27th January, 2012
A seven- man panel of the Supreme Court in a unanimous decision this morning sacked Governors Liyel Imoke, Murtala Nyako, Ibrahim Idris, Wamako and Temipre Silva of Cross River, Adamawa, Kogi, Sokoto and Bayelsa states from office.
The court in Abuja held that the tenures of the governors started to count from the time they took their oath of office after emerging winners in their respective state governorship elections in 2007 and not from the period they took their second oaths of office after emerging winners of the re-run elections when there initial elections were nullified.
A Federal High Court had earlier held that their tenures of office started to run from their later oaths of office and oath of allegiance which they took upon their emergence as winners of their respective re run elections.
The apex court held that the trial court as well as the Court of Appeal erred in law when the considered the actions taken by the respective governors before their elections were nullified by the various Election Petition Tribunals as valid on one hand while discounting the time they spent doing those valid actions from their constitutionally prescribed tenure of office.
180. (1) subject to the provisions of this Constitution, a person shall hold the office of Governor of a State until –
(a) When his successor in office takes the oath of that office; or
(b) he dies whilst holding such office; or
(c) the date when his resignation from office takes effect; or
(d) he otherwise ceases to hold office in accordance with the provisions of this constitution.
In reaching their decision, the Supreme Court relied on section 180 (2) of the Constitution wherein the tenure of office of Governors were prescribed and held that that section did not envisage any form of elongation of occupants of the office of the Governor of the state as well as that of the President.
The section reads:
180 (2) Subject to the provisions of subsection (1) of this section, the Governor shall vacate his office at the expiration of period of four years commencing from the date when –
(a) in the case of a person first elected as Governor under this Constitution, he took the Oath of Allegiance and oath of office; and
(b) the person last elected to that office took the Oath of Allegiance and oath of office or would, but for his death, have taken such oaths.
The court held that the provisions of that section of the Constitution will stand violated if the tenure of office of the Governors is calculated from their second taking of Oath of Office and the Oath of Allegiance and stated that their tenure started counting from their first Oath of office which they all took after they were declared winners of the April 2007 elections and that they are entitled to four year terms from that date.
The court also rapped the Peoples Democratic party for attempting to abort the hearing of the matter at the court through their preliminary objections filed against all the consolidated appeals. The party had argued that the subject matter of the appeals have become academic and should be dismissed.
While dismissing the PDP’s preliminary objections, the apex court maintained that the matter is of grave constitutional importance whose subject matter is still alive and cannot be truncated on the grounds of mere technicalities.
In countering the decisions of the Federal High Court and that of the Court of Appeal, the apex court asserted that the provision of the law did not envisage an indefinite occupation of office by a Governor and did not also envisage re run elections, left alone one to be won by the same person.
It went on to hold that since acions of these governors, like contracts awarded by them, Commissioners and Special Assistants appointed by them as well as Budgets and Bills signed into law by them remained valid and subsisting when their election were annulled, that it followed that upon emerging winners of their respective re run elections, and having to take another Oaths of Office and Allegiance which is a standard procedure before they can function as Governors, that their tenure begins to count from that first oaths they took in 2007 and not the second ones they took in 2008 after their victories in the re-run elections.
—Nnamdi Felix / Abuja