After fierce arguments, the Supreme Court on Thursday resuscitated the governorship ambition of a former governor of the Central Bank of Nigeria, Prof. Chukwuma Soludo.
The court, in a unanimous decision, set aside the Wednesday order by the Abuja Division of the Court of Appeal restraining the Independent National Electoral Commission from recognising Soludo as the candidate of the Peoples Democratic Party for the February 6, 2010 poll in Anambra State.
Swiftly, Soludo lauded the ruling by the apex court, saying “God has answered our prayer.” The PDP also said with the victory, efforts would be doubled to ensure that the former CBN chief emerged the next governor of Anambra State.
The Supreme Court had, in arriving at its decision, reasoned that irreparable damage would be done to Soludo and the PDP if the Court of Appeal‘s order was allowed to subsist.
The court ordered INEC to confer on Soludo all the rights and privileges to which other candidates taking part in the governorship election were entitled.
The court had to stand down the case to enable lawyers prepare themselves to argue their respective cases.
The Supreme Court noted that the court of appeal went too far when it ordered the former CBN governor to stop parading himself as the governorship candidate of PDP when the case filed by the two aggrieved members of PDP — Mr. Valentine Ozigbo and Mrs. Victoria Nwankwo — had not been determined on its merit.
Ozigbo and Nwankwo’s lawyer, Mr. Taiwo Abe, had challenged the appeal filed by Soludo on Wednesday and asked the court to throw it out on the grounds of incompetence.
But Soludo‘s lawyer, Mr. Patrick Ikwueto (SAN), came up with an argument to persuade the court to set aside the order restraining his client.
Ikuweto told the court that Soludo would lose the opportunity to take part in the election if it did not set aside the order.
At the end of the two lawyers’ arguments, the court felt that Soludo should be allowed to carry the flag of PDP since his name had been submitted to INEC before the aggrieved party members went to court.
Justice George Oguntade who delivered the lead ruling said that it was better for the appellants and the respondents to allow Soludo participate in the election so that their party would have a chance to take part in the election.
However, the court pointed out that if at the end, it found that Soludo ought not to have been the party‘s candidate, it would nullify his selection even if he won the February 6 election.
”This is not a victory for anyone but a victory for justice,” Oguntade said.
The Supreme Court also faulted the Court of Appeal for restraining Soludo at the point it did because the case which led to the appeal had not gone beyond the issue of jurisdiction.
It said, ”The Abuja High Court declined jurisdiction in the case. The appeal before the Court of Appeal was on whether the high court has jurisdiction or not.
“The issue of jurisdiction is yet to be determined. The court below should have determined as a preliminary point the issue of jurisdiction. A court without jurisdiction could not make a valid order. In other words, the high court could not have made the order made by the Court of Appeal.”
The court said that since Soludo‘s name had been submitted to INEC before the aggrieved party members went to court, the Court of Appeal ought to have maintained that status quo.
Three justices of the Court of Appeal — Mary Odili, Abdul Aboki and Olukayode Bada — had unanimously restrained Soludo from parading himself as PDP‘s candidate in the governoship election.
The appeal court order implied that Soludo would not be a candidate in the election until it had finally determined an appeal filed by Ozigbo and Nwankwo.
However, Soludo and PDP were dissatisfied with the Appeal court‘s ruling and quickly filed separate appeals at the Supreme Court asking for an immediate reversal of the order.
The Supreme Court had earlier asked the parties to appear before it on Thursday in respect of an interlocutory appeal filed by Soludo.
The former CBN chief however had to file an amended notice of appeal which was heard and determined on Thursday.
Reacting, Soludo described Thursday as good and thanked God for the “victory.”
Soludo, who met with some members of the PDP National Working Committee at the party’s secretariat in Abuja, expressed gratitude to the Supreme Court judges for their action.
He said the only plan the opposition had was to make sure that the PDP did not have a candidate in the election, adding that with the judgment, their plan had failed.
He said, “I think today is a good day. God has spoken and the Supreme Court has spoken and millions of Anambra people are speaking and praying.”
Also speaking, the National Chairman of the PDP, Chief Vincent Ogbulafor, said with the apex court ruling, the party would now swing into action.
Ogbulafor said, “We are going to Anambra state in full force now. We are swinging into full action and we intend to recover lost grounds. This government is government of due process and rule of law.
“That is why we have been very patient for the judgment to come through. Now that it is done, the party will swing into full action.”
He added that the PDP would look into the case of those who took the party to court and those who have defected to other political parties and see how they could be disciplined.