The Federal High Court in Abuja presided over by Justice Abdul Kafarati has named July 12, 2012 for the final ruling in the case brought against the election of Akwa Ibom state governor, Godswill Akpabio.
A People Democratic Party (PDP) governorship aspirant in the April 2011 elections in the state, Frank Okon, had gone to court seeking the nullification of the election on ground that his exclusion from the party primaries held on January 15, 2011, which returned the governor as the party flag bearer, breached his fundamental human rights.
Although Mr. Okon said he was screened and cleared by the PDP to participate in the primaries initially held on January 9, 2011, he claimed he was excluded from the subsequent re-run fixed for January 15 after the National Working Committee (NWC) of the party cancelled the outcome of the of the exercise on January 14, 2011.
Besides, Mr. Okon also contested the governor’s election on grounds that the PDP committed fraud on the result sheet submitted to the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) by forging the signature of its former National Chairman, Okwesilieze Nwodo, despite the fact that a court in Enugu had removed him from office more than 72 hours before the primaries.
At the court sitting on May 3, 2012, the presentation of final briefs by all interested parties on the originating application earlier fixed for the day, was put off following an application by Paul Usoro, a senior advocate of Nigeria (SAN), on behalf of the governor for a preliminary objection to the jurisdiction of the court to continue hearing in the case.
Mr. Usoro drew attention of the judge to the April 20, 2012 judgment of the Supreme Court dismissing the appeal by the embattled former Governor of Bayelsa State, Timipre Sylva, against his exclusion as candidate in the recent gubernatorial election in the State
In its ruling in the case, the Supreme Court said that the decision to sponsor a candidate for election is the internal decision of the political party, and not subject to being contested in court.
Mr. Usoro therefore requested the court to dismiss the application of the plaintiff based on the submission that the case is similar, as it also bordered on the decision of the PDP.
But, at the resumed hearing on Wednesday, counsel to the plaintiff, Lasun Sanusi, SAN, in his response to the application, argued that there was no basis to compare Mr. Sylva’s case with that of his client, as the two are fundamentally different.
“Sylva was never cleared by the party to stand for election,” Mr. Sanusi said.
“In the plaintiff’s case, he was screened and cleared by the party to stand for that primaries election, and therefore has the right to challenge the conduct of that primaries election. Again, his name was conspicuously displayed on the ballot paper for the January 9, 2011 election. So also was it on the result sheet of that election.”
Ruling on the application for a preliminary objection to the jurisdiction of the court to hear the case would be entered on July 12 along with the final judgment.
But, before adopting the final briefs of the parties, Counsel to INEC had asked the court to dismiss the application against the Commission for wrongful acceptance of a candidate for an election, saying the relevant provisions of the Electoral Act have not granted it any powers to reject a candidate for election that has been forwarded to it by the relevant officials of the political party.
Counsel to the PDP, Olusola Oke, SAN, argued that claims by the plaintiff that he was excluded to contest the primaries could not be true, considering that available evidence showed that he was aware of the rescheduled election of January 15, 2011, but choose to stay away for personal reasons.
But, in his submission, Mr. Sanusi said that there was nothing in the constitution and regulation of the PDP to show that the party is authorised to accept as valid its documents printed in advance for an election, pointing out that of that is acceptable, the party may publish the result of elections before they are held.
He urged the court to grant the reliefs of his client that his fundamental right was bridged with his exclusion from the primaries.