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ABUJA-A FEDERAL High Court in Abuja, yesterday, barred the Independent National Electoral Commission, INEC, from conducting gubernatorial elections in five states of the federation in April, saying vacancy would only exist in the affected states next year.

Governors Timipre Sylva, Bayelsa Ibrahim Idris, Muritala Nyako, Aliyu Wammakko and Liyel Imoke, Cross River

The states excluded from the scheduled governorship elections are Kogi, Sokoto, Adamawa, Cross River and Bayelsa.

Justice Adamu Bello who delivered judgment in a consolidated suit filed by five sitting governors of the named states, faulted INEC's decision to conduct election in their states, stressing that their tenure legally commenced in 2008 when they took fresh oath of office and oath of allegiance, following the nullification of their previous election of April 14, 2007.

Consequently he held that it would be unconstitutional for the INEC to compel Governors Ibrahim Idris, Kogi; Aliyu Wammakko, Sokoto; Muritala Nyako, Adamawa; Liyel Imoke, Cross River; and Timipre Sylva, Bayelsa; to vacate their offices before the expiration of their statutory four years tenure as stipulated in section 180 of the 1999 Constitution.

Retroactive effect
The judge held: 'There is nowhere in the world where a constitution takes retroactive effect as erroneously held by the INEC. Amendments to Section 180 of the 1999 Constitution cannot be used to determine the tenure of the governors who took oath of office in 2008.

'I have no doubt that it was the realization of the lacuna in the said section 180 that informed the decision of the National Assembly to amend its provisions to remedy situations like this. However, the section must be construed retroactively, therefore, the amended constitution which came to be in 2010 cannot apply in this case.

'The legal implication is that the nullification of the 2007 election in these respective states equally means that the previous Oath of Office and Oath of Allegiance previously administered to them was also nullified. From nothing, nothing comes and you cannot put something on nothing and expect it to stand it will collapse.

'The four-year tenure of the plaintiffs must be calculated from the day they took their fresh oath of office and for the avoidance of doubt, the tenure of the 1st plaintiff, Ibrahim Idris, commenced on April 5, 2008 and will end April 5, 2012; the 2nd plaintiff, Wammakko, commenced May 28, 2008, and will end May 28, 2012; the 3rd plaintiff, Nyako, commenced April 30, 2008, and will end April 30, 2012; 4th plaintiff, Imoke, commenced May 28, 2008, and will end May 28, 2012; while the 5th plaintiff, Sylva, commenced his tenure August 28, 2008, and will end August 2012.

'INEC cannot validly conduct elections in these five states until 60 days to the expiration of the tenure of the present occupants. The notice of elections, received nominations, guidelines and time table issued by INEC for the April 2011 election are unlawful, illegal and contrary to section 180 of the constitution. Let me, however, say it clearly that the fulcrum of this matter is not on tenure elongation but on tenure completion.'

INEC yet to be served judgment
Meanwhile, INEC said, yesterday, it was yet to be served the judgement of the Abuja court, stressing that it would only comment after it had been served the judgement. Director of Public Affairs of the commission, Mr Emmanuel Umenger, told Vanguard the commission was not in a hurry to make a statement. He said: 'We have not been served the judgment so we can not comment on it yet.

After we have been served the judgment, a consortium of lawyers would study it and the commission will take a stand on the next line of action. For now, I do not have a comment to offer beyond this.'

Earlier in his judgment, Justice Bello struck out the name of the Attorney General of the Federation, AGF, as a party in the suit, maintaining that he was not a necessary party. He said: 'It is not disputed that section 5(1) of the constitution stipulates that where an interpretation of the constitution is an issue, the AGF is entitled to be joined as a party in the suit.

However, in the instant case he is a desirable party but not a necessary party in this suit. The INEC is capable of defending its position without the appearance of the AGF therefore his name is accordingly struck out.'

Meanwhile, mixed reactions have trailed the judgment of the court restraining INEC from conducting elections in the five states:

Gov Sylva hails ruling
Governor Timipre Sylva of Bayelsa State in his reaction described the ruling of the Federal High Court Abuja as a victory for the rule of law and the nation's fledging democracy. He said the extension would give the administration more time to deepen development and democracy in the state.

The governor said he did not go to court out of 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.

Gov Nyako hails judgment
However, Governor Murtala Nyako described the judgment as another year of added responsibility to meritoriously serve the Adamawa citizens and an opportunity to do more for the people of the state in terms of infrastructural and human development, among other things.

Nyako , who spoke through his Principal Special Assistant on Media and Publicity Aminu Iyawa, disclosed that he would head the campaigns for other elective offices that PDP will sponsor for the April poll.

CRS PDP pleased
Cross River State Chairman of the Peoples Democratic Party, Ntufam Ekpo Okon said: 'We are please with the judgment. It strengthens our faith with the judiciary. What it has done is to clarify that issue. We are not very surprise because in the first place, the first election was cancelled completely and declared a nullity. We went through the process of new election and a fresh oath of allegiance was taken in 2008.'

The opposition parties in the state, however, condemned the judgment. Congress for the Progressive Change, CPC, Barrister Okoi Obono Obla, described the judgment as disappointing, adding that the ruling will continue to promote the culture of impunity and rigging in the polity, adding that 'the Court has given legitimacy to rigging'.

Chairman of Conference of Nigeria Political Parties, CNPP, Cross River State chapter and state chairman of Action Congress of Nigeria, ACN, Hon. Cletus Obun, said he was hopeful that the Appeal Court will put the matter in its proper perspective.

Delta hails judgment
Delta State Commissioner for Information, Mr. Oma Djebah, said the State Government noted with delight that the judiciary has by the judgment strengthened democracy in the country and saved the nation colossal resources that could have been expended in the conduct of governorship elections in those states.

While noting that the ruling indicates that the Delta State Governor, Dr. Emmanuel Eweta Uduaghan, will remain in office till 2015 by virtue of the January 6 fresh elections which was won by the governor, Djebah said the development has buoyed the commitment of the Uduaghan administration to further deliver on the mandate given by Deltans.

Mixed reactions in Bayelsa
The governorship candidate of the Congress for Progressive Change, CPC, in Bayelsa State, Mr. Famous Daunemighan said the ruling did not reflect the yearnings of Bayelsans for change.

According to him, it will further prolong the suffering of the people of the state for another year.

The Action Congress of Nigeria, ACN, described it as a great challenge and poser to evaluate intellectual content and readiness of Bayelsans, the stakeholders, the political parties and indeed the various governorship candidates for the April election to take their destinies in their hands.