Indications have emerged that some high ranking officials of the All Progressives Congress (APC) may be implicated as the initial political permutation to replace the name of the validly returned candidate of the party for the Lagos Island Constituency 1, Hon. Wasiu Eshilokun-Sanni comes under closer judicial scrutiny.
The critical question the APC National Secretariat will need to urgently answer in the court as the matter goes to trial at the Lagos Division of the Appeal Court will be who amongst its officials substituted the name of Wasiu Eshilokun-Sanni with that of his opponent, Hakeem Masha having initially submitted the former’s name to the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC).
It would be recalled that Eshilokun-Sanni had polled 186 votes to beat seven other candidates in the primary election conducted by the APC to select a candidate for the Lagos Island Constituency 1 seat in the state House of Assembly and his name submitted to INEC by the APC. However, in a strange twist his name was substituted with that of one Hakeem Masha, who polled 70 votes, thus forcing the validly returned winner, Eshilokun-Sanni to file a suit before Justice Ibrahim Buba of the Federal High Court in Lagos.
Justice Buba, had in his judgement, ordered INEC to recognise Eshilokun-Sanni as the candidate of the party, saying the evidence before him showed clearly that he (Eshilokun) won the APC primary, and that same was not controverted.
Sensing trouble, the APC National Secretariat was said to have quickly reversed the questionable plot allegedly done in the name of its National Chairman and Secretary respectively with their signatures said to have been forged on the document sent to INEC. To further wash its hands off the matter, the APC leadership was reported to have reached out to Lagos lawyer, Mr. Femi Falana (SAN) who had initially accepted to stand as counsel to the APC. Upon knowing the messy nature of the case, Falana was said to have withdrawn from the case on “the ground of principles.”
Dissatisfied however, Masha sought the services of another Lagos-based lawyer, Mr. Badejo Bonojo (SAN) to appeal the verdict of the Federal High Court. The Court of Appeal in Lagos on Monday fixed June 15, 2015 for hearing of an objection raised by Hon. Eshilokun-Sanni who is also the former Lagos State Secretary of All Progressives Congress (APC), Wasiu Eshilokun-Sanni, challenging the bid by his opponent, Hakeem Masha, to amend the notice of appeal in the tussle over Lagos Island Constituency 1 of the Lagos State House of Assembly.
When the matter came up on Monday at the Appeal Court, Bonojo indicated interest in amending one of the three notices of appeal which he filed. But Eshinlokun’s lawyer, Mr. Wahab Shittu objected, saying the move was an attempt to place something on nothing.
Shittu pointed out that Masha filed three notices of appeal at the court on the same matter. One was dated March 6; the second, March 26 and the third, May 14. The lawyer said those of March 6 and 26 were wrongly headed the Federal High Court, whereas they were for Appeal Court. The May 14 notice, according to Shittu, was incompetent abnitio, and so the question of amendment does not even arise.
He said the notice was of mixed law and facts, and that the leave of court was required before such notice could be filed, which was not done in the instant case. However, INEC’s lawyer asked for time to respond to the amendment, an application that prompted the court presided over by Justice Sidi Bage to adjourn till June 15.
It would be recalled that Justice Buba of the Federal High Court had dismissed the four preliminary objections filed by the APC initially represented by Femi Falana (SAN) and Masha represented by Bonojo Badejo (SAN). Badejo had argued two preliminary objections before the lower court questioning the service of the processes on his client as well as other parties. Badejo had also argued that there was no clear waiver issued by the APC permitting Eshinlokun to contest the primary election.
Falana too had argued two preliminary objections questioning the court’s jurisdiction to entertain the suit. He had specifically argued that the suit was not initiated by due process of law and that the action was frivolous, vexatious and abuse of court process. But when the evidence of possible forgery of the signatures of some high ranking APC officials was unearthed, Falana was said to have been repulsed and pulled out on the ground of principles.
It would be recalled that in his own judgment, Justice Buba, who cited plethora of authorities, held that the suit was initiated with due process, and that from the records, it was clear that the parties were adequately and properly served.
On the issue of waiver, the judge ruled that the argument of Masha was neither here nor there, and that the APC had, by action, granted Eshilokun waiver by clearing him to contest the primary election after he had duly paid the required fees. The judge in fact added that it was instructive that the defendants never controverted the fact that Eshilokun contested and won the primary election and that his name was initially forwarded to INEC as the candidate of the APC.
With the new twist of likely forgery added to the controversy, it remains to be seen how the APC leadership would wash its hands off the matter. This is more so as the twist was again compounded by the strange appearance of yet another lawyer at the last sitting of the Appeal Court on Monday purportedly representing the APC following the withdrawal of Falana. The question keen observers are asking is why the APC is in court against its own candidate if at all the APC ever issued a letter to INEC substituting Eshinlokun’s name with that of another candidate said have lost the party primaries.