The Supreme Court on Friday affirmed the decision of the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) to excise Otukpa State Constituency of Benue in 1996.
INEC had under its statutory powers to delineate constituencies excised and suppressed Otukpa Constituency which has ceased to exist since then.
Delivering the lead judgment, Justice Suleiman Galadima, who presided over the seven-man panel of the apex court justices, nullified the concurrent decisions of the Court of Appeal and Federal High Court, which had previously upturned INEC’s decision.
Galadima held that the 14 Otukpa constituents who initiated the action in October, 2011, had slept on their right, by waiting for 15 years before seeking redress to INEC’s action.
He also held that the suit was filed in flagrant breach of Section 2 (a) of the Public Officers Protection Act which provides that the statutory period for an aggrieved person to seek redress to a wrongdoing was three months.
According to Justice Galadima, the suit is “statute-barred, incompetent and unmeritorious, lacking in locus standi and jurisdiction and hereby struck out forthwith, without delving into its merits’’.
He continued: “The respondents’ suit is statute-barred, having been filed clearly outside the three months stipulated by law in Section 2 (a) of the Public Officers Protection Act.
“The essence or effect of the Public Officers Protection Act herein, is to extinguish the cause of action if it is commenced after the stipulated period, which is three months.
“In the light of the foregoing, I resolve this issue in favour of the appellant and set aside the findings of the two lower courts below and accordingly strike out the suit.
“The appeal is meritorious and, hereby, allowed as all the issues are resolved in favour of the appellant, and the respondents’ suit is set aside.’’
It would be recalled that that 14 constituents of the Constituency had on Oct. 25, 2011, sued INEC’s over its decision to excise and the constituency.
They had argued that without the suppressed constituency, the state house of assembly was not properly constituted as constitutionally stipulated.
INEC, they contended, acted unfairly in refusing to include Otukpa Constituency among other suppressed constituencies which the commission forwarded to the National Assembly for approval for restoration.
The Commission, in a preliminary objection, filed an objection to the suit on the ground that it was filed out of the three-month provision of Section 2 (a) of the Public Officers Protection Act.
Delivering ruling on June 26, 2012, the trial Federal High Court in Makurdi dismissed INEC’s objection.
INEC, unsatisfied with the ruling, appelaed to the Court of Appeal, Makurdi Division, which, on Feb. 13, 2014, affirmed the trial court’s ruling and dismissed it’s appeal.
Again, aggrieved by the the appellate court’s judgment, INEC approached the Supreme Court for final determination of the case.