The Supreme Court on Friday dismissed a suit seeking the removal Governor Ben Ayade of Cross River State, for allegedly falsifying his age. The suit also said that Ayade had was not a member the PDP when he won the election.
The appellant, Joe Agi (SAN), alleged that Ayade had lost his membership of the PDP as at the time he was sponsored by the party for last year’s election due to the governor’s alleged consistent failure to pay his dues to the party.
Agi had participated along with other aspirants on the December 8, 2014 governorship primary of the PDP, which produced Ayade as the governorship candidate of the party in the state.
He had, by the appeal challenged the judgment of the Court of Appeal, Abuja, delivered on February 5, 2016, upholding the earlier decision of a Federal High Court in Abuja, which dismissed his case.
He had further appealed to the Supreme Court asking the court to reverse the judgment of the appeal court.
But in a unanimous judgment of its five-man panel led by Justice Bode Rhodes-Vivour, the Supreme Court on Friday held that the suit was devoid of merit.
A member of the panel, Justice Clara Ogunbiyi, who read the lead judgment, held that the issue of the status of a person’s membership of a political party was an internal affair of the party which a court of law could not determine.
She affirmed the decision of the Court of Appeal which held that the status of a person’s membership of a political party was not “justifiable”.
She held that the court could not question Ayade’s membership of the PDP, the party having through its secretary in Cross River State confirmed at the trial court that the governor had paid all his dues and that he remained a member of the party.
“The pertinent question to pose is that who between the appellant (Agi) and the first respondent (the PDP) has the right to decide who is a member of the party,” she held.
She cited various judicial precedents in likening a political party to a voluntary association whose decision, “even when it is unreasonable” is binding on its members.
She said that contrary to Agi’s submission, the fact that the word “cleared” was endorsed on Ayade’s membership card showed that the governor had paid all his dues as stipulated in section 8 (10) of the PDP’s Constitution.
She said that as provided under Paragraph 48 of the of the PDP’s Guideline for Primary Election 2014, the decision of the National Executive Committee of the party was binding, adding that through the state chapter of the party that Ayade was a member of the party, “is final and binding on all aspirants who participated in the primary’’.
“As I earlier said, a political party is a voluntary association and its decision is binding on its members even if it is deemed unreasonable. The decision of the party on issue like this is final. The court will not substitute its will with that of the voluntary association whether it is reasonable or unreasonable,” she ruled.
She also held that the allegation of age falsification “is rooted” in criminality which the appellant failed to prove beyond reasonable doubt as required by law.
She added that for age falsification to serve as a disqualifying factor for any person running for the office of the governor, it must be proved that it was done with the intention to meet the minimum of 35-year-old constitutional requirement for any person seeking to occupy the office.
The appellant claimed that Ayade had falsely represented his date of birth in his nomination form submitted to INEC, and other records as March 2, 1968 and March 2, 1969.
But in her judgment, Justice Ogunbiyi said that neither of the dates of birth which placed the age of the governor at either 45 or 46 as of the time he was nominated by the PDP to run for the office of the governor, conferred any undue advantage on him.
“The second respondent (Ayade) was said to have stated his date of birth in his nomination form to INEC as March 2, 1968. That means that he was 46 years old as at the time he was nominated, and that was 11 years above the constitutional requirement of 35 years.
By March 2, 1969, the second respondent would have been 45 years old as of the time he was sponsored by the first respondent (the PDP). He would still have been 10 years above the constitutional requirement age of 35 years for office of the governor.
The appellant has failed to prove the intention of the second respondent to circumvent the law in order to ensure his compliance with constitutional age requirement,” Ogunbiyi said.
She held that sections 14 (b) and 15 (2) of the constitution of the party as well as sections 31 (2), (5) and (6) of the Electoral Act had provided for disqualification of any aspirant seeking political office.
She said that they were to ensure compliance with requirement of on mandatory age for the office of the governor under section 177(b) and section 182(1) of the Constitution.
According to her, the judgment of the Court of Appeal, Abuja is hereby endorsed.