Prof. Dora Akunyili,
From Charles Onyekamuo in Onitsha
The Legislative Houses of Assembly Election Petitions Tribunal sitting in Awka, yesterday struck out the petition filed by former Minister of Information and Communications, Prof. Dora Akunyili, challenging the election of Dr. Chris Ngige, as senator representing Anambra Central Senatorial Zone, saying it lacked jurisdiction to continue to hear it.
In its ruling, the tribunal’s chairman, Justice Pat Onajite-Kuejubola, held that Akunyili’s petition had been bogged down by 180 days provision in Section 285 (6) of the Nigerian Constitution going by the Supreme Court Interpretation of the said provision in the matter of ANPP versus Goni and Action Alliance (AA) Versus INEC delivered on February 14 and 17, 2012 respectively.
The tribunal added that the highest court in the land had handed its decision and not even the Court of Appeal ordering a retrial can overturn it.
“The court lacks the jurisdiction to continue to hear this petition and all issues entered into after the Court of Appeal decision amount to a nullity. There is no doubt that the provision of 180 days within which the petition should be argued and judgment entered in writing had elapsed,” Kuejubola said.
We are bound to so conform. The petition is hereby struck out,” the tribunal held; adding that the issue of jurisdiction is very important and can be raised suo-moto.
It would be recalled that Akunyili’s petition was in the last quarter of last year dismissed by the tribunal for non-filing of pre-Hearing Form FT008. She had gone on appeal at the Court of Appeal in Enugu, which ordered that it should retried on its merit.
But while at the appeal, the 180 days stipulated in the Constitution elapsed and Ngige’s legal team led by Emeka Ngige (SAN) raised the issue through and application, which was however dismissed by the tribunal, with Ngige this time going on appeal.
The Court of Appeal upheld the decision of the lower tribunal, thus paving way for hearing of the case, which had gone midway before the Supreme Court bombshell.
It was not however obtained on a platter yesterday when Ngige’s legal team applied, querying the jurisdiction of the tribunal to continue with the matter in view of the Supreme Court interpretation of Section 285(6) of the Constitution, which clearly ousted its
Akunyili’s counsel, Obiora Obianwu (SAN) had argued that once an issue had been raised and discussed by a court, particularly the final court in election matter, unless the issue was set aside, it remained valid, whether the decision was rightly made or not.
He said the Supreme Court decision will not apply in the instant case because it failed to subsequent the final decision of the Court of Appeal, and that as long as that decision is subsisting, the court can’t reopen the matter.
But Emeka Ngige (SAN) for the respondent (Senator Chris Ngige) said the whole argument was based on issue of ‘estopel’ once it has been decided and that the rule is not immutable but has its exception.
Cousel to INEC, O. J. Nnadi (SAN), while agreeing with Ngige, also argued that the matter was still ongoing and on trial and that counsel was at liberty to raise the issue of jurisdiction. In that case, the court, the court, he said, had no alternative than to abide by the decision of the Supreme Court.
The court he also said was being drawn to look at a decision given after the expiration of 180 days, adding that the court of Appeal may be the final court on election matters; but not the final court in interpreting Section 285(6) of the Constitution. And now having done that, the tribunal cannot out of bold deviance, ignore the decision of the Supreme Court.