• Confusion In Kogi As CJ Declines To Swear In Governor-elect
• Sokoto: Chief Judge Awaits Written Order
IN a unanimous decision of a seven-man panel, the Supreme Court yesterday declared that the tenure of five state governors- Ibrahim Idris (Kogi), Murtala Nyako (Adamawa), Timipre Sylva (Bayelsa), Aliyu Wamakko (Sokoto) and Liyel Imoke (Cross River)- had elapsed since May 29, last year.
The panel, presided over by the Chief Justice of Nigeria (CJN), Justice Dahiru Musdapher, also had Justices Walter Onnonghen, Mahmud Mukhtar, Chukwuma Eneh, Muntaka Coomasie, Olufunlola Adekeye and Mary Peter-Odili.
In its reaction to the judgment, the federal government directed Speakers of the state Houses of Assembly in the affected states to take over the reins of power, pending the conduct of fresh elections.
It also ordered the Inspector General of Police and other security agencies to ensure there was a conducive atmosphere for smooth transition. .
WHILE some of the Speakers were sworn in yesterday, there was drama in Kogi, as the state Chief Judge refused to swear in Mr. Idris Wada of the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP), who won the last governorship election.
A Customary President, with the Speaker in attendance, later swore in Wada.
But shortly afterwards, journalists were summoned to the state assembly complex in Lokoja, where the Chief Judge swore in the Speaker to take over from Idris, as directed by the federal government.
IN Sokoto, officials in the office of the state Chief Judge said they were awaiting a written order to enable the Chief Judge swear in the Speaker as at 7.20 pm.
NESTOR Binabo, Speaker of the Bayelsa State House of Assembly, was sworn in as Acting Governor by the state Chief Judge, Justice Kate Abiri at the Gloryland Castle in Government House, Yenagoa, the state capital around 4:30 pm, with all the members of the Assembly and some members of the state executive council in attendance.
It was climaxed when the newly sworn-in Acting Governor replaced the picture of Chief Timipre Sylva with his.
Binabo, in a brief speech afterwards, said not many people expected the removal of the governor, but that since the lot had fallen on him, he would take responsibility of governing the state.
While calling for cooperation from everybody, he said he could only succeed in an atmosphere of peace, unity and togetherness.
He vowed to ensure the conduct of peaceful, free and fair governorship election in a fortnight, just as he reiterated his resolve not to condone any act of violence within the short period he would be in office.
IN a solemn and sober moment, Speaker of the Cross River State House of Assembly Mr. Larry Odey was yesterday sworn in to take over from Imoke by the state Chief Judge, Justice Dorothy Eyamba-Idem.
Most of the executive council members and other aides of the former governor were present in the brief ceremony.
Speaking immediately after the ceremony, Odey said: “This is a sober moment for us in Cross River State. I do know that in all things, God says we should give him thanks.
“I am confident that in a short time from now, the INEC would come up with a timetable to re-elect Imoke to come and re-occupy his seat.
“We have gone through this before and we came out strong. This time, we would come out stronger.”
He added: “Given the synergy that exists between the three arms of government, the executive, we have defined a path of progress and growth.
“With all sense of humility, I say we would put in our best to make or principal proud of us.
“I call on all of us to ensure we remain at our duty posts and make the necessary sacrifices required of us to make the state move forward.
“At times like this, miscreants take advantage, but I am sure the service chiefs here and security agents are capable of handling any situation.”
Meanwhile, Imoke in a press statement signed by him and circulated to the press yesterday, accepted the verdict and thanked the people for their cooperation.
He implored them to extend the same level of support to Odey.
IN Adamawa, there was jubilation over the judgment, just as Speaker of the state Assembly, Alhaji Ahmed Umaru Fintri was yesterday sworn in as Acting Governor.
In his speech, Fintri vowed not to tolerate any act of violence or action that could breach the rule of law in the state.
He solicited the support of traditional rulers, clergymen and Adamawa people in the Diaspora to contribute their quota to development of the state.
THE apex court held that the tenure of the governors took effect from the day they took the first Oath of Office, based on the “voidable” election, insisting that it was a misconstruction to contend that their tenure should be aggregated from the day they took the second Oath of Office, following their victories at the 2008 rerun polls in their various states.
Delivering the lead judgment, Justice Walter Onnonghen further held that by the provisions of Section 180 of the 1999 Constitution, it was not the intention of the lawmakers for governors or the President to occupy office beyond two terms of four years each.
He, therefore, held that whereas the elections of the governors were annulled by the courts, the acts of the governors, taken while in office prior to the said annulments, including the Oath of Office, which they took remained valid and therefore it is the day of that Oath taking that begins the counting of their tenure.
He further held that it would be ridiculous and illegal to uphold the argument that the acts of the governors under the first election were valid and lawful, while the oath they took was invalid and voided.
Onnonghen reckoned that the wise men who drafted the constitution did not contemplate a rerun election when they framed Section 180 and therefore held that no person elected under the 1999 Constitution can remain in office beyond the time provided by it.
The Justice held thus: “Supreme Court is not bound by the decision of the lower court, but the lower court is bound by the decision of the Supreme Court.
“The nullification of election does not affect the Oath. The consequences of the annulled election does not void the act performed by the government, to uphold the acts performed and reject the years is contrary to common sense and the intention of the framers of the constitution.
“It is a fixed law that the time fixed for anything cannot be elongated, to calculate the governor’s term from the day of the second oath is to extend it and it is unconstitutional.”
According to him: “The second oath taking is necessary to help them carrying on, but it is superfluous.
“I hereby resolve this appeal against the Respondents and the decision of the lower court is hereby set aside.”
Earlier, the court had dismissed the objections raised by the Respondents on the score that it amounted to a mere waste of time for them to seek to terminate the appeal on the argument that it had become academic.
The court held that the issues raised in the matter were of grave constitutional importance and should therefore not be slaughtered on the altar of technicalities.
Reacting to the judgment, the federal government, vide an electronic statement released by the Attorney General of the Federation and Justice Minister, Mohammed Bello Adoke (SAN) said, in line with its rule of law posture, it would comply with it.
The statement reads: “The federal government acknowledges the judgment and in line with the provisions of Section 191(2) of the 1999 Constitution, as amended, calls on the Speakers of the state Houses of Assembly of the affected states to take over the governance of their respective states, pending the conduct of fresh governorship elections by the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC).
“The Inspector General of Police and other law enforcement agencies have been directed to put in place, appropriate security measures to ensure orderly transition and to avoid any breach of the peace.
“The federal government remains committed to the observance of the rule of law in all parts of the federation and therefore calls on the political leadership in the affected states to give full effect to the judgment of the Supreme Court of Nigeria.”
The judgment is on an appeal by the Congress for Progressive Change (CPC) governorship candidate in Adamawa State, Brig-Gen. Buba Marwa and the INEC.
The electoral body had approached the apex court to challenge the decision of the Court of Appeal upholding the decision of a Federal High Court in Abuja, presided over by Justice Adamu Bello, which elongated the tenure of five governors.
A full panel of the apex court had on November 21, last year heard the argument of all counsel in the suit, alongside the three amicus curiae invited to address it on the issue- Chief Richard Akinjide, Prof Itse Sagay and Chief G.O.K Ajayi, all Senior Advocates of Nigeria (SAN).
While Akinjide advised the apex court to uphold the decision of the lower court, Sagay and Ajayi prayed it to reverse the decision.
Justice Bello had, in his consolidated judgment, ruled that the tenure of the governors started in 2008 when they took a fresh Oath of Allegiance and Oath of Office after their victories in the rerun elections conducted by INEC.
The rerun elections were conducted after the Appeal Court nullified their victories in the April 14, 2007 general elections.
A panel of five Justices of the Court of Appeal, headed by Justice Muhammad Garuba, had held that since the 2007 elections were nullified and set aside by competent courts, the oaths of office and allegiance subscribed to by the governors had been nullified.
Following the judgment, governorship elections did not hold in the five states on April 26 this year.
INEC has already conducted the governorship election in Kogi, which was won by Wada. That of Adamawa is billed to hold next Saturday, and Bayelsa one week later. The election for Sokoto is scheduled for May 28 and Cross River August 27, this year.
By the provision of Section 180(2) of the 1999 Constitution, as amended, the governor of a state shall vacate office at the expiration of four years from the date when he took the oath of allegiance and oath of office.
Earlier, Mr. Kayode Idowu, media aide to INEC Chairman, Prof Attahiru Jega, though not speaking for the commission, told The Guardian that his understanding was that the elections would go on as scheduled in the affected states.
According to him, since the tenures of the governors had expired, the next logical thing would be for elections to be conducted to replace them, more so as dates have been fixed for the elections to hold.
On whether Wada could be sworn in, Idowu said INEC, having conducted an election to replace Alhaji Ibrahim Idris, a winner declared and issued with a Certificate of Return by INEC, the other issues like swearing in were a matter of law, which should be left for the judiciary to deal with.