In a significant turn of events, the Court of Appeal in Abuja has handed down a landmark judgment, setting aside the previous ruling by the National and State Houses of Assembly Election Tribunal in Asaba, Delta State.
The tribunal’s initial decision had declared Ndudi Elumelu, the candidate of the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP), as the winner of the highly contested 2023 election for the Aniocha/Oshimili federal constituency.
The contentious election, which saw fierce competition between Elumelu and Ngozi Okolie, candidate of the Labour Party (LP), had sparked a legal battle that ultimately led to today’s momentous decision by the appellate court.
Kenneth Ibe, the returning officer of the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC), had initially announced Okolie as the victor, with a total of 53,879 votes, while Elumelu received 33,456 votes. The result marked a significant upset for the PDP candidate.
However, Elumelu quickly lodged a petition before the tribunal, alleging that Okolie had not been duly sponsored by the LP, as he was not a registered member of the party as of May 28, 2022, the date of the party’s primary election.
In a ruling by the three-member panel of the tribunal, chaired by Justice A.Z. Mussa, the LP candidate was disqualified, effectively overturning the earlier results in favor of Elumelu. The tribunal agreed with Elumelu’s argument that Okolie’s nomination was invalid due to his alleged lack of LP membership at the time of his selection.
The Court of Appeal’s Decision
The Court of Appeal’s judgment, delivered on Thursday, reversed the tribunal’s decision and affirmed Ngozi Okolie as the duly elected lawmaker for the Aniocha/Oshimili federal constituency.
The appellate court sided with Mahmud Magaji, counsel to the Labour Party, in determining that Okolie was indeed duly nominated and sponsored by his party, the LP. The court found that the evidence presented contradicted the tribunal’s previous findings.
Additionally, the Court of Appeal emphasized that Ngozi Okolie had fulfilled the constitutional requirement by resigning his position as a senior special assistant (SSA) in the Delta State government before the election, thus establishing his eligibility to contest.
This verdict has brought a dramatic conclusion to a prolonged legal battle, reinstating Ngozi Okolie as the rightful representative of the Aniocha/Oshimili federal constituency in the Delta State House of Assembly.
As the dust settles on this fiercely contested election, it remains to be seen how this decision will impact the political landscape in the region and the relationships between the key political players involved.