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Appeal Court overrules tribunal on Lanlehin’s petition

LANLEHINThe Court of Appeal sitting in Ibadan has set aside a ruling of the National and State House of Assembly Election Petitions Tribunal which granted an extension of time for the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) to file its reply in the petition filed by Senator Olufemi Lanlehin against the election of Rilwan Akanbi for Oyo South Senatorial district.

Senator Lanlehin, who was Accord Party (AP) candidate in the March 28 polls, is challenging the declaration of Akanbi of the All Progressives Congress (APC) as the winner of the election. The Tanko Usman led tribunal had, in its ruling on June 23, granted an application for extension of time for the State Resident Electoral Commissioner, Mr Rufus Akeju, and INEC, who are 3rd and 4th respondents respectively in the petition, to file their replies Under the 2010 Electoral Act (as amended), a respondent is required to file a reply to an election petition not later than 21 days from the day of service of the petition. Lanlehin’s counsel, Richard Ogunwole (SAN) had challenged the competence of the application seeking extension of time for Akeju and INEC who filed their responses 44 days after they were served.

The tribunal, interpreting Paragraph 45 of the First Schedule to the Electoral Act, had anchored its decision to extend time out of the statutory time limit on exercise of discretionary power. Dissatisfied, counsel to Lanlehin headed for the Appellate Court, where he contended that the tribunal erred in law by taking such decision as it lacked the fundamental jurisdictional competence to so act.

The three-member Appeal Court panel led by Justice N Okoronkwo, in a unanimous judgment held that the tribunal lacked the power to extend time for Akeju and INEC because the provision of Section 285( 7 ) of the 1999 Constitution, which limits the time for election petition, does not brook any challenge.

He said that the intendment of the provision by the drafters of the constitution was to guard against unnecessary elongation of election petition matters, which resolutions had often led to some elected politicians losing their positions a few months to the end of their tenure.

The Appellate Court added that, if a party in an election matter failed to file the necessary process by 24 hours, tribunal could not grant an extension of time for such party, as doing so would open a Pandora’s Box that could vitiate proceedings. A motion on notice and a preliminary objection filed by Akanbi’s counsel, Chief Olayinka Bolanle, against Lanlehin’s appeal were dismissed for lacking in merit.

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