In a resounding remarkable unanimous decision, the Supreme Court on Friday, 12th January, 2024, delivered judgment dismissing the appeal in SC/CV/1194/2023, between Prof Sandy Ojang Onor & PDP v. INEC, Bassey Edet Otu, Hon. Peter Agbe Odey & APC, for being entirely unmeritorious and nonsensical.The apex court, constituting Hon. Justices John Inyang Okoro, JSC (Presiding), Uwani Musa Abba-Aji,Helen M. Ogunwumiju, JSC, Adamu Jauro, JSC and Emmanuel E. Agim, JSC, in affirming the concurrent decisions of the Court of Appeal, Lagos, delivered on 22nd November, 2023 and the Cross River State Governorship Election Tribunal, delivered on 26th October, 2023, upheld the victory of Prince Bassey Otu as the Governor of Cross River State, with Hon. Peter Agbe Odey as his Deputy. The apex court agreed with the submissions made in the Briefs filed and argued by Prof Mike Ozekhome, SAN, (Lead Counsel to Prince Bassey Out – 2nd Respondent) and A. Ige Asemudara, Esq, (Lead Counsel Peter Agbe Odey – 3rd Respondent). The apex court resolved all the issues in favour of the Respondents and against the Appellants, Prof Sandy Ojang Onor and the PDP, particularly issues 1, 2, 3 & 4 which were the pivotal points of the appeal.
The court in its lead judgment delivered by Hon. Justice Helen M. Ogunwumiju, JSC, held that the facts as found by the trial Tribunal and the Court of Appeal, could not be wished away by the Appellants. His Lordship held that the main contention that Peter Agbe Odey was still a candidate of the APC could not stand, since Odey had decamped from PDP; had been accepted by APC; and, had been voted for and won on the platform of APC. His Lordship went further to state that the freedom of the individual to be a member of an association, including a political party, is an intrinsic human right guaranteed by section 40 of the Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria, 1999, as amended. Such a right cannot be imposed, donated or conferred by a court of law. The apex court also held that the issue of alleged contempt for not vacating his seat after decamping, and whether Odey was entitled to benefit from the judgment of the Federal High Court in Suit No: FHC/ABJ/CS/976/2021, did not arise from the pleadings in the Appellants’ Petition.Consequently, it could not be a dispute before the trial Tribunal or the Supreme Court as same was a violation of paragraph 16(1)A of the First Schedule to the Electoral Act.
The apex court held that the Appellants’ case against Prince Bassey Otu before the Tribunal was anchored on non-qualification based on an alleged false declaration in the INEC Form EC9, which is clearly a pre-election matter and is significantly different from the allegation of lack of constitutional qualifications, which is a post-election matter. In the earlier pre-election scenario as argued by the Appellants, the apex court held that only an Aspirant of the same party can challenge false information under section 29(5&6), while only a fellow candidate at the General Elections can challenge the qualification of another candidate in the post-election scenario.
The apex court held that upon the preponderance of evidence adduced before thetrial court, it was established that Prince Bassey Otu is a university graduate, and had therefore, met and even surpassed the minimum level of education required. Furthermore, evidence led before the Tribunal and affirmed by the lower court showed that Bassey Otu had been elected twice as a a member of the House of Representatives and also as a Senator of the Federal Republic of Nigeria. The court wondered how such a person can be said not to have qualified to contest for the office of Governor. The court was emphatic that it will not subvert the will of the people under any pretext whatsoever, as the people had overwhelmingly voted for Prince Bassey Otu as Governor of Cross River State with 265,619 votes, a difference of over 76,000 when compared with the 179,636 votes of Sandy Ojang Onor at the General Election.
The Supreme Court dismissed the appeal as lacking in merit and a waste of judicial time and resources, and affirmed the concurrent decisions of the two lower court.