Alex Enumah in Abuja
The Court of Appeal, Abuja Division on Thursday nullified the judgment of an Abuja High Court removing Senator Ifeanyi Ubah from the National Assembly.
A three-man panel of justices of the appellate court held that the judgment delivered by Justice Bello Kawu of a High Court of the Federal Capital Territory (FCT) was a nullity because the suit was unlawfully instituted and did not comply with any known law.
Ubah, the candidate of the Young Progressive Party (YPP) in the February 23 senatorial elections, had in January this year approached the Court of Appeal to upturn the judgment of Justice Kawu, which ordered his removal from the Senate over alleged act of forgery.
Delivering judgment in the appeal, the court held that its findings revealed that the originating summons was not signed by the counsel to the plaintiffs.
Ubah had in a motion filed on March 6, 2020 by his lead lawyer, Dr Onyechi Ikpeazu (SAN), urged the court to hold that the trial court lacked jurisdiction to have heard the matter in the first place because the originating summon was incompetent having not been signed by the lawyer who instituted the legal action.
In its ruling, the appellate court agreed that the failure to sign the originating summons was fatal to the case, as well as the judgment which arose from it.
According to Justice Adah, for the process to command legitimacy, it must be duly signed, adding that the rule of the lower court makes signing mandatory.
“An incompetent originating process cannot activate the jurisdiction of the court. Therefore in the instant case, the court processes are defective and incurably bad. The law is clear and unambiguous that it is mandatory that originating process must be signed. This is fundamental that validity of originating summon must not be in dispute. Any originating summons not signed by a counsel who issued it out is worthless and incompetent,” he said.
Also delivering judgment in the main appeal, Justice Adah held that the judgment and the entire process being incompetent cannot be affected by section 285 which makes a case invalid if not filed within 14 days.
The Court of Appeal also held that there was no evidence that Senator Ubah was given fair hearing before judgment was entered against him at the lower court.
Justice Adah also held that the lower court in the first instance ought not to have heard the case since the cause of litigation arose outside its jurisdiction.
Ubah, who represents Anambra South Senatorial District at the upper legislative Chambers, was declared winner of the February 23 Anambra South Senatorial election by the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) and was accordingly sworn in as a Senator of the 9th Assembly last year.
His election was also upheld by the Anambra State National Assembly Election Petition Tribunal and the Court of Appeal.
However, Justice Kawu delivering judgment on April 11, 2019 in a suit filed by one Anani Chuka, nullified Ubah’s election on the premise that he allegedly used a forged National Examination Council (NECO) certificate to contest the senatorial election that brought him into office as Senator.
Justice Kawu on January 17, 2020, further upheld his judgment in a ruling on Ubah’s application seeking a setting aside of his sack order on the grounds that the application lacked merit.
The court after sacking Ubah ordered INEC to withdraw the certificate of return it issued to Ubah and issue a fresh one to Dr. Obinna Uzoh of the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP), who came second in the election.
Miffed by the decision, Ubah had on same day approached the Court of Appeal to set aside the judgment which he insisted occasioned grave miscarriage of justice against him.
Respondents in the appeal include Anani Chuka, Young Progressive Party (YPP), INEC and Dr Obinna Uzoh as 1st, 2nd, 3rd and 4th respondents respectively.