Alex Enumah writes that Mr. Iboro Otu, governorship candidate of the Abundant Nigeria Renewal Party (ANRP) insists that the decision by the Akwa State Governorship Election Petition Tribunal to shut him out reveals part of a wider plot to prevent him from bringing before the election panel strong evidence that would establish claim of rigging and substantial non-compliance with the electoral laws
There is palpable apprehension as the Chief Judge of the Federal High Court, Abuja ordered the return of two suits filed by the candidate of the Abundant Nigeria Renewal Party (ANRP) in the March 9, governorship election in Akwa Ibom State, Iboro Otu to a regular court.
Otu is among the contestants challenging the declaration of Udom Emmanuel as winner of the Akwa Ibom State governorship poll.
He had approached the Federal High Court, Abuja to challenge his exclusion from the Akwa Ibom State Governorship Election Petition Tribunal in Uyo, Akwa Ibom State, the designated court for election matters.
He also sued the President of the Court of Appeal for refusing to attend to Hus matter.
The suits are; FHC/ABJ/CS/550/2019 and Suit No. FHC/ABJ/CS/652/2019.
In the first suit marked; FHC/ABJ/CS/652/2019; the Independent National Electoral Commission, Udom Emmanuel, Peoples Democratic Party, the Chairman, Akwa Ibom State Gubernatorial Elections Petition Tribunal, and the Registrar, Akwa Ibom State Gubernatorial Elections Petition Tribunal are joined as 1st to 5th respondents respectively.
The other with suit number FHC/ABJ/550/2019 has the President of the Court of Appeal and another as defenfants.
The suit filed on behalf of Otu, by his lawyer, Faruk Khamagham, is supported by a nine-paragraph affidavit deposed to by the applicant.
According to Otu, all efforts to get the tribunal to accept his petition against the outcome of the March 9 governorship election in Akwa Ibom State proved abortive, including protest letters written to the president of the Court of Appeal against the refusal of the tribunal to accept his petition.
In the suit dated June 10 but filed June 11, the plaintiff averred that the Registrar of the Akwa Ibom State Gubernatorial Elections Petition Tribunal had on March 30, 2019, refused to accept his petition against the governorship poll on the grounds that, “it would take some minutes to process a Remitta payment and obtain a receipt and that before accomplishing that, the time would have lapsed into the next day being March 31, 2019.”
But Otu has insisted that the decision by the tribunal to shut him out reveals part of a wider plot to prevent him from bringing before the election panel strong evidence that would establish claim of rigging, substantial non-compliance with the electoral laws as well as other electoral malpractices that marred the governorship poll.
However, the fate of Otu has been further jeopardized following a letter by Acting Chief Judge of the Federal High Court, rejecting his application for expeditious hearing of the two suits owing to the time bound nature of electoral matters.
The acting CJ declined to grant the plaintiff’s application that the suits be heard during vacation on grounds that it was a post election matter that ought to be heard by a regular court.
Although the matter was earlier assigned to Justice Ahmed Mohammed and was listed for mention July 3, the court however, did not sit on the scheduled date.
He was later told that the suit would be reassigned to a vacation judge due to the time bound nature of electoral matters.
But in the two separate letters dated August 8 and 9, cited by our Correspondent, the acting CJ refused the applications and ordered that they be returned to the regular court for continuation of hearing.
In the letter dated August 8 regarding suit number: FHC/ABJ/550/2019 involving the President of the Court of Appeal, the acting CJ returned the case file to the regular court on grounds that “The case is not a post election matter,” which in the other suit involving INEC and others the acting CJ held that, “The matter shall continue before the regular court being a post election suit.”
Both letters were signed by one Ambrose Unaeze, Special Assistant to the Acting Chief Judge.
According to the plaintiff the two cases filed at the Federal High Court are political and bothers on his ambition to become Governor of Akwa Ibom State and as such should have been heard by a vacation court.
He submitted that the decision of the CJ to keep the suits till after the annual judicial vacation was detrimental to his cause.
“The consequence of the Chief Judge’s decision is that Mr. Otu will not have the opportunity to present his case before the Gubernatorial Elections Tribunal because the constitution stipulates that all such case ought to be determined within 180 days from the date of declaration of the results of the elections,” his lawyer said.
The results of the elections were declared on 11th March 2019, and by the 11th September 2019 when the 180 days required by law elapses the Courts would still be shut.
The annual vacation ends on Friday September 13, 2019.
His lawyer however said the situation leaves his client with no other option than to consider other avenues outside the Federal High Court and outside the Electoral Tribunal to ventilate his grievances.
Part of the reliefs sought in the suit include, “A declaration that the persistent refusal by the Respondents to cause the Applicants Petition to be received and duly treated, constitutes a grave infringement of the Applicants rights to fair hearing guaranteed under Sections 36(6) of the Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria 1999 (As Amended.)
“That the gubernatorial election held in Akwa Ibom State on 9th March 2019 was marred by illegality and substantial irregularities and the result thereof ought not to stand.
“An order directing the Independent National Electoral Commission to conduct fresh elections into the office of Governor of Akwa Ibom State within 30days of the date of the Judgment of this court.”