The Federal High Court, Abuja, on Friday, dismissed a suit filed by Hudu Yunusa-Ari, the suspended Resident Electoral Commissioner (REC) in Adamawa State, seeking protection against arrest, detention or prosecution by the police and others.
The judge, James Omotosho, in a judgement, dismissed the suit for lacking in merit.
Mr Omotosho held that Mr Yunusa-Ari, in his fundamental rights enforcement suit, made an elaborate show by trying to shield himself from being arrested, detained or prosecuted by security agencies, but that there was no ground where such immunity could have been granted by the court.
INEC had last July filed charges against Mr Yunusa-Ari, over his illegal declaration of cooked-up results at the last Adamawa State governorship election on 16 April 2023.
He caused a stir when he illegally declared the All Progressives Congress (APC) candidate, Aisha Dahiru, popularly known as Binani, the election winner a day after the supplementary polls. When he made the declaration, votes were still being counted, and the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) candidate, Ahmadu Fintiri, was in a clear lead.
Ms Dahiru’s legal efforts to have the courts affirm the winner of the election based on the fake results declared by Mr Yunusa failed, with the Supreme Court dismissing his case in January.
Delivering judgement on Mr Yunusa-Ari’s suit seeking to block his arrest and trial for electoral fraud, Mr Omotosho of the Federal High Court agreed with the respondents that the suspended REC derailed his claims by arguing that the respondents subjected him to a media trial.
He observed that Mr Yunusa-Ari also claimed that his fundamental right was breached by the respondents for posting negative information against him on social media, while insisting that he was not giving fair hearing.
‘Fair hearing not breached’
But Mr Omotosho held that the issue of fair hearing had nothing to do with publications of newsworthy matters by the media practitioners in order not to fail in their responsibility of dissemination of information to the society.
He said “news reported by the media is not a court of law and that the media, as the fourth estate of the realm, must be free to report at all times.”
Besides, he said the applicant had not shown that he was dragged to any court or tribunal but only claimed that the respondents engaged in a media trial against him.
The News Agency of Nigeria (NAN) reports that the suspended REC had, in a suit marked: FHC/ABJ/CS/563/2023, sued the Inspector-General (I-G) of Police, and the Nigeria Police Force as 1st and 2nd respondents.
Also joined in the suit filed by his lawyer, Jibrin Okutepa, a Senior Advocate of Nigeria (SAN), included the Attorney-General of Federation and Minister of Justice, Director of the State Security Service (SSS) and Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) as 3rd to 5th respondents respectively.
Mr Yunusa-Ari, who sought eight reliefs, prayed an order of perpetual injunction, restraining the respondents from arresting, detaining or causing his arrest or detention, harassment or intimidation for carrying out his lawful duties as the INEC REC in Adamawa during the supplementary governorship election held in the state on 15 April 2023.
He also sought an order directing the respondents to publish an apology in two national dailies “for the unlawful and unconstitutional media trials and negative press interviews, press statements/release, social media posts, publications etc against” him for carrying out his lawful duties as INEC REC.
Grounds of his suit
Giving six grounds, he said he was the REC during 23 February 2023 and March 18, 2023, general elections, including the supplementary poll on 15 April 2023.
He said after the general elections, he issued an interim report which raised a lot of criminal issues against security agencies and some INEC staff.
He said the respondents only considered part of his report, leading to the conduct of a supplementary governorship and state house of assembly elections on 15 April 2023 in the state.
He averred that upon the conclusion of the supplementary poll, he wrote his report and to his total shock and dismay, instead of investigating the persons named in his report and the issues raised in the said report, the respondents had continuously embarked on media trials against him.
Mr Yunusa-Ari alleged that the respondents and their agents, without any valid judgment and conviction by a competent court, had made several press and social media pronouncements against him that he was guilty of a criminal offence in the performances of his lawful duties as INEC REC.
He described the acts as “a gross violation of his constitutional right to fair hearing.”
But delivering the judgement, Mr Omotosho held that the only issue to determine in the case was whether the fundamental rights of Yunusa-Ari were breached by any of the respondents.
The judge said though the fundamental rights are sacrosanct to every human being, the rights are not absolute.
He held that the suspended REC filed the suit quoting Section 35 of Chapter 4 of the 1999 Constitution to prevent himself from being prosecuted for the role he played in the 2023 Adamawa governorship election.
“This court will not shield any person against investigation or prosecution if a prima facie case is established against such person,” the judge said.
Mr Omotosho described the suit as “highly unmeritorious.”
“This suit is hereby dismissed for lack of merit,” he said.
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