The Court of Appeal in Abuja on Friday ordered fresh hearing of the petition filed by the Peoples Democratic Party’s candidate, Smart Adeyemi, challenging the election of Dino Melaye of the All Progressives Congress as the Senator representing Kogi West in the Senate.
The Kogi State National and State Legislative Assembly Elections Petitions had on June 18, 2015, struck out Adeyemi’s petition on the grounds that it was incompetent and had been abandoned.
The Independent National Electoral Commission had in its result of the March 28, 2015, election declared that Melaye polled the highest valid votes to defeat Adeyemi who was seeking a re-election.
Adeyemi and his party had filed a petition challenging the results declared by INEC.
But the Chairman of the tribunal, Justice Akpan Ikpeme, who delivered the ruling of the three-man panel, had held that the petitioner flouted the provisions of the Electoral Act in filing his reply to Melaye’s response out of time.
According to the tribunal, the petitioner, who was served with Melaye’s response on May 13, 2015, filed his reply seven days later instead of five days stipulated by law.
Adeyemi had subsequently filed an appeal against the decision of the tribunal before the Court of Appeal in Abuja.
Ruling on the appeal on Friday, Justice Mohammed Adume-led Court of Appeal panel on Friday held that the tribunal was hasty, adding that it relied “heavily on technicalities” to determine the petition.
The appellate court in a unanimous decision also ordered a retrial of the petition on merit in the interest of substantial justice.
It also ordered the tribunal to accelerate the hearing of the petition so that the retrial is conducted within the 180 days period from the day of filing as stipulated by law.
The appellate court also rejected the tribunal’s decision to the effect that the response of the petitioner to the reply of Melaye was filed seven days after being served with the reply instead of five days.
Justice Adume held that there was no affidavit evidence from the bailiff of the tribunal that the reply of Melaye to the petition was served on the petitioner on May 13 as contended by Melaye’s counsel, Rickey Tarfa (SAN).
The appellate court ruled that from the available evidence it could hardly be true that the petitioner was served with Melaye’s response on May 13.
The court held, “From the available record, the petitioner was reportedly served with the response of the defendant within 26 minutes the response was filed at the registry of the tribunal, but for all intent and purposes, it is practically impossible for the petitioner to have been served with the response within 26 minutes, more so, when the contact address of the petitioner is outside the tribunal premises in Lokoja.
“It is against natural sequence of human events for a court process to have been served on recipient in just 26 minutes when the recipient is not within the court premises.
“Findings of the tribunal that the service was effected within 26 minutes was not supported with affidavit by the tribunal bailiff. The tribunal was wrong in its hasty conclusion and in striking out the petition on technicality.”
“A tribunal has the duty to verify and evaluate evidence before it in order to arrive at a just conclusion. The tribunal was wrong in stopping the train while on its way to justice.”