal’s handling of Plateau State’s electoral disputes is a clear and monumental miscarriage and travesty of justice by its sacking of all lawmakers, who clearly won elections on the platform of the PDP.

He said: “My only worry is that a lot of people have suffered as a result of the Court of Appeal’s decision. It was absolutely wrong. The appeal is allowed.”

Also aligning with the lead judgment, Justice Helen Ogunwumiju, another panel member, berated the Court of Appeal for going into the issue of nomination and sponsorship, despite several decisions of the apex court to the effect that another political party cannot challenge the primary election of another.

Justices Uwani Abba-Aji, another member of the Supreme Court’s Panel that delivered the landmark judgment also concurred with the lead judgement.

It would be recalled that Mutfwang scored 525,299 votes to beat the All Progressives Congress candidate, Nentawe, who garnered 481,370 votes during the 18 March governorship poll in Plateau State.

The governor’s election was upheld by the Plateau State Governorship Election Petitions Tribunal in Jos, the state capital.

The Supreme Court’s decision has restored confidence in the judiciary among the citizens, especially against the backdrop of the controversial judgments of the Court of Appeal, which had sweepingly nullified the election of all PDP lawmakers from the Plateau State, right from the House of Assembly to the National Assembly on the curious ground of “lack of structure.”

With this landmark judgment of the Supreme Court, which is consistent with its earlier holdings on the matter (that issues of nominations are internal affairs of political parties), the fate of Plateau members of the National Assembly and the House of Assembly from the PDP, who were wrongfully sacked by the Court of Appeal on the same ground as that of the Plateau State Governor, hangs in the balance.

This is because, based on the provisions of Section 6 of Constitution, and the Supreme Court, being a court of ultimate policy, the PDP and the sacked members of the National Assembly and the House of Assembly may approach the Supreme Court based on the fact that the Court of Appeal arrived at its decisions in error.

Given the latest development, the Supreme Court may assume jurisdiction and review all the erroneously decided cases of the Court of Appeal, based on Section 6 of the Constitution, if approached by the now illegally sacked lawmakers for a review of the Appeal Court’s erroneous decisions.

Alternatively, the Court of Appeal could decide to review its erroneous decisions in these cases and nullify the earlier judgments, if the affected parties approach it for judicial review.

A judicial precedent to that is the case of former Sokoto Gov Magatakarda Wammako, whose election was erroneously nullified by the Court of Appeal under Justice Ayo Salami but the Supreme Court later assumed jurisdiction, reviewed the case and upheld the Governor’s election.

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