The Independent National Electoral Commission, INEC, on Friday urged an Abuja Federal High Court to reject an ex-parte motion filed by the Alhaji Lamidi Apapa-led faction of the Labour Party, LP, to replace the party’s governorship candidate in Imo State.
INEC, in its affidavit to show cause pursuant to the court order, told Justice Inyang Ekwo that the plaintiffs’ suit was statute barred.
The Commission’s counsel, Adenike Adedeji, while adopting the application, said the electoral umpire filed the affidavit on Nov. 9 in reaction to the motion ex-parte marked: FHC/ABJ/CS/1357/2023 which was filed on Nov. 6.
She urged the court to dismiss the motion as the subject matter of the plaintiffs’ case was pre-electoral which ought to have been filed 14 days after the actual cause of action.
Adedeji, who argued that the case was statute barred, said the court lacked jurisdiction to hear and determine the same.
The News Agency of Nigeria (NAN) reports that an Executive Officer in the Litigation Department of INEC, Mohammed Shagari, who deposed to the affidavit, said LP submitted Athan Achonu’s name and particulars as its candidate for Nov. 11 governorship poll on May 26.
He said the electoral umpire duly published Achonu’s particulars as required by law.
Shagari averred that the present case filed in November was statute barred.
“It will not serve the interest of justice to grant the reliefs sought,” he said.
But counsel to the plaintiffs, Anderson Asemota, who held the brief of Mohammed Mohammed, SAN, disagreed with Adedeji.
Asemota, while adopting the further affidavit he deposed to, argued that LP, the 1st plaintiff in the suit, only submitted to INEC Chief Joseph Ukaegbu (7th plaintiff)’s name as its authentic candidate that emerged from the April 16 primaries.
He said Achonu’s name was neither submitted to INEC by the LP nor was the name declared to be the party’s candidate of the April 16 primaries and by virtue of the judgment of Owerri Federal High Court which affirmed the primary conducted by the Apapa faction as being valid.
Besides, he said the Appeal Court and the Supreme Court affirmed the Owerri court judgment which also declared Apapa and Alhaji Lawal Saleh as acting National Chairman and acting National Secretary of the LP respectively.
The lawyer, who said the Commission treated the judgments of the courts with ignominy, stated that the court had the duty to protect the judgments and should not allow its orders to be treated with disdain and impunity.
Okwudili Anozie and Kehinde Edun announced appearances as lawyers to parties interested to be joined in the matter.
NAN observes that while Anozie represented Achonu, Edun, who was said to be the National Legal Adviser of Julius Abure-led LP, said the plaintiffs were not authorised to file the case.
Justice Ekwo, however, declined to grant their application for joinder.
The judge had earlier declined to grant the motion ex-parte brought to stop Achonu from being the party’s standard bearer for Saturday’s governorship election.
Rather, the court ordered the plaintiffs to put INEC, the sole defendant in the suit, on notice to show cause why the reliefs should not be granted.
Delivering the ruling on Friday, Justice Ekwo said he had perused and noted the issues canvassed by the parties.
He said the essence of making an order for a party to show cause “is to prevent a situation where the court is led upon hearing only one side to make an order that Is not only contrary to reason but damages the course of justice and exposes the very essence of jurisprudence to damning reprobation.”
“Therefore, an order to show cause Is a cautionary step in procedural law which enables the court to halt proceeding on the ex parte application in order obtain more information from the defendant to an urgent application of the plaintiff to enable the court to come to justifiable decision on the merit of the prayers made in the ex parte.”
The judge, therefore, held that the instant case had become a contentious matter that ought to be heard and determined on the merit upon considering the averments in the applications filed by the parties.
“In our jurisprudence, ex-parte application and affidavit to show cause are not proper processes designed to be employed to determine contentious issues,” he said.
According to him, the averments of the plaintiffs in their ex-parte application having been controverted by the defendant, it is only proper for the matter to be determined on the merit of the substantive case.
Justice Ekwo, who refused the prayers in the ex-parte motion, ordered accelerated hearing in the matter.
He adjourned the matter until Nov. 23 for hearing.
“Parties are hereby ordered to file and exchange relevant processes at least 7 days before the next date of hearing.
“This shall be the order of this court,” he declared.
NAN reports that the plaintiffs include LP; Alhaji Apapa (Acting National Chairman); Alhaji Lawal Saleh (Acting National Secretary) and Comrade Abayomi Arabambi (National Publicity Secretary).
Others are Comrade Anslem Eragbe (National Youth Leader); Barr. Akingbade Oyelekan (National Legal Adviser) and Chief Joseph Ikechukwu Ukaegbu (Gubernatorial candidate, Imo State) as 1st to 7th plaintiffs respectively.