Election Tribunal: GRV Speaks On Purported Petition Dismissal

Gbadebo Rhodes-Vivour, the Labour Party’s (LP) candidate for governor, has referred to his petition as a “litmus test” for the constitutional provisions’ primacy over all other enactments and laws.

Rhodes-Vivour told the Lagos State Governorship Election Tribunal that “to dismiss his petition would amount to an endorsement of unconstitutionality and the possibility of opening every state in Nigeria to having persons with sworn loyalties to foreign entities liable to be conscripted,” citing Sections 182 (1)(a) and 187 (1) & (2) of the Constitution on the declaration of allegiance to another country and failure to nominate a deputy governorship candidate, respectively.

He made the submission through his lawyer Olumide Ayeni (SAN) and 12 others in his final written response to the final address of Sanwo-Olu and Hamzat who were declared by INEC as the winners of the March 18 Governorship elections in Lagos State.

The petitioner contends that Sanwo-Olu was not validly elected into the office of Governor having nominated Hamzat who violated the provisions of Sections 182 (1)(a) and 187 (1) & (2) of the 1999 Constitution (as amended).

He also contended that the election as conducted by INEC was marred with violence, overvoting, disenfranchisement, thuggery and electoral irregularities as same was not conducted in substantial compliance with the Electoral Act 2022 and that Sanwo-Olu did not garner the highest number of valid votes cast at that election.

In proof of his petition, Rhodes-Vivour called 10 witnesses while Sanwo-Olu and Hamzat called 1.

In his final written address filed on July 28, the petitioner raised a preliminary objection to the validity of the final written addresses of Sanwo-Olu and Hamzat. He formulated a single issue for the determination:

“Whether, in view of the clear provisions of paragraphs 5(a), 5(c) and 5(d) of the Election Judicial Proceedings Practice Directions, 2022, and the Ruling of the Honourable Tribunal delivered on July 6, 2023 in Petition No. EPT/LAG/GOV/01/2023 between Dr. Azeez Olajide Adediran and Anor vs. INEC and Ors, the 2nd and 3rd Respondents’ Final written Address dated 22nd July 2023 is invalid.”

The petitioner submitted that “in gross violation and in abuse of the clear provisions of paragraphs 5(a), 5(c) and 5(d) of the Election Judicial Proceedings Practice Directions, 2022, SanwoOlu and Hamzat filed forty-three (43) pages Final Written Address as opposed to forty (40) pages provided in paragraph 5(a). They also prepared their Final Written Address in Times New Roman of 12 font size as opposed to 14 font size provided in paragraph 5(c). In further violation of paragraph 5(c), the 2nd and 3rd Respondents used 1.15 line spacing in their Final Written Address as opposed to 1.5 line spacing between the lines.”

The Petitioner noted that It is trite and banal that Election Petition is sui generis (in a class of its own) with its special rules and for failing to comply with the rules, he urged the Tribunal “to strike out the 2nd and 3rd Respondents’ Final Written Address dated 22nd July 2023 for being invalid and for contravening the provisions in paragraph 5(a) & 5(c) of the Election Judicial Proceedings Practice Directions, 2022.”

Rhodes-Vivour also reiterated some of the issues he raised during the Pre-Hearing.

On the issue of Hamzat having voluntarily made a declaration of allegiance to the United States of America, the Petitioner asked the Tribunal to hold that this disqualified him from being nominated as the Deputy Governorship Candidate.

“It is instructive to note that Exhibits PE713-PE 723 contains an Affidavit of Personal Particulars by the 3rd Respondent verifying the contents of the information handwritten by him, the said information includes a confirmation that he has and continues to owe his allegiance to the United States of America.”

The Petitioner also asked the Tribunal to note that Hamzat did not deny or make any pleading to dispel the allegations against him as to the making of the declaration of allegiance in the USA and no witness was called to rebut the weighty and empirical evidence as contained in the Exhibits.

For the petitioner, the 3rd Respondent’s submission that his oath of allegiance was not tendered “falls like a pack of cards” in the face of Exhibits tendered and in the testimony of the expert witness who said that the information is protected by “US Privacy Act of 1974”.

“From the above uncontroverted evidence, it is only the 3rd Respondent that can have access to the oath of allegiance he took and signed in view of the provision of the US Privacy Act of 1974. With respect, it would be very unreasonable for the law to place a burden on the Petitioner to prove by direct evidence via a document, which only the 3rd Respondent and no one else can assess. In fact, if any other person makes an attempt to secure the oath of allegiance made by the 3rd Respondent, any such action attracts criminal liability”.

Citing Section 182 (1) (a) of the Constitution, the petitioner submitted that the 3rd Respondent never pleaded any exceptions by the National Assembly as envisaged under the section as one of the exceptions. He urged the 3 man panel “to uphold the sanctity of the Constitution in spite of whose is ox is gored and protect the sovereignty of the country from possible espionage by preventing any person who does not have a clear loyalty and allegiance to Nigeria alone from occupying executive and sensitive arms of government such as the position of Governor and Deputy Governor respectively.

“The case of your Petitioner is NOT that the 3rd Respondent ceased to be a Citizen of Nigeria because he made a declaration of allegiance to the United States of America. No! By making the declaration of allegiance, the 3rd respondent never lost his citizenship. He was simply disqualified from being eligible by the fact of his making the forbidden declaration of allegiance to the foreign country. The 3rd Respondent is disqualified in the same manner in which an adjured bankrupt, or ex-convict or lunatic is by section 182 of the Constitution disqualified from contesting as a governor but he cannot by stretch of any interpretation be said to have lost his Citizenship by virtue of that disability.

“The far-reaching implication of this is that citizenship by birth does not excuse a candidate who has made an oath of allegiance to any foreign country from being disqualified.”

On the disqualification of SanwoOlu, the Petitioner submitted that since the 3rd Respondent is disqualified, the 2nd Respondent who holds a joint ticket with the 3rd Respondent is also disqualified (by virtue of the non-qualification of the 3rd Respondent).

Rhodes-Vivour concluded his final written address with the effervescent and cautionary words of Lord Denning, “Justice must be rooted in confidence and confidence is destroyed when right-minded people go away thinking: “The judge was biased.

“We urge my Lords to uphold the supremacy of the Constitution and protect the territorial integrity of the Country by applying the clear constitutional provisions which disqualify a person that does not have fidelity or allegiance to the Country from occupying number 2 position in Lagos State which automatically vitiates the joint ticket of the 2nd and 3rd Respondents.

“The proper order to make in the circumstance, having found that the 2nd and 3rd Respondents are disqualified, shall be the return of the Petitioner as the person with the highest number of lawful votes cast at the Governorship Election held on 18th March 2023…”