Governor Yahaya Bello, on Friday, told the Federal High Court in Abuja that he was ready to defend himself in the allegation of ‘double registration’ made against him by the governorship candidate of the Social Democratic Party (SDP), Natasha Akpoti.
Mr Bello was accused of registering first as a voter in 2011 in Abuja but procured another registration on May 23, 2017, at the Government House in Lokoja.
INEC had in 2017 accused Mr Bello of double registration and said he would have been prosecuted “but for his immunity.”
Section 308 of the Nigerian constitution gives state governors immunity from prosecution.
Ms Akpoti’s suit which was filed on October 14 with No. FHC/ABJ/CS/221/2019 stated that Mr Bello’s double registration “was to scuttle the electoral process and so he is not fit to be voted for or occupy the office of governor.”
The questions for determination among others are whether Mr Bello, who is the candidate of the APC, has by his act of double registration, committed “a wrongful act capable of disqualifying him as a voter or person to be voted for,” having violated the provisions of section 24(e) of the Electoral Act, 2010 as amended.
But Mr Bello, reacting in a counter-affidavit filed by his lawyer, M.Y. Abdullahi, explained that he did not engage in double registration as alleged by Ms Akpoti.
The affidavit was deposed to by a lawyer from Mr Abdullahi’s law firm, Khaliat Bello.
It reads: “That on the 23rd day of May 2017, the alleged date of double registration, he was outside the shores of Nigerian and couldn’t have been anywhere in Nigeria to do voter registration.
“That as of fact, he travelled out of Nigeria on the 18th day of May 2017 and never entered the country until about 28th day of May 2017.”
The affidavits put it that the copies of Mr Bello’s travel documents which show the immigration exit and entry stamps were attached jointly as ‘Exhibit A.’
“That he is ready and prepared to defend himself against the allegation of double registration framed against him by the plaintiff.
“That he wants to join and defend the plaintiff’s suit no: FHC/ABJ/CS/1221/2019 as a defendant.
“That the proposed counter-affidavit and written address of the applicant is attached and marked ‘Exhibit B.'”
Governor Bello argued that since the reliefs sought by Ms Akpoti were against his nomination, qualification and candidacy, he urged the court to join him as the third defendant in the suit prior to the hearing of the originating processes.
Mr Bello, represented by a lawyer, Mike Enahoro, also sought an order of the court directing Ms Ampoti and the original defendants to serve him all the processes filed by them in the suit in the interest of justice.
Mr Enahoro said the application was filed on Friday because he got wind of the suit the previous day.
The lawyer representing Ms Akpoti, Mike Ozekhome, who acknowledged receipt of the motion, said it sought to stop the court’s proceeding on the matter.
Mr Ozekhome urged the court not to grant the request since the election was Saturday.
On his part, the lawyer to the APC, Abdulwahab Mohammed, said he would need more time to study the motion.
However, counsel to INEC, Alhassan Umar, said he had no objection to the motion.
Prior to this, Justice Inyang Ekwo, who adjourned the matter to November 21, said the decision was to afford Governor Bello, who sought to be joined in the matter, a fair hearing.
Mr Ekwo said though the election would be on Saturday, that would not stop the court from doing its business.
The judge then gave the plaintiff two days to amend their processes to accommodate Governor Yahaya Bello as a defendant.
He also granted all the defendants, including Mr Bello, two days to reply upon being served by the plaintiff.
The judge held that all preliminary objections in the suit would be taken on the adjourned date and added that any party absent on that day would be deemed to have adopted them.
Addressing journalists after the court sitting, Mr Ozekhome described Governor Bello’s application as a ploy to delay justice.
“We are ready to go on with the case but through the deployment of delay tactics, Governor Yahaya Bello, through a counsel today, suddenly brought in a motion to be joined in the suit.
“We did not sue him, being aware of Section 308 of the 1999 Constitution that confers absolute immunity on the governors.
“So we sue APC and INEC and APC is a party fielding him under Section 177 of the constitution. So he doesn’t need to be in the matter,” he said.
Mr Ozekhome stressed that the application would be opposed on the adjourned date.
Also speaking with journalists, Mr Enahoro expressed dissatisfaction why the governor was not made a party in the suit, yet his name was mentioned in all the plaintiff’s three questions for determination by the court.
“There has been so much hurry to have this case determined before the election.
“You will recall that the law permits pre-election matters to be determined within 180 days. This suit is barely 30 days and yet there is a hurry
“You cannot shave someone’s head in his absence, ” he said.
Mr Enahoro described the act as “a joke and an abuse of court process.
“We have furnished the court with sufficient materials. Nigerians will see it that this case is a joke.”