Legal and political pundits have wondered why a Court of law would annul an elapsed tenure, after four years of filing a suit.
The Court of Appeal, sitting in Abuja on Thursday, June 9, 2011 dismissed the appeal filed on May 25, 2007 by Engr. Victor Ochei, Speaker of the Delta state House of Assembly and nullified his nomination as candidate for the Delta House of Assembly, representing Aniocha North Constituency in the April 2007 election.
Justice Mohammed Lawal Garba, and three other judges of the Court of Appeal, Abuja, in a unanimous judgment on Thursday, June 9, 2011 dismissed the appeal filed by Engr. Victor Ochei, Speaker of the Delta state House of Assembly and nullified his nomination as candidate for the Delta House of Assembly, representing Aniocha North Constituency in the defunct April 2007 election.
The Court of Appeal judgement followed an appeal filed by Engr. Victor Ochei (Appelant) against Mr. Boniface Isichei, Peoples Democratic Party and Independent National Electoral Commission (1st, 2nd and 3rd Respondents) in Suit No. CA/A/153/2007 at the Court of Appeal in Abuja, to challenge an earlier judgement by the Federal High Court, Abuja which ruled that Boniface Isichei was the rightful candidate of the PDP for the Aniocha North constituency in the defunct 2007 House of Assembly election in Delta state.
The appeal by Ochei was sequel to the decision of the Federal High Court, Abuja contained in the judgement delivered on May 10, 2007 in Suit No. FHC/ABJ/CS/22/07 and filed by Mr. Boniface Isichei against the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) and the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) respectively.
Isichei had gone to Federal High Court to challenge the rude substitution of his name after he (Isichei) won the primary election as PDP candidate for the Aniocha North Constituency of the Delta state House of Assembly election in the April 2007 by the PDP and INEC.
In submission made at the federal High Court, Abuja, Isichei maintained that the substitution made by the PDP and submitted to INEC runs contrary to Section 32 (3) of the Electoral Act 2006 since the substitution vide a letter dated February 5, 2007 was made after the time for doing so had expired and after INEC had accepted his (Isichei’s) nomination and published same in accordance with relevant sections of the 2006 Electoral Act.
The Federal High Court in its judgment, however declared that the substitution was illegal and restrained the PDP and Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) from presenting or recognising Ochei as candidate for Aniocha North constituency for the House of Assembly elections in April 2007.
Following this judgment, Ochie, filed an appeal on May 25, 2007 stating 15 grounds as to why he was dissatisfied with the judgment. Among the grounds were procedure for the trial, violation of the right to fair hearing and jurisdiction of the lower court.
Meanwhile, in his lead judgement delivered on Thursday, June 9, 2011, the Presiding Justice of the Court of Appeal, Abuja, Justice Mohammed Lawal Garba noted that the core question Ochie’s case before the High court was whether the letter of his substitution complied with the law, and dismissed the appeal, ruling that “On the whole, I find no merit in the points canvassed for the Appellant (Victor Ochei) under the issue and resolve same against the Appellant.
“In the final result with the resolution of all the three (3) issues submitted by the learned silk for the Appellant against the Appellant, I find the appeal lacking in merit and accordingly, dismiss it.
“Costs which are assessed at N50, 000 are awarded in favour of the 1st Respondent (Boniface Isichei).”
Also, Jimi Olukayode Bada and Regina Obiageli Nwodo, co-justices of the Court of Appeal, Abuja made their separate ruling in support of the Presiding Justice.
For Justice, Jimi Olukayode Bada, “I read before now the lead judgement of my Lord, Mohammed Lawal Garba, JCA just delivered and I agree with my Lord’s reasoning and conclusion.
“The appeal lacks merit and it is also dismissed by me. I endorse the consequential order on costs made in the said lead judgement.”
On her part, Justice Regina Obiageli Nwodo stated that “I have had the advantage of reading in draft the lead judgement just delivered by my learned brother, Garba, JCA. His Lordship has ably and adequately dealt with all the issues raised in the appeal. I am in complete agreement with the reasoning contained therein which I adopt as mine and the conclusion arrived thereat.
“I also hold that the appeal is devoid of merit and is dismissed. I abide by the order as to cost in the lead judgement.”
Recall that former National chairman of the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP), Dr. Ahmadu Ali officially presented the party’s flag to Mr. Boniface Isichei at the Arcade in Asaba while then Governor James Ibori presented same party’s flag to Engr. Victor Ochei in Oghara, the then governor’s home-place and venue of flag-off of campaign for Governor Emmanuel Uduaghan.
But the nagging questions now begging for answers are “Is justice delayed not justice denied? If not why was it delayed?”, “Would the judgement become effective after the expiration of the mandatory four year tenure ascribed to a lawmaker?”, “Would the Delta House of Assembly legitimately sum up the monetary entitlement due a legislator in one single term and pay same to the rightful candidate?”, “Is it justifiable if a known defaulter is made to face criminal and civil procedural charges to readily serve as deterrent?”
Engr. Victor Ochei is presently serving a third term in office to represent Aniocha North state constituency at the Delta state House of Assembly and subsequently elected Speaker of the Fifth Assembly on Tuesday, June 7, 2011.