Court adjourns hearing on case against Governor Akpabio's election

A Federal High Court in the Federal Capital Territory (FCT) Abuja, presided over by Justice Abdul Kafarati Thursday adjourned till May 23 the hearing of the suit against the election of Godswill Akpabio as governor of Akwa Ibom state.
 
Prior to the April 18 adjournment, Mr. Kafarati had fixed May 3 as date for the presentation of briefs and adoption of final addresses by parties in the case. The date had to be moved to an earlier date following the failure of the People Democratic Party (PDP) and the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) to file their response papers on the substantive suit on time.
 
The substantive suit was filed by Frank Okon against Mr. Akpabio, the PDP and INEC to protest against his alleged wrongful exclusion from the rescheduled January 15, 2011 primaries in which the governor was selected as the party’s flag bearer.
 
But, in the resumed sitting on Thursday, counsel to Mr. Akpabio, Paul Usoro, a senior advocate of Nigeria (SAN), and lead legal representative to the PDP, Olusola Oke, SAN, drew the attention of the court to applications of preliminary objection they both filed on May 2 and April 25 respectively to contest the jurisdiction of the court to continue hearing in the case.
 
In the applications, which Mr. Usoro told the court was served to all the parties on Wednesday, the defendants asked the court to discontinue the hearing of the case. He cited the April 20 judgment of the Supreme Court dismissing the case brought by the embattled former Governor of Bayelsa State, Timipre Sylva, challenging the refusal of the PDP to accept his nomination as candidate in the recent gubernatorial election in the State.
 
Counsel to Frank Okon, Lasun Sanusi, SAN, urged the court to grant a one-week leave to enable his legal team study the application and afford the prosecution the opportunity to come up with an adequate response. He also requested the judge to consider consolidating the review of the application with the hearing on the substantive suit when the court reconvenes, to forestall unnecessary waste of time in handling the two separately.  
 
In granting Mr. Sanusi’s request, the judge adjourned the sitting to Wednesday, May 23. He pointed out that the success or failure of the application would determine the fate of the substantive case, adding that hearing on the case would proceed as scheduled on the failure of the application, or terminated of the case if it succeeds.
 
The adoption of written final addresses by the parties was expected to be the final phase of the legal tussle, to pave the way for the court to fix the date for judgment.

On the other hand, a member of the prosecution team, Andem Ndem, dismissed the application as mere ploy by the defendants “to buy time and cause undue confusion and unnecessary delays to the final judgment.”
 
“Akpabio’s legal team and PDP’s are trying to draw a parallel between Timi Sylva’s case and Frank Okon’s, and to say that the Supreme Court judgment on the former gives them the authority to question the jurisdiction of the court to hear the latter. But, they know that the case in Bayelsa was fundamentally different from that of Akwa Ibom, as the court cannot grant a request in cases that are not similar in any material particular, shape or substance. It is a cheap delay tactics to buy time and postpone the evil day that is certain to come.
 
Mr. Ndem said the defendant had sufficient time “to file the application and serve all the parties long before the sitting, but they deliberately delayed so that the case would not be move forward as earlier scheduled”.
 
The prosecuting team held that Mr. Sylva’s case bordered on his preclusion from contesting the primaries of his party, but Frank Okon case borders on fraud and forgery.
 
“Frank Okon is also contesting the outcome of the primaries he was cleared by the party to participate as one of the candidates, but was deliberately excluded in the rescheduled exercise. So, he is demanding for his right that was denied in an exercise that he was supposed to have been a participant. Sylva’s case was about the PDP denying him the right to contest the primaries.”
 

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