Pre-election Suits: How Constitution’s 4th Alteration Dashed Politicians’ Hope

                            

Supporters of Mr Segun Abraham, an aspirant to the office of the Governor of Ondo State in 2016, had erupted in jubilation when the Supreme Court in its judgement of March 23, 2018, gave them the first major victory in a legal battle against Governor Rotimi Akeredolu.

About one year and five months earlier, Abraham, who was the first runner-up in the September 3, 2016 governorship primary of the All Progressives Congress in Ondo State, had filed a suit before the Federal High Court in Abuja, seeking an order nullifying Akeredolu’s emergence as the governorship candidate of the party ahead of the November 26, 2016 governorship election in the state.

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Akeredolu, as the APC candidate, had gone ahead to win the November 26, 2016 election.

But Abraham, whose suit continued after the poll, had urged the court to, among others, declare that the primary, which produced Akeredolu, was held in violation of provisions of the APC’s Electoral Guidelines for Governorship primary election 2014.

He said the primary also flouted the party’s constitution and was therefore invalid and incapable of validly producing Akeredolu as the party’s governorship candidate.
The suit faced its first test when Akeredolu proceeded to the Court of Appeal in Abuja to challenge the Federal High Court’s order permitting the plaintiff to serve him with the papers filed in the suit through substituted means.
The governor lost at the Court of Appeal and subsequently went to the Supreme Court, which also dismissed his appeal in its March 23, 2018 judgment.
After the apex court’s verdict, Abraham’s suit surmounted another legal obstacle of a preliminary objection.
Ruling in favour of Abraham, Justice Nnamdi Dimgba of the Federal High Court in Abuja dismissed the preliminary object in a ruling of November 9, 2018.
The suit, at the level of the Federal High Court, also survived another legal attack anchored on the new provisions of the Fourth Alteration to the Constitution, which introduced the time limit within which a pre-election case, like Abraham’s, should be filed and decided.
But by the time the matter got to the Supreme Court, the new constitutional provision had been interpreted by the apex court to be applicable to all pre-election cases that preceded the 4th Alteration to the Constitution.
Therefore, it was to the disappointment of Abraham and his supporters that the Supreme Court, on March 5, 2019, dismissed the suit on the grounds that it was not filed within 14 days of the arising of the cause of action.
By this development, all the efforts Abraham had put into pursuing the suit for over two years, which was about half way into Akeredolu’s tenure, turned out to be a labour in vain.

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