⦿ CASE SUMMARY OF:
Chief Joseph Adolo Okotie-Eboh v. Chief James Ebiowo Manager & Ors. (2004) – SC
Interpretation of statutes;
Disqualification for election;
Leave of court;
Chief Joseph Adolo Okotie-Eboh
1. Chief James Ebiowo Manager
2. Peoples Democratic Party (PDP)
3. Independent National Electoral Commission
⦿ LEAD JUDGEMENT DELIVERED BY:
⦿ LAWYERS WHO ADVOCATED
* FOR THE APPELLANT
– Omotayo Oyetibo, SAN
* FOR THE RESPONDENT
– Dr. A.A. Iziyon, SAN
The Appellant filed an appeal at the High Court seeking to set aside the “winning” of the primary election by the 1st respondent on the ground that he (1st respondent) has been involved in an electoral malpractice prior; and that the Court should declare him (Appellant) the winner of the election.
Learned senior counsel for the respondent brought a notice of preliminary objection filed on 23rd April, 2003 contending that since the general elections into the National Assembly had been conducted on 12th April, 2003, and the respondent returned as duly elected, as the candidate of Delta State Senatorial District, the court could no longer entertain the subject matter of the appeal by virtue of the combined effect of sections 131(1) and 134 of the Electoral Act, 2000 (as amended) and section 285(1) of the Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria, 1999.
On 30th of April, 2003, both the appeal and the preliminary objection were argued simultaneously, and in the leading judgment delivered on 2nd July, 2003 by Oduyemi, J.C.A. concurred in by Oguntade, J,C.A. as he then was, and Bulkachuwa, J.C.A., the Court of Appeal dismissed the appeal and glossed over the preliminary objection as it appears it did not express any opinion thereon.
Both parties being dissatisfied with the judgment, the appellant further appealed against the dismissal of his appeal while the respondent cross-appealed on the failure of the Court of Appeal to pronounce on the preliminary objection.
1. Whether the Court of Appeal was right in striking out issues Nos. 2 and 3 which were submitted for determination by the appellant on the ground that leave of court was not sought and obtained to raise them, the issues having been subsumed in issue No.1 therein?
2. Whether the Court of Appeal was correct in considering the applicability of the provisions of sections 59-64 of the Local Government (Basic Constitutional and Traditional Provisions) Act, Cap. 213, Laws of the Federation of Nigeria, 1990 in relation to the eligibility of the respondent to contest the 2003 general election into the National Assembly and in concluding that section 66(1)(h) of the 1999 Constitution is not operative to disqualify him?
⦿ HOLDING & RATIO DECIDENDI
[APPEAL: APPEAL DISMISSED]
1. ISSUE 1 was held in favour of the respondent.
i. I am entirely in agreement with the submissions of learned senior counsel for the respondent. The court below categorically stated, and this has not been refuted or challenged, that appellant’s issues two and three were subsumed in his first issue which the court elaborately considered. The implication, in my view, is that the questions raised under those two issues were dealt with while considering issue one of the appellant’s brief in the court below. The striking out of the two issues in question was of no consequence. It is a sweeping statement by the appellant to say that the striking out of those two issues was a breach of his right to fair hearing. With profound respect, the learned senior counsel for the appellant has not been able to pinpoint at or identify any important point he canvassed under the two issues under consideration which the court below did not adequately address in its consideration of the first issue. As I had earlier observed, the central question running through all the appellant’s three issues in the court below is the disqualification or eligibility of the respondent to contest the 2003 general election having regard to the provisions of section 66(1)(h) of the 1999 Constitution.
2. ISSUE 2 was held in favour of the respondent.
i. Bearing the above principles (ejusdem generis) of interpretation in mind and being of the view that a law which seeks to disqualify a person from contesting an election on ground of indictment for embezzlement or fraud imposes a disability and ought to be interpreted strictly, it is therefore my view that the expression “or any other (tribunal) by the Federal or State Government” appearing in the section must be interpreted to be restricted to the tribunals or inquiry or bodies mentioned in the section which were set up to investigate a person of allegations of embezzlement or fraud and whose report of indictment of such person in that regard has been accepted by the Government. It seems to me that by this interpretation, the aforesaid Bendel State Local Government Election Tribunal is not contemplated firstly, because though set up under a Decree or Act of the Federal Government, it was set up to hear election petition and not allegations of embezzlement or fraud, and more relevantly, its decision is not subject to government’s acceptance by virtue of its enabling law as lightly conceded by the learned senior counsel for the appellants.
⦿ SOME PROVISIONS
Thus a great American Jurist John Parker in his address to the American Bar Association on July 1950 which was published in ABA Journal 533 said: “Society, whether a free society or not, is not a mere aggregation of individuals. It is an organism. The law is the life principle of that organism. It is not something imposed from without but something that arises from within. There is something in the nature of matter that causes it to act in certain ways and these ways of action we call the Laws of Physics. There is something, too, in the nature of human beings and of the society that they compose what determines how society should act and how the members of society should act towards one another. This is law in its true sense. It must be interpreted in terms of rules and these rules must be enforced by the power of the state; but it must never be forgotten that the source of law is not the power that enforces the rules but the life that gives rise to the power, and that the source of the rules is not power but reason applied to the life from which the power arises.”
⦿ RELEVANT CASES
⦿ NOTABLE DICTA
According to Black’s Law Dictionary, 6th Edition, p. 999, a misdirection is an error made by a Judge in instructing the jury upon the trial of a cause. In a legal system such as ours in which the Judge also performs the function of the jury, a misdirection occurs when the Judge misconceives the issues, whether of facts or of law, or summarises the evidence inadequately or incorrectly. The misdirection may take the form of a positive act or mere non-direction. – Edozie, JSC. Okotie-Eboh v. Ebiowo (2004)
According to the canons of interpretation of statutes, it is a cardinal principle that where the ordinary plain meaning of the words used in a statute are very clear and unambiguous, effect must be given to those words without resorting to any intrinsic or external aid. – Edozie, JSC. Okotie-Eboh v. Ebiowo (2004)
I have always believed that it is the eternal duty of this court to construe some provisions of the Constitution in a wider sense to give meaning and life to the law bearing in mind that the primary law is for the living; that as much as possible a holistic approach should be given to any provision with a view to expounding its scope. By so doing, the courts would be liberating wooly provisions of the Constitutions that appear nebulous, and therefore make the law embrace all that would ennoble the society and would guarantee its fairness and space for growth and development so that in the final analysis it shall be understood by all that the law is made for men and women and not the other way round. – Pats-Achulonu, JSC. Okotie-Eboh v. Ebiowo (2004)
Justice is often depicted as a blindfolded woman with a sword in one hand and a scale on the other. Those who are called to mete out justice are not blindfolded. They see with their two eyes and reason with their head. In the application of the law to meet the end of justice it is important to recognize that both men and women now live in a dynamic society and the interpretation of the provision of any statute should mirror the social accentuation of the society and understanding the nature of man or woman. – Pats-Achulonu, JSC. Okotie-Eboh v. Ebiowo (2004)