By NBF News
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A Federal High Court has stopped the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) from conducting governorship elections in Kogi, Sokoto, Adamawa, Cross River and Bayelsa States in the April polls, saying, there are no vacancies in the governorship seats in the affected states.

The court presided over by Justice Adamu Bello held that the tenure of the five sitting governors, Alhaji Ibrahim Idris (Kogi); Aliyu Wammakko (Sokoto); Muritala Nyako (Adamawa); Liyel Imoke (Cross Rivers) and Timipre Sylva (Bayelsa) shall not expire until sometime next year.

In his judgment in the consolidated suit filed by the five governors, Justice Bello held that the tenure of the governors legally started in 2008 when they took fresh oath of office and allegiance, following the nullification of their April 14, 2007 elections by the courts.

The court held that since the 2007 elections were nullified and set aside by competent courts, the oath of office and allegiance subscribed to by the five governors have been nullified and set aside along with the elections.

Bello held that in line with Section 180 of the 1999 Constitution, the tenure of the governors legally commenced in 2008 but not in 2007 since the 2007 election that brought them into office in the first instance had been declared a nullity.

According to Justice Bello, the 2007 elections being used by INEC to determine the tenure of the governors have not existed in the eyes of the law having been legally declared null and void by competent courts of law as nothing can stand on nothing.

He said although, Section 180 of the 1999 Constitution was amended in 2010 by the National Assembly and signed into law by the President, the amendment had no effect on the five governors since their rerun elections were conducted in 2008.

Justice Bello said 'there was nowhere in the world where a constitution takes retroactive effect as erroneously held by the INEC, adding that the said amendment cannot be used to determine the tenure of the governors who took oath of office in 2008.'

Consequently, the court quashed the preparations by INEC and PDP to conduct elections in the affected states and ordered that elections would only take place in the states next year.

'INEC cannot validly conduct elections in the five states until 60 days to the expiration of the tenure of the present occupants. The notice of elections, received nominations, quid lines and time-table issued by INEC for the April 2011 election are unlawful, illegal and contrary to section 180 of the Constitution.'

The plaintiffs had sued INEC and the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP), seeking legal interpretation of their tenure in office, whether it would be extended beyond May 29 this year.

Specifically, they had challenged the decision of the Independent National Electoral Commission to conduct governorship elections in their states in April 2011, claiming that their tenure would still subsist beyond 2011.

They claimed before the court that INEC came to the wrong conclusion that their tenure would expire by next May based on the court voided elections of April 14, 2007.

The governors contended that their tenure could not lapse in 2011 because they took oath of offices and oath of allegiance in 2008 after those of 2007 had been voided and set aside by different courts.

During the hearing of the suit, the Federal Government, as a defendant in the case had asked the court not to grant tenure elongation on the ground that the amended constitution was in opposition to the request of the governors.

Government lawyer, Chief Niyi Akintola SAN, argued that since the governors won the rerun elections, their tenure started from the first oath of offices they took in 2007 in line with the amended constitution.

The Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) though a defendant in the suit, however, supported the governors that their tenure began from the day they were inaugurated on the rerun elections.

PDP National Legal Adviser, Chief Olusola Oke had argued that the 2007 elections that brought the governors to offices in the first instance were declared illegal, unlawful, null and void and set aside by the law courts and that the oath of offices taken along with the voided elections were of no effect in law.

The party insisted that the tenure of the governors started from the time they took fresh oaths of office based on fresh elections and that their tenure shall be unhindered four years.

PDP also dismissed the claims of INEC and government on the amended constitution in 2010, adding that it was untenable because it could not take retroactive effect from 2008.

Legal giants, Lateef Fagbemi SAN, Samson Ameh SAN, Godw in Kanu Agabi SAN, Ladi Rotimi Williams SAN and Paul Erokoro SAN stood for governors of Kogi, Sokoto, Adamawa, Bayelsa and Cross Rivers respectively in the consolidated suits.

Immediately, the news filtered into Lokoja, the Kogi State capital, that the Federal High Court presided over by Justice Adamu Bello gave verdict in favour of the five governors, the sleepy confluence state went into wild jubilation.

Hundreds of commercial motorcyclists, Okada riders were seen jubilating. They formed a motrcade with other vehicles singing and dancing round major streets in the town.

One of the commercial motorcyclists who identified himself as Bala Usman told Daily Sun that he joined the convoy because he believed governor Idris had touched the lives of the people.

As for Mr. S.B Bello, a PDP stalwart, he described the court verdict as divine saying the pronouncement which gave backing to the elongation of Idris' administration by one year actually confirmed that Idris was a man of destiny.

In his reaction, the Director-General to Governor Idris on Media Affairs, Mr Richard Elesho described the victory as a good omen for the people of the state as the Governor would be spurred to do more and consolidate on his past achievements in office.

Elesho who said the verdict had really shown that the judiciary is truly the last hope of the poor man saying the victory is dedicated to the good people of the state.

There was wild jubilation among supporters of Governor Timipre Sylva in Yenagoa, Bayelsa capital when the news was received. Daily Sun investigations revealed that the case was what delayed the flag-off of Sylva's campaign who had been busy campaigning with President Goodluck Jonathan.

Checks also indicated that Sylva was billed to travel to Abuja on Tuesday to hear the judgment but later shelved the idea to attend to state matters.

Yesterday, sources close to Bayelsa State Government House said they were awaiting the verdict of the court, which would determine whether they should commence their campaign immediately or wait till 2011.

When the news of the judgment was received in Yenagoa loyalists of Sylva and top government functionaries trooped to the Government House to celebrate with the Governor..

Sylva in his reaction said it was victory for the rule of law and democratic culture, adding that the decision to approach the court was for clarification of his proper tenure due to the controversy generated by the INEC listing of Bayelsa as one of the states in which elections would hold contrary to the expectations of taking place in 2012 as it has been confirmed by the court.

In a statement by the Commissioner for Information, Orientation and Strategy, Mr. Nathan Egba entitled 'Federal High Court Judgment on Tenure Completion,' the Bayelsa State government explained that Sylva did not go to court to perpetuate himself in office but get justice.

According to him, even though the governorship election would hold in 2012, the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) would ensure that the party sweeps the presidential, national assembly and state assembly elections in the April polls.

The statement reads in part: 'Chief Sylva did not go to court out of a desire to perpetuate his stay in office, but to ensure that he gets justice in view of the annulment of the 2007 elections and his subsequent exit from office until 2008.

The Government of Bayelsa State wishes to re-state that even though the governorship election in the state has been confirmed to hold in 2012, the PDP would not rest on its oars, as there is the need to deliver all the party's candidates, from President Goodluck Ebele Jonathan to all the national and state assembly election candidates during the forthcoming elections.

Government however assured the people of Bayelsa State that the pace of development will continue so that our people will see the justification in voting for Chief Timipre Sylva.'

Daily Sun also learnt that the opposition Action Congress of Nigeria (ACN) and Labour Party were locked in separate meetings to review the implication of the judgment for their governorship candidates.

Mixed reactions greeted the judgment which declared that the tenure of six governors including that of Governor Murtala Nyako of Adamawa state would end in 2012.

As at press time, supporters of the Governor and People's Democratic Party moved in their campaign vehicles in snail speed along major streets of Yola, hailing the judgment.

A number of opposition political parties have since kept mute on the judgment as they told Daily Sun that their parties were still studying the emerging developments after which their reactions would be made known to journalists.

However, the Labour Party (LP) in the state has described the judgment as sad news because it would prolong the suffering of Adamawa State electorates who had glaringly expressed their dissatisfaction by desiring an alternative political party, which is LP.

The state secretary of the party, Alhaji Mohammed Mayes, however urged the Federal Government and INEC to appeal against the case for the sake of justice and fair play because of the preparations his party and others have made for the earlier scheduled April 2011 polls for the governorship.

'With this judgment, the pains and agonies of Adamawa citizens have been extended for about a year more. They had yearned for a change of government of Governor Murtala Nyako but with the judgment, more pains are on the way.

Mayes said LP was ever ready to join the gubernatorial contest anytime the elections were rescheduled but declared his party had already fielded candidates for other elective offices in the state, including the Senate and House of Representatives polls.

Meanwhile, Governor Murtala Nyako, has described the judgment as another one year of added responsibility to meritoriously serve Adamawa citizens and an opportunity to do more for the people of the state in terms of infrastructural and human development.

Nyako, who said this through his Special Principal Assistant on Media and Publicity, Mallam Aminu Iyawa disclosed that he would head the campaigns for other elective offices the PDP will contest for in the April polls.

Nyako advised politicians to learn a lesson from the Federal High Court judgment by not being in haste to file a suit in court on issues apparently unfavorable to them.

He appealed to governorship candidates of other political parties in the state to take the judgment in good faith, as the judiciary is the only arbiter in a dispute of this nature. The governor appealed to his supporters and good people of Adamawa state to be calm and to be law abiding.