It is unfortunate when the law is perverted for want of peanuts. I cry at the paucity of analysis on the judgement between Ayade and Agi. To inform our teeming youths I am forced to give a response.
It is worthy of note that Agi instituted a purely pre election matter. Pre election matters are civil matters and not criminal matters. In Nigerian Law School curriculum, elections matters are treated under civil law and not under criminal law.
Though election matters could have a criminal bend, Joe Agi SAN sought the interpretation of Electoral Act, PDP guidelines and Nigerian Constitution based on the evidence he brought showing the disparities in Ayade’s age declaration. His case was therefore purely a civil case with no criminal bend.
It is worthy of note that Paul Erokoro helped Agi’s case by building the arguments that established the perjury case against Ayade. He argued that it was Ayade’s aide that filled Ayade’s document and the perjury is only an innocent mistake.
But there are a plethora of cases that the court has held that a document belongs to the person that signs it. A principal bears vicarious liabilities if an agent acts under his authority.
Ayade’s arguments that he did not notice the mistake when signing his document could not in any way exonerate him from the liability as it amounts to gross and culpable mistake. Such a gross error can’t qualify as innocent mistake.
The act of Ayade signing a document on oath is a gross negligence that leaves appropriate liabilities. At this point the court was left with no option than to disqualify the candidature of Ayade and declare Joe Agi the winner as it was in the case of Amaechi and Omehia.
In Joe Agi and Ayade’s case above, a clear case of perjury has been established by both counsels to Ayade and Agi and what the court was to do was simply to apply the law to available evidence. The judge erred in law when he introduced police investigation into a matter that is purely civil.
This is the ground for appeal by counsel to Joe Agi. In the Agi and Benedict Ayade’s case, the federal high court had before it the duty of determining whether a candidate is qualified for an election or not from available evidence before it. Agi SAN sought the court to determine the qualifications of Ayade to contest the gubernatorial elections based on disparities of his age sworn under the oath.
It is trite law that only a qualified candidate can contest election. In a recent case in Benue state, a legislator of the Green Chambers was disqualified in the Idoma speaking region for forgery of certificates and by such disqualification the court ordered that he be substituted with the first runner up in the same party with the highest number of votes.
In the pre-election matter above the court did not decline jurisdiction to entertain the suit, nor did the court adjudge the matter as purely an internal party affair. The Amaechi and Omehia precedents are purely pre-election matters that showed how the court exercised its’ jurisdiction in determining the qualification of a candidate by the interpretation of relevant statutes.
In his suit Joe Agi SAN, sought the court to interpret available evidence of Ayade’s disparities in age based on the existing electoral laws. Could the court be right in declining jurisdiction to determine the qualifications of a candidate based on the relevant laws?
My greatest worry is where the issue of police investigation came from. What is the business of the police in the interpretation of statutes? The facts of the perjury were never contradicted by counsel to Ayade or Agi.
My worry is the importation of the requirements of police investigation in a matter that is purely a civil matter with facts sufficiently established. Police investigation is therefore not needed in the interpretation of statutes by the court.
Matters concerning the qualifications of candidates are matters clearly stated in our relevant laws and they are not internal party issues. The Constitution, the electoral Act, PDP guidelines specifies criteria for the determination of the qualifications of candidates and anyone who fails to meet these qualifications will be treated as been disqualified.
The law does not build on emptiness, nomo dat quod non harbet. Judge made laws can be set aside by a superior court, the reason for the appeal.
Therefore the court declined jurisdiction in error. Could a court truly deny jurisdiction in the interpretation of a statute when evidence has been duly established?
The nemo dat quod non harbet argument is based on the qualification argument. The court cannot give powers to a candidate that is not qualified to occupy a particular position.
Joseph Odok is a lawyer and lecturer in the University of Calabar.
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