Plateau State Governor’s Election Nullified by Court of Appeal
Court Nullifies Caleb Mutfwang's Election as Plateau State Governor
In a recent development, the Court of Appeal in Abuja has invalidated the election of Governor Caleb Mutfwang of Plateau State. The three-member panel of Justices, in a unanimous decision, determined that Mutfwang’s nomination and sponsorship by the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) for the gubernatorial election that took place on March 18 were not valid.
According to the appellate court, all votes attributed to Mutfwang and the PDP in the election have been deemed wasted votes. Consequently, the panel, led by Justice Elfrieda Williams-Dawodu, has ordered the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) to retract the Certificate of Return issued to Mutfwang as the winner of the governorship poll. They have also mandated that the candidate with the second-highest number of lawful votes in the election be sworn in as the new governor of the state.
This verdict comes as a result of an appeal lodged against Governor Mutfwang’s election by the All Progressive Congress (APC) governorship candidate in the state, Mr. Nentawe Goshwe. Initially, INEC had declared Mutfwang of the PDP as the winner of the gubernatorial contest with 525,299 votes, surpassing the APC candidate, Goshwe, who received 481,370 votes.
Goshwe, dissatisfied with the election outcome, sought recourse through the Plateau State Governorship Election Petition Tribunal, arguing, among other points, that the PDP lacked the necessary political structure in the state to validly nominate or sponsor a candidate for the governorship election. Furthermore, he contended that Mutfwang’s election did not adhere to the Electoral Act and that he did not secure the majority of lawful votes.
However, the tribunal, presided over by Justice R. Irele-Ifijeh, unanimously dismissed Goshwe’s petition as lacking merit. Unhappy with this decision, Goshwe subsequently took his case to the Court of Appeal, maintaining his stance that Governor Mutfwang was not qualified to contest the election due to an invalid sponsorship by a political party.
In response, Governor Mutfwang’s counsel, Chief Kanu Agabi, SAN, urged the court to dismiss the appeal and uphold the tribunal’s earlier ruling. Agabi argued that the nomination and sponsorship of a candidate for an election were internal matters of a political party that should not be subject to judicial intervention.
Likewise, the PDP’s counsel, Mr. Emeka Etiaba, SAN, requested the court to strike out certain grounds of the appellant’s appeal on the grounds of incompetence. Etiaba asserted that Governor Mutfwang had emerged as the PDP’s gubernatorial candidate through a valid primary election, which INEC had duly monitored.
Ultimately, on Sunday, the appellate court upheld the appeal and nullified Governor Mutfwang’s election. The panel of justices who delivered this judgment included Muhammed Mustapha and Okon Abang.
It is worth noting that this same appellate court panel had previously, on November 7, nullified the elections of a Senator and three members of the House of Representatives in the state, all of whom had won on the PDP’s ticket. This decision was based on the PDP’s failure to fully comply with a court order from 2022, which required the party to conduct congresses in all 17 Local Government Areas in the state. The court determined that the evidence provided by the PDP demonstrated that 12 LGAs had been excluded during the purported congress held to select candidates for the 2023 general elections. Consequently, all the votes credited to these lawmakers were deemed wasted as they were not valid candidates.