Plateau State has found itself embroiled in a complex legal battle due to the sheer volume of Election Petition cases in Nigeria this year. In an effort to ensure compliance with Section 285(6) of the 1999 constitution, which mandates the completion of such cases within 180 days (6 months), the Chief Justice of Nigeria has established a single Tribunal with separate Panels dedicated to expeditiously resolving these matters.
Plateau State, much like several other states grappling with an abundance of cases, is hosting three (3) Panels, each assigned specific responsibilities:
1. Governorship Panel Cases
2. Legislative Houses Cases
The Legislative Houses Panel further subdivides into:
- Panel A
- Panel B
The Legislative Houses Panel A and B recently delivered their verdicts on the cases before them, but unfortunately, their judgments conflicted. One Panel deemed the Plateau State cases as Pre-election matters, while the other Panel asserted they were Post-election matters.
The Panel ruling in favor of Post-election matters contended that the People’s Democratic Party (PDP) lacked the necessary structure to sponsor candidates for elections, including the organization of a Primary Election. Consequently, they deemed all votes for PDP legislators, which led to their victory according to the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC), as wasted votes. As a result, candidates from parties with the second-highest number of votes, namely the All Progressives Congress (APC) and Labour Party (LP), emerged as beneficiaries, akin to a situation witnessed in Zamfara in 2019.
On Friday, September 22nd, 2023, the Governorship Election Panel finally delivered its judgment, classifying the Governorship election as a Pre-election matter. Essentially, this means that, regarding the Plateau State Governorship election case, the internal workings and structures of the APC or LP are irrelevant; the focus shifts away from how the Plateau State Governor became a candidate in the general election.
This unique situation has made Plateau State a focal point of legal intrigue. With two conflicting judgments emerging from the same Tribunal, courtesy of different Panels but based on identical facts, a clear resolution is now imperative. Consequently, APC, PDP, and LP must all pursue appeals. The Court of Appeal will ultimately issue the FINAL judgment on the candidates for Legislative Houses (Senate, House of Representatives, and House of Assembly), marking the end of those cases.
However, Plateau State’s peculiarity extends further. Unlike other states, where Governorship election cases conclude at the Court of Appeal, they continue to the Supreme Court. Thus, in a historic twist within Nigeria’s legal landscape, the Court of Appeal may deliver a FINAL judgment in the cases of Senators and members of the House of Representatives and Assembly, while the Supreme Court may potentially reverse the decision in the Governorship case, even though the former group will not be subject to the Supreme Court’s jurisdiction.
The unfolding drama in Plateau State promises to be a legal spectacle, and the outcome remains shrouded in uncertainty. Indeed, Plateau State’s legal conundrum is truly SPECIAL.