How Supreme Court attitude showed Abba Yusuf’s party membership wasn’t constitutional matter – Expert
The Supreme Court of Nigeria may have given the loudest indication that the Kano State governorship election appeal will have to be decided strictly as an election matter.
As obvious as it was, it went unnoticed to many Nigerians, but a law expert has unraveled it.
According to the observation of a constitutional lawyer and senior Constitutional Law teacher at Kwara State University (KWASU), Malete, Kwara State, the Supreme Court had made a statement already.
The question whether the apex court will consider Governor Abba Yusuf qualified to contest the March 18, 2023 governorship election considering his membership of the political party that floated him, formed the fulcrum of the argument of counsel before the court on December 21, 2023.
Yusuf contested for the governorship on the platform of the New Nigerian Peoples Party (NNPP) but the Court of Appeal ruled that he was not a valid member of the party as of the time of the election, his name not been in the register of members submitted by the party to the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC).
Based on precedents, the Supreme Court had variously said that issues bothering on membership of a contestant are purely internal matters of the political party concerned, and that a non-member of the party cannot question it.
The Supreme Court seemed to have also precluded courts from form adjudicating upon internal party issues brought by a non-member in a post-election litigation.
While making his submission to the apex court at the hearing of the Kano governorship matter on December 21, INEC’s counsel A. B. Mahmoud reiterated that Gov Yusuf’s membership of the NNPP, was an internal affair of the political party concerned and not for an external body, citing previous decisions of the apex court.
He emphasized that it is not a constitutional matter as claimed by the All Progressives Party (APC) which relies on Section 177(c) of the Constitution, as amended, and Section 77 of the Electoral Act.
Mahmoud contended that the NNPP submitted the name of Abba Yusuf as its candidate for the governorship election, and that if the APC had anything against Yusuf’s candidacy it should have done so after INEC published the names of candidates.
Gov Yusuf’s counsel, Wole Olanipekun, also stressed that it is the internal affair of the party concerned, adding the lower court (Court of Appeal) lacked jurisdiction to decide on the choice of a political party’s candidate.
APC’s counsel, Akin Olujimi, insisted that Section 177(c) of the Constitution is a key determiner of the Kano matter, and that the matter being a constitutional issue gives it jurisdiction to decide on it.
What does Section 177 say?
Section 177 of the Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria says:
A person shall be qualified for election to the office of Governor of a State if
(a) he is a citizen of Nigeria by birth;
(b) he has attained the age of thirty-five years;
(c) he is a member of a political party and is sponsored by that political party; and
(d) he has been educated up to at least School Certificate level or its equivalent.
Hint given by the Supreme Court
The KWASU Constitutional Law professor, who requested not to be named, said he observed that the Supreme Court panel that sat to hear the Kano governorship matter on December 21, 2023 had five members
According to him, a five-membered panel of the Supreme Court cannot sit to determine a matter of constitutional relevance.
He said, “Take note that the Supreme Court had already received all the briefs front-loaded by all the parties in that election petition appeal. That, by implication, means that the apex court was very much conscious of all the issues raised by all parties to that appeal.
“To my mind, if the Supreme Court saw in all the briefs a constitutional issue to determined, that court, the highest in Nigeria and, by law, the last terminal for a governorship petition appeal, will not sit in a panel of five.
“It is a constitutional requirement for the Supreme Court to sit in a panel of seven to determine a mater surrounding the interpretation and application of the constitution. I don’t want to go into the pedantic of why this requirement may have been put in place, but it is there and has always been complied with.”
He referred to Section 234 of the 1999 Constitution as altered.
The section says:
“For the purpose of exercising any jurisdiction conferred upon it by this Constitution or any law, the Supreme Court shall be duly constituted if it consists of not less than five justices of the Supreme Court;
Provided that where the Supreme Court is sitting to consider an appeal under Section 233 (2b) or (c) of this Constitution, or to exercise its original jurisdiction in accordance with section 232 of this Constitution, the Court SHALL be constituted by seven Justices.”
Meanwhile, the proviso in Section 234 referred to Section 233 (2b) or (c).
Section 233 (2b) is the relevant part, and it says:
“b – decision in any Civil or Criminal proceedings on questions as to the interpretation or application of this Constitution.”
The Constitutional Law expert said he does not expect the Supreme Court to give a judgement that will determine the constitutionality of the Kano governor’s membership. The court’s sitting had already suggested that the apex court will not look at it as a constitutional issue, he said.
Culled from NigerianSketch
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