The Federal High Court has shifted to May 8, hearing in a suit filed by the Imo state governor, Rochas Okorocha urging the Court to grant an order compelling the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) to issue him with a Certificate of Return as the Senator-elect for Imo West Senatorial District.
Justice Okon Abang who took over the case from Justice Taiwo .O. Taiwo of the same court adjourned the case at the instance of the plaintiff.
Justice Taiwo had rescue himself from adjudicating on the case over allegations of bias made against him by the candidates of the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) for the February 23 National Assembly elections, Jones Onyeriri and that of the All Progressive Grand Alliance (APGA); Senator Osita Izunaso.
Justice Taiwo consequently returned the case file to the Chief Judge of the Federal High Court, Justice Abdul Kafarati for reassignment to another judge.
Meantime, Justice Abang who took over the case explained that “This matter was reassigned from Justice Taiwo .O. Taiwo for adjudication by my court on April 10, 2019.”
Counsel to the plaintiff, Ademola Abimbola who requested for an adjournment, had informed the court that a motion on notice was served on him in court by the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP), a party seeking to be joined in the suit as an interested party.
According to Abimbola, “the matter is for hearing today. However, just this morning, PDP was served us with a motion on notice dated and filed on April 17, 2019. We intend to oppose this motion, which is intended to delay the hearing of this matter. We, therefore, apply for a short adjournment to file a counter affidavit in opposition to the application for joinder.”
He further drew the attention of the court to a petition by the Imo State chapter of the All Progressive Congress against the court.
However, Justice Abang said the APC was not a party in the suit and that a non- party cannot take steps to frustrate the hearing of the suit.
On the request for adjournment, Justice Abang ruled that “Since there is no objection, I am inclined to adjourn this matter at the instance of the plaintiff for hearing of the application for joinder. “
Counsel to the Independent National Electoral Commission, Mrs Wendy Kuku, N. A. Nnwuchi (SAN) for Jones Onyeriri; Prince Orji Nwafor- Orizu for Senator Osita Izunaso and other parties to the suit did not object to the request for adjournment.
The PDP had in a motion filed by its counsel, S.C. Imo prayed the court for an order extending the time within which it may apply to be joined in the suit.
An order of court joining the PDP as the 8th defendants in the suit as well as an order directing the plaintiff/respondent to amend his originating processes and other subsequent processes issued in the suit in order to reflect the joinder of PDP as the 8th defendant in this suit.
The party in its motion brought pursuant to order 9 rule 25 further prayed the court for an order directing that all originating processes in the suit be served on it as the 8th defendant in this suit.
Justice Taiwo had earlier joined Hon. Jones Onyeriri, Senator Osita Izunaso; Nwachukwu Goodluck Clement of KOWA Party; Uche Onyeoma Ibe of Labour Party; Precious Nwadike of the United Progressive Party (UPP) and the All Progressives Grand Alliance (APGA) as parties to the suit.
Okorocha won in the February 23 Imo West senatorial election on the platform of the All Progressives Congress.
He was however not presented with a Certificate of return by the electoral body as his name was
not listed by the Independent National Electoral Commission among the senators-elect who were presented with their certificates of return by INEC.
The commission claimed the winner of the Imo West Senatorial District election was announced under duress.
It, therefore, did not list anyone as the winner.
The Returning Officer for the election, Prof Francis Ibeawuchi, declared Okorocha as the winner of the poll, having polled 97,762 votes ahead of his closest rival, Mr Jones Onyereri of the Peoples Democratic Party, who had 68,117 votes.
However, both the PDP and the All Progressives Grand Alliance protested against the declaration of Okorocha as the winner of the election.
Ibeawuchi later claimed he was forced to declare Okorocha as the winner to save his life.
He said that he feared for his life and he was forced to announce the result of the poll, which he said was inconclusive, in favour of the governor.
But determined to claim his mandate, Okorocha had in a suit marked FHC/ABJ/CS/296/2019, filed by his counsel, Kehinde Ogunwumiju (SAN) seeks the court order compelling the INEC to issue him a Certificate of Return as the validly elected senator for Imo West Senatorial District.
The matter has so far suffered series setbacks due to some legal theatrics which hampered accelerated hearing of the suit.
One of the major set back was the two petitions that forced Justice Taiwo to hands off the case.
For instance, Onyeriri in his petition addressed to the Chief Judge of the Federal High Court, Justice Abdul Kafarati, dated April 8, 2019,
asked the judge to disqualify himself from the suit.
The petition which was signed by him, Onyeriri demanded that the judge should withdraw from the matter because of his utterances in which he “clearly prejudged the substantive issues that will be resolved in this matter and clearly showed he has taken sides with the plaintiff (Okorocha).”
In an affidavit deposed on his behalf by a lawyer, Chijioke Nzekwe stated that Justice Taiwo on Friday told counsel to the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC), Wendy Kuku that the commission was responsible for the problems in the election.
Nzekwe further averred that “’ the Honourable Judge went further to say that he has read through the provisions of the Electoral Act, 2010 (as amended) and found nothing therein that robs him of the jurisdiction to hear his suit.’
“’ That this pronouncement shocked all the counsel who was present in court and even members of the public and pressmen who were in the gallery because 2nd and the 3rd defendant (INEC and Onyeriri) have Noticed of Preliminary Objection challenging the jurisdiction of the Honourable Court to hear this matter,’” he averred.
In his motion on notice dated April 8, 2019 and brought pursuant to section 22(1) of Federal High Court, 2004, and section 36(1) of the 1999 constitution, Senator Izunaso asked for an order transferring the suit to the Chief Judge of the Federal High Court for reassignment to any other judge of the court.
The motion which was filed by his counsel, Prince Orji Nwafor- Orizu also sought for an order of the court, disqualifying itself from further hearing of the suit, on the grounds that “there is likelihood of bias on the part of this honourable court to continue to hear the suit as the honourable presiding Judge has expressed an opinion favourable to the plaintiff even without the hearing of the substantive suit.
” That the said utterances were made on April 5, 2019, which utterances clearly pre-judged the substantive issues that will be resolved in this matter and clearly showed that the honourable presiding judge has taken sides with the plaintiff. “
When the matter was called yesterday, Justice Taiwo announced his decision to rescue himself from adjudicating on the matter based on allegations of bias against him.
He further announced that the case file will be returned to the Chief Judge of the Federal High Court, Justice Abdul Kafarati for re-assignment to another judge.