By Alex Enumah in Abuja
Senator Dino Melaye yesterday lost his bid at the Court of Appeal to stop the process leading to his recall by the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC).
The court in a unanimous decision, whose lead judgment was delivered by Justice T.O. Awotoye, dismissed Dino’s appeal for lacking in merit as it disclosed no cause of action.
Justice Awotoye resolved all the issues contained in favour of INEC and upheld the decision of the Federal High Court, which held that Melaye’s suit was “hasty, premature and presumptuous”.
Melaye, not satisfied with the judgment delivered by Justice Nnamdi Dimgba of the Federal High Court, approached the Court of Appeal to reverse the decision and stop INEC from going ahead with the recall process.
Delivering judgment on the appeal yesterday, the appellate court agreed with the decision of the trial court and held that the court ought to have struck out the suit for not disclosing any cause of action.
The court also dismissed the appellant’s claim that he was denied fair hearing by the electoral umpire before commencing the recall process, noting that INEC was neither a tribunal nor a court of law.
Justice Atowoye further held that there was no limitation to the counting of the 90 days for the recall process, as it can be extended, adding that INEC’s powers was statutory and not even the court could take away its powers to conduct a referendum.
“The powers of the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) are statutory given by the constitution and not even the court can take away the powers of INEC to conduct a referendum.
“Such statutory bodies like the INEC should be allowed to exercise their statutory powers without interference by the court.
“The appellant cannot claim that his right to fair hearing was infringed upon. His right to fair hearing has not been violated since INEC as a statutory body is not a tribunal neither is it a court of law.
“The appellant has not disclosed any case of action and the suit ought to have been struck out by the trial court for not disclosing any cause of action.
“I agree with the decision of the trial court. Ordinarily, it ought to have struck out the suit for non-disclosure of cause of action. This is because where there is no cause of action, the court has no jurisdiction to hear the suit.
“Having resolved all the issues in the appeal against the appellant, I hereby strike out the suit and dismiss the appeal,” Justice Awotoye held.
The electoral body had sent a letter notifying the lawmaker of a petition for his recall, in accordance with its guidelines for the recall of members of the National Assembly.
To carry out the verification of the petitioners, INEC said it would on July 3, 2017, issue a public notice stating the day(s), time, location and other details for the verification.
Melaye, however, approached the Federal High Court in Abuja asking it to declare the petition presented to INEC illegal, unlawful and unconstitutional.
In the suit, he sought a declaration that the recall process “is tainted with bad faith, political malice and personal vendetta”, alleging that the petition was signed by “fictitious and none existing persons” in his senatorial district.
He also asked the court to determine whether, by the provisions of Sections 68 and 69 of the 1999 Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria, he could be vividly recalled when the petition was allegedly signed by persons who did not come from his senatorial constituency.
Delivering judgment in the suit, Justice Dimgba dismissed the suit on the ground that it was “hasty, premature and presumptuous”.
The judge said no injustice had been done to him by the refusal of INEC and those behind his recall to serve him copies of the petition against him and signatures of registered voters, who endorsed the petition.
Justice Dimgba said the petitioners and INEC were not obligated under the constitution to oblige Melaye or any legislator to be recalled with copies of the documents against him.
The judge, however, added that, in the spirit of good administrative procedure, INEC should avail Melaye with a copy of the petition and other accompanying documents to enable him prepare for the stakeholders’ meeting for the commencement of the verification exercise within two weeks from the date of the judgment.
The judge said the counting of the 90 days for the recall process, halted by the July 6 order, now resumes from the day the judgment was given.
Meanwhile, Melaye, who spoke through his lawyer, Nkem Okoro has vowed to appeal the decision at the Supreme Court.