The court declared Hon. Kunle Sobukanla of the All Progressives Congress (APC) as the elected lawmaker for the Constituency and directed the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) to issue him a Certificate of Return.
INEC had in March 2023, declared Owodunni as the winner of the assembly election, despite the fact that on 6 March, 2023 – 12 days before the election – he had resigned from the PDP and withdrew from the contest in letters delivered to the party and INEC.
He also went to the High Court, where he swore to an affidavit of voluntary withdrawal from the race.
When PDP received Mr Owodunni’s resignation and withdrawal notices, it wrote to INEC, attempting to replace him but the electoral umpire refused the replacement, retained him as the recognised candidate, and issued him a certificate of return after the election.
At the Tribunal, Owodunni spoke of how he was kidnapped and forced to sign the withdrawal letters and affidavit, but lawyers to Sobukanla and APC confronted him with contrary evidence showing that he freely campaigned for APC after withdrawing from the race.
They also played a video in which Owodunni said: “As far as this local government is concerned, PDP does not have a candidate in Ikenne Local Government. I still remain the bonafide PDP candidate, and I willingly withdrew my mandate that I no longer have any dealings with them.”
With the crucial pieces of evidence, the Tribunal rejected Owodunni’s claim of duress and held that he truly withdrew from the race.
However, the Tribunal refused to void his return by INEC on the ground that he withdrew less than 90 days to the election, and such withdrawal was invalid.
In the appeal, APC and Hon Sobukanla argued that a withdrawal can be made at any time and that such withdrawal is complete once it is made in writing and delivered to the political party in question, irrespective of whether the political party informs INEC or not.
APC and Sobukanla also argued that the 90 days stipulated in the Electoral Act is just the deadline for a political party to replace a withdrawn candidate but that there is no provision of the Act or legal principle that prevents a candidate from withdrawing less than 90 days to an election because withdrawal is complete the moment it is communicated to the party.
They referred the court to the decision of the Supreme Court in PDP v. INEC and the Presidential Election Petition Court in APM v. INEC, both of which were decided this year on the alleged double nomination of Vice President Kashim Shettima.
The Court of Appeal panel comprising of Hon Justice Theresa Ngolika Orji-Abadua, Hon. Justice Mohammed Baba Idris and Hon. Justice Hadiza Rabiu Shagari saw merit in the strong legal arguments and upheld them.
Consequently, the withdrawal of Mr Babajide Owodunni was upheld by the court, while his declaration and return by INEC was set aside.