The Federal High Court, Abuja, has fixed March 25 to deliver judgment on a suit seeking to stop the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) from resuming collation or announcing result of Tafawa Balewa Local Government Area of Bauchi State.
Justice Inyang Ekwo fixed the date after counsel in the matter adopted their written addresses on Thursday.
The All Progressives Congress, (APC) and Bauchi State governor, Mohammed Abubakar dragged INEC to court over the Bauchi elections.
They were challenging the commission’s decision to resume collation, conclude and announce results of Tafawa Balewa Local Government Area in respect of the election to the office of governor of Bauchi State.
The APC and Mr Abubakar asked the court for a declaration that INEC, having led them to believe that there would be a supplementary election, could not go back and continue with collation of ballots that a Returning Officer had termed rejected.
They maintained that the powers of the returning officer, having declared the election inconclusive, could only be upturned by a court and not by INEC.
Addressing the court, Ahmed Raji (SAN), counsel to the APC and Mr Abubakar, submitted that INEC was wrong to have challenged the jurisdiction of the court to hear the matter and referred them to an Election Petition Tribunal.
According to Mr Raji, the only instance where an election petition tribunal was conferred with jurisdiction to hear such a matter was where a winner was announced.
“Under Section 282 of the 1999 Constitution, where a petition is filed and a return has not been made, the petition is incompetent.
“Once a return has not been made, the election petition tribunal does not have jurisdiction to entertain the matter, so there is no law to support their submission that we should have gone to the tribunal.
“Where a return has been made, the proper place is the tribunal but where a return has not been made, like in this case, where do we go,” Mr Raji wondered.
According to him, “We are questioning the administrative decision of INEC to summersault on its earlier position to conduct a supplementary election.
‘We feel that our right to fair hearing has been breached because we were preparing for an election so why the sudden change?
”This is not a post- election matter, it is more in the nature of a pre- election matter or in the middle of the election.
“The election petition tribunal has jurisdiction only when a return has been made and in this case no return has been made so if we take it to the tribunal, it will be dead on arrival.”
Mr Raji urged the court to overrule the objection of INEC noting that if it was not overruled, his client would be left with no remedy.
Counsel to INEC, Abdulazeez Inuwa insisted that the matter before the court bordered on collation of results which according to Section 133 of the Electoral Act, was part of the process of election which the court lacked jurisdiction over.
Mr Inuwa insisted that where there was an issue bordering on elections, it was the tribunal that was properly empowered by the law to handle it.
He maintained that APC and Mr Abubakar were hasty going to court adding that they should have allowed INEC to conclude the election process before going to court.
On the arguments that INEC did not consult APC and Mr Abubakar before changing its mind on the issue of a supplementary election, Mr Inuwa argued that the commission was given powers by law to conduct elections without interference.
“After the commission has concluded the process, anybody is at liberty to challenge the commission at the tribunal.
“So we are submitting with all humility that this court does not have powers to entertain any matter relating to post elections.”
Mr Inuwa urged the court to dismiss the plaintiff’s suit for lacking in merit.
Mr Ekwo commended both counsel saying that their attitude towards the case was proof that speedy trials were not only possible but practicable.
He said the matter was filed on March 18, and by March 21, counsel has adopted written addresses and judgment would be delivered on March 25.