By Taiye Agbaje
The Federal High Court, Abuja, on Thursday, ordered the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) to issue Sen. Ifeanyi Ararume a certificate of return within 72 hours in the Dec. 5, 2020 Imo North Senatorial By-election.
Justice Taiwo Taiwo, in a judgment, said having been declared as the valid candidate of the All Progressives Congress (APC) which had won the election, Ararume remained the winner of the poll.
According to him, with regard to the Appeal Court judgment in Abuja, the 3rd defendant (Chukwuma Ibezim) remains disqualified.
The News Agency of Nigeria (NAN) reports that while Ararume is the plaintiff; INEC, APC and Ibezim are 1st to 3rd defendants respectively.
Araraume had dragged INEC before Justice Taiwo, asking the court to compel the commission to issue him certificate of return as the valid candidate of the APC in the said election.
He urged the court to invoke the judgments of the Abuja Federal High Court and that of an Appeal Court to disqualify Ibezim and declare him as the rightful candidate for the APC.
Having been joined in the suit, the APC insisted that Ararume was not its validly elected candidate while Ibezim urged the court to dismiss Ararume’s prayers, saying he remained the part’s authentic candidate.
In opposing Ararume’s suit, APC told the court that it never fielded him for the Dec. 5, 2020, Senatorial Bye-election for Imo North.
The party insisted that Ararume lacked the locus standi to lay claim to the candidacy and urged the court to dismiss his suit.
NAN reports that Ibezim and Araraume had fielded themselves as APC candidates prior to the election.
Although INEC had declared APC winner of the Dec. 5, 2020 Senatorial poll, the commission did not return a candidate from the party.
INEC hinged its decision on what it described as “several court orders” for and against the two major contenders.
Two court judgments had surfaced on Dec. 4, 2020; one from the Court of Appeal, Owerri, and another from the Federal High Court, Abuja.
The Court of Appeal faulted the judgment of the Federal High Court, Owerri, which had nullified the candidacy of Ibezim and declared him candidate while sacking Araraume barely 24 hours to the election.
However, Justice Inyang Ekwo of Abuja Federal High Court had on the other hand disqualified Ibezim as candidate of the party, on the grounds that Ibezim presented fake certificates to the APC and INEC.
Although the judgment would have been delivered on March 16 by Justice Taiwo, Ibezim, through his lawyer, Miss Ozohu Daudu, in an application for a stay of judgment, informed the court that the suit was pending before the apex court for hearing and determination.
But Counsel to Ararume, Tunde Falola, disagreed, saying the suit at the Supreme Court had been withdrawn through a notice of withdrawal and copies served on all the defendants.
He urged the court to dismissed the application.
Reading the judgement, Justice Taiwo disagreed with the APC that his court had no jurisdiction to hear Ararume’s application.
“In agreement with the plaintiff, this court has the jurisdiction to entertain this matter.
“I find no merit in the preliminary objection of the APC,” he said.
He further dismissed APC’s claim that even if Ibezim was disqualified, another aspirant, Mathew Omegara, who came second in the party’s primary election, ought to have been declared winner.
Although Taiwo acknowledged that a person who came second in an election should be declared winner where a candidate who won was disqualified, he however asked rhetorically: “Where is the person that came second in the primaries of the 2nd defendant?”
He noted that based on the record before the court, Omegara had been disqualified to participate in the poll by the APC Screening Committee and Screening Appeal Committee.
According to him, I did not agree with 2nd defendant that the 3rd defendant is its candidate having disqualified the plaintiff before the primary election.
He said Section 66 of the constitution of the country had highlighted the counts for disqualification of aspirants in an election.
He recalled that the case of Ararume was between INEC until the court joined the APC and Ibezim.
Taiwo said he was also bound by the record before the court which implied that the APC’s candidate was Ararume.
“This was affirmed by the 1st defendant (INEC) who conducted the election by the admission of paragraph 3 of the plaintiff’s affidavit in support of the originating summon,” he held.
According to him, the position of the law is that what is admitted need no further proof.
He also disagreed with the APC that granting the reliefs sought by Ararume might be prejudiced to the appeal pending before the Court of Appeal and the Supreme Court.
“As at today, there is no appeal at the Supreme Court except the one already dealt with,” he said.
The judge said the court was bound by the judgment of the Appeal Court, citing previous cases to back his decision.
He said going by the Abuja Court of Appeal, Ibezim remained disqualified.
“The candidate of the 2nd defendant is narrowed down to the plaintiff who contested at the bye-election.
“As at today, the plaintiff remains the candidate of the 2nd defendant at the Imo North Senatorial District By-election held on Dec 5, 2020.
“I therefore order that the 1st defendant (INEC) declare the plaintiff (Ararume) as the winner of the election having declared his party, the All Progressives Party, the winner.
“I also order that the plaintiff be issued Form EC8E and a Certificate of Return within 72 hours from today,” he ruled.
Earlier in a ruling, Justice Taiwo dismissed Ibezim’s application for stay of judgment pending the hearing and determination of the suit at the Supreme Court.
The judge, who held that the application lacked merit, said based on the record before the court, no suit was pending at the apex court.
“The notice of withdrawal of suit filed by the plaintiff (Ararume) has accomplished its purpose once it is filed.
“The appeal has come to an end by the notice of withdrawal. The matter has ceased to exist,” citing previous cases to back his decision.
“All parties are bound by and must respect the rule of practice.
“It becomes mere academic exercise to consider this application.
“I agree with counsel to the plaintiff that the aim of the application is to arrest the judgment of this court.
“It was filed just six days to the delivery of the judgment.
“There is no iota of merit in the application and accordingly dismissed,” he ruled.