Lawyers decry Appeal Court Upholding FHC’s Vacation of Supreme Court’s Verdict
The Federal High Court in Jalingo, Taraba State, recently upturned the judgement of the Supreme Court in the suit filed by Senator Abubakar Sani Danladi in 2021, a move legal stakeholders have decried.
In doing so, the trial court set aside its earlier order in suit FHC/JAL/CS/1/2019 barring Danladi from participating in election over alleged age falsification, an order that was affirmed by the Supreme Court.
With the judgement, the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) has continued to challenge the court’s ruling.
But last Monday, the Court of Appeal in Abuja upheld the verdict of the trial court, ruling that it had jurisdiction to set aside the judgement of superior courts if the same was not delivered on its merit and if such judgement was based on statute of limitations.
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Danaladi was sacked by the court three days to the 2019 general elections and stopped from parading himself as the candidate of the All Progressives Congress (APC) in a case filed by Usman Udi, Joshua Paaku, George Geoffrey and Tanko Muslim Munkaila against Danladi, the APC and the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC).
Dissatisfied by the judgement and the stumbling block to his political future under Section 29(6) of the Electoral Act, 2022, Danladi who appealed his disqualification up to the Supreme Court and lost decided to file a fresh application before the High Court in Jalingo to nullify the 2019 judgement and had his way.
The fresh application which was described as an affront to the rule of law, was challenged by the PDP on grounds that Danladi’s disqualification had been affirmed by the Supreme Court and so, the trial court no longer has jurisdiction to entertain a matter already decided by the apex court.
But the trial judge, Justice Simon Amobeda held that the court had jurisdiction to quash its earlier verdict based on supporting documents provided by Danladi which qualified him to participate in any election whatsoever.
Justice Amobeda cited cases such as Supreme Court Vs Dingyadi, INEC Vs Okoro Ugwuanyi, and Kogi State Vs INEC in delivering its ruling in the matter.
Armed with this victory, the APC again fielded Danladi as its candidate for Taraba North Senatorial District in the forthcoming election, a decision the PDP has challenged its legitimacy pursuant to Sections 285(14)C and 66 of the Constitution.
Observers worry that this development could undermine the rule of law since there may be no end to litigation.
They fear that if allowed to continue, justice could become the exclusive preserve of the rich and powerful in society at the expense of the poor masses who may not be able to bear the cost of endless litigation.
To them, the Senator allegedly went forum shopping for a judge to rescue his political life because under Section 29 of the Electoral Act, 2022, anyone barred by the court on grounds of an alleged criminal offence cannot stand for any election in the future.
They argued that it was a dangerous trend for Nigerians as a whole, lamenting that if allowed to stand, there would be no end to litigation.
According to them, the latest judgement violated all laws on choices available to a litigant who wishes to appeal or file a fresh case in seeking to set aside judgement of court.
Sharing his thoughts on the issue, rights activist, Monday Ubani, said it was sacrilegious for the lower court to vacate the judgement of the Supreme Court, unless on grounds that the trial judge was not aware of the existence of the Apex Court’s decision on the matter.
He said: “It is purely sacrilegious for a lower court to vacate the order of a superior court. You do not do that in the legal profession because there is what we call judicial precedent.
“It is the superior court that establishes a ruling and it is binding on all lower courts. I see no basis of setting aside by a lower court the Supreme Court’s judgment. It is sacrilegious.
“Some of the suggestions we are making as lawyers is that if an issue is well established by the superior court on the same fact, the judiciary must put in place a process through which they diligently look at cases that come before them on appeal. If it doesn’t qualify for appeal, the court shouldn’t accept it.”