An unwrinkled face is not good for a resounding slap. So it is somewhat indelicate for a lawyer who ought to be grounded in the ethics of the law profession to publicly criticize the opinions of other senior lawyers, who are revered to be authorities in their fields.
Afe Babalola, Gboyega Awomolo, Wole Olanipekun, J. B. Daudu, Lateef Fagbemi, Kanu Agabi, Oluwarotimi Akeredolu, J. K. Gadzama, E. C. Ukala, Yunus Ustaz Usman, Adeniyi Akintola, Emeka Ngige, Chris Uche, Dr. Onyechi Ikpeazu, Mike Ozekhome, Dele Adesina, J. S. Okutepa, Mahmud Magaji, Dayo Akinlaja, Ahmed Raji, Femi Falana, A. Mustapha, Ebun-Adegboruwa, and many hosts legends of the inner bar are jurists who have become oracles of constitutional law and whose opinions carry weight and speak volumes. For some of these oracles of law, their names have refused to leave the pages of our law reports.
And when they lend their respected voices to public issues, their words are taken as gospel by laymen who lack the qualification and the intellectual rigour to interrogate their opinions. So, to laymen, the opinions of these senior lawyers are Yeah and Amen!
However, this electioneering season has been an eye opening one for some of us. It has been a season of unraveling and miracles as to how some legal professionals have, either by deliberate action or absence of proper research, interpret one of the simplest provisions in our Constitution as regards election to the office of the President and requirements of the candidate for that highest public office in the land.
We have seen those that should know and those who have held exalted and enviable positions hold curious opinions on Constitutional issues that embarrass our industry and harass ones intellect.
the votes cast in FCT to be declared winner, so far as he meets other Constitutional requirements.
For the sake of clarity, Section 134(2) provides that:
(2) A candidate for an election to the office of the President shall be deemed to have been duly elected where, there being more than two candidates for the election –
(a) he has the highest number of votes cast at the election; and
(b) he has not less than one-quarter of the votes cast at the election in each of at least two-thirds of all the States in the Federation and the Federal Capital Territory, Abuja.
Even though the Federal Capital Territory, Abuja (FCT) is not a State properly so called, the Constitution has clothed it with the toga of a State. In other words, the FCT is treated like a State, and all the powers of a Governor in a State is vested in the Minister of the FCT. While the Houses of Assembly of the 36 States of the Federation legislate for each State respectively, the National Assembly makes laws for the FCT. Furthermore, while the States have their respective Local Government Areas, the FCT has Area Councils.
candidate to be declared winner, he must score 25% in the FCT (asides meeting other Constitutional requirements). If one agrees with this view, then it logically follows that if a candidate wins the entire 36 states of the Federation and polls the majority number of votes cast, if he fails to get 25% in FCT, then he cannot be declared winner. This cannot be the intendment of the draftsman, as the FCT cannot hold the entire nation to ransom.
So, once a candidate severally polls at least 25% of votes cast in at least 25 states, whether inclusive of FCT or not, he’s won the election so long he also has the majority of the votes cast all over the Federation.
The issue under reference has been before the Supreme Court, in 2003 in the case of Buhari Vs Obasanjo (2003) All NLR 168, the apex court in the land prophesied and held that if there’s any issue on the provision of Section 134(2), they’ll toe the part that accords with common sense. They further undertook that the court is bound to adopt a construction which is just, reasonable and sensible.
A calm perusal of the statement of the justices of the Supreme Court above reveals that they believe there is no ambiguity whatsoever in the provisions of section 134(2).
And like they opined, assuming without conceding that there is ambiguity, the Court is bound to adopt a construction which is just, reasonable and sensible.
For the sake of emphasis, the operative words are “just, reasonable and sensible.”
This then begets the question: is it just, reasonable and sensible to argue that a candidate who, for instance, won 36 States of the Federation and also polled the highest number of votes cast at an election but failed to score 25% of the votes cast in FCT, Abuja cannot be deemed the winner of the election? I think not. That would not be just, reasonable and sensible.
In Bakari v. Ogundipe (2021) 5 NWLR (Pt.1768) 1, the supreme Court held that by virtue of section 299(a) (b) of the Constitution, the provisions of the Constitution shall apply to the FCT, Abuja as if it were one of the States of the Federation.
If that is the case, why then would the FCT, Abuja be placed on so high a pedestal, like some lawyers have done, that it now supersedes other States of the Federation?
Buttressing further, If the provisions of the Constitution are to apply to FCT, Abuja as if it were one of the States of the Federation, then surely it cannot be ranked above other States of the Federation.
To steelman our arguments above, in Baba-Panya v. President, FRN (2018) 15 NWLR (Pt. 1643) 423, the Court held that the FCT, Abuja is to be treated like a State and it is not superior or inferior to any state in the Federation.
As a corollary, it would then be unjust, unreasonable and insensible to argue that scoring 25% of the votes cast in the FCT, Abuja is a mandatory Constitutional requirement, when no other State or even the entire States of the Federation enjoy this preferential treatment.
A reasonable, just and sensible interpretation of section 134(2) would then be that scoring 25% of the votes cast in the FCT, Abuja is like scoring 25% in any other State of the Federation.
That is just, reasonable and sensible.