In a recent turn of events, members of the National Assembly representing the Labour Party (LP) are facing a severe challenge as they navigate the National Assembly Election Petitions Tribunal. The outcomes of these tribunal decisions pose a significant threat to their presence in national politics.
The LP, driven by the influence of Peter Obi’s movement, had emerged as the third-largest party in both the Senate and the House of Representatives following the 2023 general elections, defeating many well-established politicians.
However, the recent verdicts from various state tribunals have raised serious concerns for LP lawmakers. Numerous members have been removed from office due to issues such as improper nomination and other pre-election matters. This wave of setbacks began in Delta State, where the tribunal in Asaba, the state capital, removed Ngozi Okolie as a Representative and declared Ndudi Elumelu, the former minority leader, as the rightful winner.
In the past three months, several other LP lawmakers, including Ibe Okwara, Emeka Nnamani, Amobi Ogah, Sunday Nnamchi, Chijioke Okereke, Seyi Sowunmi, and Sunday Umeha, have also been unseated from their positions as Representatives. In Lagos State’s Etiosa Federal Constituency, Thaddeus Attah’s seat was vacated, and the court ordered supplementary elections in some polling units.
Despite these setbacks, there is still hope for the LP lawmakers as the Court of Appeal has already ruled on the case of Ngozi Okolie and Ndudi Elumelu, overturning the tribunal’s decision and confirming Okolie as the legitimate winner. Legal experts suggest that the Court of Appeal’s decision regarding Kashim Shettima and Peter Obi during the presidential tribunal will also have an impact on LP lawmakers, especially concerning pre-election matters.
During the presidential tribunal, the ruling All Progressives Congress (APC) had contested Obi’s proper nomination as the presidential candidate, but the tribunal considered it a pre-election matter. Similarly, the issue of double nominations against Shattima was also regarded as a pre-election matter.
Legal practitioner Tejumola Banigbe emphasized that party membership is a pre-election matter and an internal party issue. Challenges to party membership from non-members can be seen as interference. The ruling on party membership had been established in the case of APM v. INEC in 2023.
However, he noted that predicting the Court of Appeal’s ruling might be premature, considering the inconsistency in judgments across various divisions of the Appellate Court. The Nigerian judiciary has faced scrutiny in recent years due to perceived inconsistencies in judgments.
Another legal practitioner, Henry Eni-Otu, expressed confidence that the Court of Appeal is likely to uphold the victory of the LP lawmakers. He pointed out that membership issues within a party are non-justiciable, and the questions of nomination and sponsorship, as determined by the Presidential Tribunal, fall under pre-election matters and should not be adjudicated at the Election Tribunal. However, he noted that a prior judgment on qualification, sponsorship, and nomination could be presented at the Election Tribunal as evidence.
The New Nigeria Peoples Party (NNPP) is also grappling with challenges at the tribunal in Kano State, having lost three seats in the House of Representatives. Nevertheless, the NNPP recently received a boost when the Court of Appeal in Abuja validated Umar Zakari’s election, overturning the lower court’s decision. In a parallel scenario, the fate of the LP lawmakers now lies in the hands of the Appeal Court as they await their final verdict.