Justice John Okoro explains why the lower court’s decision to sack Gov. Yusuf Abba was reversed by the Supreme Court.

Governor Yusuf Abba

Justice John Okoro, who delivered the lead judgment on Friday, declared that the Court of Appeal erred in upholding the tribunal’s decision, which concluded that Yusuf did not secure the majority of lawful votes in the governorship election held on March 18, 2023.

In addressing the case, the Supreme Court raised two pivotal issues: firstly, whether the lower court was justified in subtracting 165,616 votes from the Independent National Electoral Commission’s (INEC) announced results, and secondly, whether the lower court had the authority to decide on matters related to party membership.

Justice Okoro, in his ruling, criticized the tribunal for deducting 165,616 votes from Yusuf, citing that the reason for this deduction—unauthorized ballot papers—did not align with the provisions of Section 71 of the Electoral Act, as claimed by the tribunal.

The Supreme Court panel, comprising five justices, proceeded to reinstate the deducted 165,616 votes, thereby restoring Yusuf’s victory in the governorship election.

Addressing the second issue, the Supreme Court faulted the Court of Appeal for asserting that Yusuf was not a member of the New Nigeria Peoples Party (NNPP) at the time of the election. Justice Okoro emphasized that matters concerning nomination and sponsorship are pre-election issues and fall outside the court’s jurisdiction.

Contrary to the appellate court’s finding, Justice Okoro clarified that the tribunal did not declare Yusuf unqualified to contest the election but highlighted the absence of his name in the NNPP’s membership register submitted to INEC.

Consequently, the Supreme Court set aside the judgments of the lower courts, characterizing them as perverse, and reinstated Abba Yusuf’s electoral triumph.

Background on Yusuf’s Appeal
This ruling comes approximately two months after the Court of Appeal, led by Moore Adumein, unanimously invalidated Governor Yusuf’s victory and declared Nasiru Gawuna of the All Progressives Congress (APC) as the rightful winner. The Court of Appeal additionally disqualified Yusuf as a candidate, citing his alleged non-membership in the NNPP during the election.

The three-person panel of the Court of Appeal also subtracted 165,663 votes from Yusuf’s total, contending that the ballot papers lacked proper stamping or signatures. The court justified its decision by claiming that it acted in the public interest, allowing the APC to submit evidence during the trial due to INEC’s partial disclosure of materials to undermine the petitioner’s case. The court emphasized that the 1999 Constitution did not support the argument that the APC should have included its candidate, Ganuwa, as a party in the tribunal proceedings. The court asserted that political parties are obliged to maintain and provide their membership register to INEC and the tribunal upon request.