After dithering on the matter for a while, the Supreme Court sacks the five governors whose tenure of office were extended beyond May 29, 2011, owing to ambiguity created by the annulment of their first election in 2007
The Supreme Court last Friday sacked five state governors whose tenure had elapsed on May 29 last year, but had been empowered to stay on by the decision of the Court of Appeal, Abuja, which upheld an earlier one by an Abuja Federal High Court that insisted that their first oath of office in 2007 was null and void, following the nullification of their first election. With this judgment, the tenures of governors Murtala Nyako (Adamawa), Timipre Sylva (Bayelsa), Liyel Imoke (Cross River), and Aliyu Wamakko (Sokoto) all members of the ruling People’s Democratic Party, PDP, have been brought to an end.
By the decision of the apex court, the affected governors have stayed in office for seven months longer than law permits them. In line with the argument of two of the experts invited by the Supreme Court to help resolve the matter, the basic premise for sacking the five governors is to avoid a situation where the apex court would be laying a precedent for an indefinite tenure of governors.
The appeal, which was brought before the Supreme Court by Buba Marwa, the governorship candidate of the Congress for Progressive Change, CPC, and the Independent National Electoral Commission, INEC, had challenged the elongation of the tenure of the five governors beyond May 29, 2011. The framers of the 1999 Constitution never envisaged the kind of situation the country found itself with the series of annulled elections and rerun polls between 2007 and 2008. Thus, the constitution merely recognises that a governor is entitled to a maximum of two terms of office of four years. Thus, both sides of the argument in the matter bothered on when the oath of office was taken: 2007 or 2008.
Observers believe the decision of the Supreme Court is a landmark judgment in the annals of Nigerian history. The position of the two experts who influenced this judgment, Godwin Olusegun Kolawole Ajayi, SAN (more popularly known by his initials ‘GOK’), and Itse Sagey, SAN, which was eventually upheld by the apex court, is that upholding the decision of the Federal High Court and the Court of Appeal would lay down a precedent for an indefinite tenure for governors. As Sagay in his conclusion said, the governors should not be allowed to benefit from their wrongs, particularly since such a position would be opening the court gate to an indefinite tenure for governors, contrary to the provision of the Constitution and public policy.
Wole Olanipekun, counsel to Marwa, further amplified this position, arguing that within the ambit of Section 180(2) of the Constitution, the spirit and intention is that, except the nation is at war, no elected governor shall spend more than eight years in office with a period of four years per term. Olanipekun is of the view that the second oath taken by the governor after a fresh election was subsidiary and not relevant and therefore is of no effect.
His words: “The judgment of the two courts is dangerous. If not corrected, it will become a judicial albatross. It could be an ill-wind that will blow us into lagoon.” Richard Akinjide, second republic minister of justice, had in his advice to the apex court argued that once the first election had been nullified and a fresh one ordered by the court, the mandate of the winner should start with the oath following the fresh election. It is apparent that the Supreme Court was swayed by the other argument.
Coming almost a week before the rescheduled Adamawa election, which comes up this Saturday, this is a moral victory for Marwa. His opponent, Nyako, like his Cross River and Sokoto counterparts, would be going into re-election for a second term outside government house. Kogi is an exceptional case because Idris is already out of the way, not being entitled to another tenure, and the governorship election in that state having already been won and lost.
But Sylva, who is still struggling to get his party’s approval for a re-election, is easily the biggest loser in last Friday’s judgment. With the judgment, he no longer has any platform to manoeuvre, because if he loses the battle for the ticket in court, he could make the election difficult for the PDP. But now that he is no longer in office, the power to tackle PDP, if Seriake Dickson eventually runs on the platform of the party, would have been whittled down.
Not only that, if there is any truth in allegations of corruption or sundry matters, the man becomes vulnerable, since he lost immunity from Friday. The speakers of the state legislature in the states, with the exception of Kogi, will act as governors until after the scheduled elections.
However, beyond the governors, the verdict puts to rest the controversy over what happens to a sitting governor considered to have illegally been returned, but then wins a fresh election, ordered by the court. All the affected governors held that they were entitled to start a fresh four-year tenure after the court had faulted an earlier election.