The Supreme Court on Frday in Abuja removed a member of the Delta State House of Assembly representing Ughelli North Constituency II, Edoja Akpodiete.
The apex court, in a unanimous judgment, ordered him to, within 90 days, refund to the state coffers all the salaries and allowances he had collected since 2011 when he wrongly assumed the seat.
In the lead judgment delivered and read by Justice Walter Onnoghen, the apex court ordered Jenkins Gwede of the Democratic Peoples Party to take over the seat from Akpodiete.
The court held that the Independent National Electoral Commission, INEC, had wrongfully issued the certificate of return to Akpodiete even when it was aware that he had ceased to be the sponsored candidate of the DPP more than 45 days before the state’s House of Assembly election held on April 26, 2011.
The apex court described INEC’s action in the case as “worrisome” and therefore awarded a total cost of N650, 000 each against the commission and Akpodiete.
The court affirmed the documents tendered by Gwede’s lawyer, Ikhide Ehighelua, showing that the DPP had notified INEC of its choice of Gwede as its candidate after Akpodiete formally withdrew from the election and the party returned the N2m he paid for nomination form back to him.
Justice Onnoghen held that the INEC had by its action, “foisted on the electorate of Ughelli North Constituency II of Delta State House of Assembly a pretender to the seat who not only withdrew from the election in writing but collected the deposit he paid to the 4th respondent (DPP) for the said election.”
The court consequently ordered that, “The 1st respondent (INEC) “is hereby ordered to issue the said appellant with a certificate of return in respect of the said House of Assembly election held on April 26, 2011.
“The 2nd respondent, Edoja Rufus Akpodiete, is hereby ordered to vacate the seat of Ughelli North Constituency II in the Delta State House of Assembly forthwith.
“It is further ordered that the said 2nd respondent, Edoja Rufus Akpodiete, refunds to the coffers of the Delta State House of Assembly all monies/sums of money he collected by way of salary, allowances whatsoever and however described since he took his seat in the said House of Assembly under the pretext of being the duly elected candidate of the 4th respondent representing Ughelli North Constituency II, within 90 days of this order.”
A Federal High Court in Asaba had dismissed Gwede’s case in a judgment delivered on June 27, 2012 for lack of jurisdiction to entertain the matter because it was election related.
Through his lawyer, Ikhide Ehighelua, Gwede had appealed to the Court of Appeal in Benin which in its judgment delivered on May 22, 2013 resolved the issues raised. In his favour but refused to make any consequential order.
He had also cross-appealed the judgment of the Court of Appeal urging the Supreme Court to make an order returning him as the duly elected candidate to represent the Ughelli North Constituency II.