Following the confirmation of the election of Senator Wasiu Sanni Eshinlekun of All Progressives Congress (APC) by the National Assembly Election Petition trial Tribunal sitting in Lagos, the main contender, the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) candidate in the February 25, 2023 National Assembly election, Francis Adewale Gomez, has through his newly procured counsel, Joseph B. Daudu, a former Nigerian Bar Association (NBA) president and a Senior Advocate of Nigeria (SAN), approached the Court of Appeal, Lagos sitting in Abuja to reverse the judgment of the trial tribunal.
By rejecting Eshinlekun’s confirmation by the trial tribunal in a unanimous judgment delivered on July 24, 2023, Mr. Gomez with his party, the PDP filed an appeal against the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC), Eshinlekun and his party, the APC, contesting the decision of the lower tribunal which dismissed his petition on the ground that he failed to file notice for the commencement of pre-hearing session within seven days after the expiration of 21 days from the service of the petition on INEC, which according to the tribunal breached the provisions of Paragraph 18(1) and (3) of the First Schedule to the Electoral Act, 2022.
The National and State Houses of Assembly Election Petition tribunal sitting in Lagos was presided over by Justice Faruku H. Bunza, who incidentally read the lead judgment, and supported by his brother Justices: L.T.C. Eruba and Kadi M.B. Inuwa who in their decision set aside the petition of Mr. Gomez on the ground that his pre-hearing Notice dated April 24 and filed on April 26, 2023 was premature and therefore failed to meet the Provisions of Section 18 of the Electoral Act, 2022.
Based on this decision, Gomez lodged his appeal to set it aside and return him as the duly elected senatorial candidate representing Lagos Central Senatorial District in the election held on February 25, 2023.
He formulated two issues for the Appellate Court to determine:
*Whether the trial tribunal was right to have dismissed his petition as being abandoned after parties had filed and exchanged pre-hearing question and answer sheets, and
*Whether the trial tribunal was not in error when it failed to apply the Provisions of Section 285(8) of the 1999 Constitution (as amended) to defer the objection to the end of hearing the petition before determining it.
But in his own response, Senator Eshinlekun of APC through his retained lawyer, Mr. Wahab Shittu, Senior Advocate of Nigeria, (SAN), asked the Appellate Court to reject Gomez appeal in its entirety as it failed to adduce any cogent reason for abandoning his petition by failure to file pre-hearing notice and exchanging same within time allowed by the Electoral Act, 2022.
Relying on the Electoral Act, 2022, Shittu on behalf of his client, Eshinlekun asked the Court of Appeal to determine whether a pre-hearing notice filed before the close of pleadings in an election petition is of lawful validity, and whether the trial tribunal was correct in law to have ruled on the application dismissing the petition without reserving the determination of same till the final judgment in compliance with Section 285 of the 1999, (as amended).
The hearing on the appeal begins tomorrow at the Lagos Division of the Court of Appeal sitting in Abuja.