The Court of Appeal, Lagos division, has nullified the election of Babajide Owoduni of the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) as the lawmaker representing Ikenne constituency in the Ogun State House of Assembly.
The court declared Kunle Sobukola of the All Progressives Congress (APC) the winner of the March 18 State Assembly election in Ikenne state constituency.
The court in the appeal with suit number CA/1B/EP/SHA/OG/23/2023 Hon Olakunle Sobukanla & Anor v. INEC & 2 Ors directed the Independent National Electoral Commission to issue Sobukola Certificate of Return as the duly elected member representing Ikenne State Constituency in the State House of Assembly.
Recall, INEC had declared Owodunni the winner of the election, despite the fact that on March 6, 2023, 12 days before the election, Owodunni resigned from the PDP and withdrew from the contest in letters delivered to the PDP and INEC.
Owodunni also went to Ogun State High Court, where he swore an affidavit of voluntary withdrawal from the race.
At the time, when PDP received Owodunni’s resignation and withdrawal notices, PDP wrote to INEC in an attempt to replace him, but INEC refused the replacement, retained Owodunni as the recognised candidate, and then issued him a certificate of return.
They also played a video in which Owodunni said, “As far as this local government is concerned, PDP does not have a candidate in Ikenne Local Government. I still remain the bonafide PDP candidate and I willingly withdraw my mandate that I no longer have any dealings with them.”
With these crucial pieces of evidence, the Tribunal rejected Owodunni’s claim of duress and held that Owodunni truly withdrew from the race.
However, the tribunal refused to void Owodunni’s return by INEC on the grounds that Owodunni withdrew less than 90 days before the election and that such a withdrawal was invalid.
In the appeal, APC and Sobukanla argued that a withdrawal can be made at any time and that a withdrawal is complete once it is made in writing and delivered to the political party in question, irrespective of whether the political party informs INEC or not.
APC and Sobukanla argued that the 90 days stipulated in the Electoral Act is just the deadline for a political party to replace a withdrawn candidate, but that there is no provision of the Act or legal principle that prevents a candidate from withdrawing less than 90 days before an election because withdrawal is complete the moment it is communicated to the party, stressing that the party has no role to play.
They referred the Court of Appeal to the decisions of the Supreme Court in PDP v. INEC and the Presidential Election Petition Court in APM v. INEC, both of which were decided this year on the alleged double nomination of Vice President Kashim Shettima.
The Court of Appeal, in a panel comprising of Hon Justice Theresa Ngolika Orji-Abadua, Hon. Justice Mohammed Baba Idris and Hon. Justice Hadiza Rabiu Shagari saw merit in these strong legal arguments and upheld them.
Consequently, the withdrawal of Owodunni was upheld by the appellate court while his declaration and return by INEC were set aside.