Friday, March 22, 2019 will be remembered for the bold decision taken by the Election Petition Tribunal to have declared Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) governorship candidate, Ademola Adeleke winner of the 2018 Osun governorship election ahead of the sitting governor, Gbenga Oyetola of the All Progressives Congress (APC).
The judgement came as a big surprise to many political pundits in the country considering the fact that little or nothing was heard about the case prior to the announcement and it was expected that the Tribunal would dance to the tune of the ruling party.
Recall that during the Osun governorship election, the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) called for a supplementary election after the election was declared inconclusive. The reason for the decision, according to the electoral body, was because the number of cancelled votes is higher than the margin between the two top candidates.
Peoples Democratic Party candidate Ademola Adeleke led the race with 254,698 votes, 353 votes more than his closest rival, Gboyega Oyetola of the All Progressives Congress. The margin was, however, less than the 3,498 votes in the polling units where voting was cancelled.
However, during the Supplementary election, Oyetola polled a total of 255,505 votes to emerge the winner of the poll while the candidate of the Peoples Democratic Party, Adeleke polled a total of 255,023 votes to come second in the contest.
Six months after Oyetola took over from former governor of the state, Rauf Aregbesola, there seems to be a new twist to the whole political firmament in the State of the living spring.
On Friday, March 22, 2019, the Election Petition Tribunal nullified Oyetola’s victory in the election as illegal, thereby declaring Adeleke winner of the Osun governorship election.
The three-member panel held that Mr Adeleke won the election at the first ballot on September 22 and that the rerun that INEC devised to reach a final conclusion a week later was illegal.
“The declaration of Oyetola is null and void,” the tribunal ruled in a majority decision with one member dissenting.
“The petitioner (Mr Adeleke) having fulfilled the constitutional requirements and scored the majority of lawful vote is declared winner and returned as governor.
“The rerun in the seven cancelled units are hereby declared null and void and of no electoral effect.”
The judgement of the tribunal was widely celebrated especially by members of the Peoples Democratic Party across the country who described the decision as victory for the judiciary and democracy, while the tone, however, was different from the ruling party, APC as they rejected the judgement and vowed to take the case even up to the Supreme Court.
However, will the Supreme Court maintain the stand of the Petition Tribunal or upturn its judgement in favour of Oyetola, the final answer rest with the apex court.
Considering the fact that the Supreme Court remains the final bus-stop for any case filed in the country, will the ‘powers’ that be stand in the way of true justice?
It remains to be seen how the scenario would unfold, knowing fully that in the past some governors have failed to accept the decision of the Supreme Court though there was nothing they could do about it, while others respect its verdict.
Supreme Court Vs Tribunal vs Appeal Court
For instance in 2015, the court held that the judgment of the appeal court affirming the judgment of the election petition tribunal sacking Nyesom Wike was a nullity because the governor did not get a fair hearing as the facts he presented were not considered by the tribunal. It said the tribunal was improperly constituted, explaining that Suleiman Ambursa, chairman of the tribunal, passed judgment in error because he did not sit on the initial hearing of the case.
In 2008, the Edo State Governorship Election Tribunal upturned the election of the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) governorship candidate, Professor Oserheimen Osunbor as winner of April election in the state and directed the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) to “withdraw the Certificate of Return issued to Osunbor.”
It also ordered that the Certificate of Return be issued to Labour Party (LP) governorship candidate, Adams Oshiomhole as Governor of Edo State having scored a quarter of total votes cast in 12 of the 18 local government areas of the state.
Also in 2007, the political power structure in Rivers State was turned on its head when the Supreme Court sacked Governor Celestine Omehia and ordered that former Speaker of the State House of Assembly, Rt Hon Rotimi Amaechi be sworn-in as governor immediately.
The ruling was unanimously delivered by a seven-man panel of Justices, which ruled that Amaechi was the legitimate PDP candidate and therefore the winner of the gubernatorial election in Rivers state.
Going by the forgoing examples, if fairness would play a major role in deciding the fate of the two political actors in Osun State, it is yet to be seen where the pendulum will swing regardless of hypothesis and scenarios that have been thrown up.