Nigeria's Supreme Court ruled on Friday to remove five powerful state governors from office because their tenures should have expired last year, replacing them with the speakers of the house of assembly from the respective states.
The governors of Nigeria's 36 states are among the most powerful politicians in Africa's most populous nation, in some cases controlling budgets larger than other African countries.
The governors of Bayelsa, Cross Rivers, Kogi, Adamawa and Sokoto all came into office in May 2007 but their four-year tenures were terminated by election tribunals because of irregularities. Fresh elections were conducted the following year, which they all won again.
They won a court order last year which allowed them to run for re-election in 2012 because they argued that their official four-year tenure did not begin until the re-run in 2008.
But this legal victory was challenged by the Independent National Electoral Commission with the Supreme Court, which ruled on Friday that the governors' time in office ended in May 2011.
To allow the governors seeking tenure elongation will allow a culture of impunity in the system, Justice Walter Onnughen told the governor's lawyers and public crowds in the gallery. He said it was a unanimous decision by the seven judges.
Their tenure started from the day their first oath of office was administered ... no person can remain in office more than the four years provided for by the constitution, Onnughen said.
Governorship elections are due to take place in the five states on different dates this year and the current governors could run again for a second and final term. None were immediately available following the hearing.
(Reporting by Camillus Eboh; Writing by Joe Brock)