Court refuses to sack Ondo assembly member-elect who lost party primaries

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An Ondo State High Court has refused to grant the prayers of a substituted candidate to be declared the lawful winner of the House of Assembly seat for Okitipupa Constituency II.

James Ololade-Gbegudu won the All Progressives Congress (APC) primaries for the seat held on October 5, last year but the party replaced him before the general election with Sina Akinwunmi.

Mr Akinwunmi went on to win the March 9 election and Mr Ololade-Gbegudu asked the court to retrieve the seat for him.

The court agreed that the defendant, Mr Akinwunmi, was not the validly nominated APC candidate but refused to declare the plaintiff the winner.

The court said Mr Ololade-Gbegudu won the primaries, but could not be declared as the rightful candidate of the party in the election since it was within the party’s powers to present the names of candidates to the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC).

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The defendants in the suit included the APC Ondo State Chairman, Ade Adetimehin, the party’s State Secretary, Sina Alaye; INEC, and the lawmaker-elect, Mr Akinwunmi.

Mr Ololade-Gbegudu had approached the court to seek an order to compel the party and INEC to recognise him as the authentic APC candidate for the constituency and not Mr Akinwunmi, having won the party’s primary.

Delivering his judgment, which lasted more than two hours, Justice Olabode Adegbehingbe held that all evidence laid before the court by officials of the APC, including the primary election result sheet adduced by counsel to the plaintiff, Femi Emodamori, showed Mr Ololade-Gbegudu won the APC assembly ticket.

He said in spite of that, he could not grant other reliefs of the plaintiff that the certificate of return earlier issued to Mr Akinwunmi be withdrawn and issues to him. He said the court could not force the APC to recognise the plaintiff as its authentic candidate for the poll.

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The court held that it was found that the primary election result sheet submitted by the lawmaker-elect was a forged one and is “not reliable, invalid and irrelevant.”

The judge said section 87 (4) of the Electoral Act (as amended) did not mandate the party to forward names of Direct Primary election winners to INEC, adding that the party might choose not to forward such names as its candidates.

He further said the court could not apply Section 87(3) of the Act which only deals with indirect primary, noting that there was no authority to be cited on the aspect of winners of party’s direct primary whose names were not sent to INEC.

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The judge also dismissed the objection of the defendants that Mr Gbegudu’s case was filed out of time and was status-barred, noting that the suit was brought on December 22, 2018, within the 14 days allowed by the 1999 Constitution (as amended).

Commenting on the verdict, counsel to the plaintiff, Mr Emmanuel, said his client would appeal the judgment.

He noted that the court affirmed his client as the winner of the primary election of October 5, 2018, witnessed by INEC officials.

Counsel to INEC, Bukola Durojaye, and that of APC, Tajudeen Oyerinde, expressed satisfaction with the judgment.

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