By Philip Dzeremo
After three years of legal battle over a legislative seat in the Benue House of Assembly, the Appeal Court in Makurdi on Friday gave judgment in favour of Joseph Boko and ordered the immediate sack of Benjamin Nungwa, the occupant of the seat.
The News Agency of Nigeria (NAN) reports that both Boko and Nungwa contested the APC primary of Kwande West legislative seat in the state house of assembly in April 2015, which was won by Boko.
Dissatisfied with the conduct of the primary, Nungwa, sent a petition concerning the outcome of the primary to the APC National Secretariat for arbitration.
NAN reports that an Arbitration Panel was set up by the National Working Committee (NWC) of the party to resolve the disputed primary election.
The appellant, who dragged Nungwa, the Independent Electoral Commission (INEC) and joined the APC in the matter, had averred that the said panel, which claimed to have held sittings in Makurdi, never invited him but took decisions from its purported sittings that had adverse effects on him.
He, therefore, prayed the court to declare that the panel was not competent to sit since it was not in the first instance, properly constituted.
Bello averred that the panel had no chairman and secretary and therefore, did not form a quorum to take decisions.
He also argued that by excluding him from its proceedings, his right of fair hearing was infringed upon.
The appellant also averred that he was properly nominated as the party’s candidate for the election and prayed the court to order Nungwa to relinquish the seat he was occupying to him.
Boko had also argued that that many weeks after the deadline for substitution of candidates at INEC had already closed, his name was illegally substituted with that of Nungwa.
The appellant averred that it was his name that was sent to INEC and wondered who authorised the substitution.
He argued that “After submitting names to the INEC, it is only the candidate himself that can withdraw or it could be withdrawn if he dies; I did not withdraw my name and I am not dead.’’
However in her judgment, Justice Binta Nyako of the Federal High Court Makurdi, affirmed Nungwa as the APC’s candidate and cited the decision of the National Working Committee of the party as the basis.
Dissatisfied with the judgment, Boko approached the Supreme Court, which after hearing the matter, expunged all cross appeals and motions that were unnecessary to the case and transmitted it back to the Appeal Court with a directive for a speedy retrial on merit.
In a unanimous judgement, read by Justice Joseph Ekanem and supported by Presiding Judge, Justice Hannatu Sankey, on Friday in Makurdi, the court overturned the judgment of the Federal High Court, which affirmed Nungwa as the winner of the legislative seat.
The court, therefore, ordered the immediate sack of Nungwa, who was described as “an illegal occupant of the Kwande West legislative seat’’.
The jurists also ordered him to refund all salaries and allowances earned within the three years he occupied the seat in the Benue House of Assembly and granted N200,000 costs to the appellant.
The appellate court resolved three out of five issues brought to it for determination by the appellant in his favour.
The court resolved that the arbitration panel of the NWC of the All Progressives Congress (APC) that claimed to resolve the disputed Kwande West primary was not competent to handle the crises, hence it was not properly constituted.
It also resolved that the appellant was denied fair hearing since he was not invited to appear before the panel and agreed that the nomination of the appellant was done in accordance with the party’s procedures.
NAN reports that Nungwa is currently serving a six-month suspension by the Benue House of Assembly for allegedly plotting to impeach Gov.Samuel Ortom.
Speaking to NAN on the court’s verdict, an elated Boko, said he was grateful to God and the judiciary for being the last hope of the ordinary man.
He regretted the cost of pursuing justice from the Federal High Court through the Supreme Court and appealed for a review of the laws of the courts to allow speedy trial.
He said, “At long last, there is light in a dark tunnel. I give God all the glory.’’