By Alex Enumah
Justice Ijeoma Ojukwu yesterday adjourned till January 19, 2020 for definite hearing in the suit seeking to recognize the Olu Falae-led National Executive Committee (NEC) of the Social Democratic Party (SDP).
Justice Ojukwu fixed the date following an oral application by lead counsel for the plaintiffs, Mr Tani Molaji, SAN for time to enable the plaintiffs file their counter affidavit to the preliminary objection to the suit raised by the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) and five other defendants.
The court had last month adjourned for definite hearing in the suit by the SDP and 11 others against the leadership of the Professor Tunde Adeniran, group.
When the matter was mentioned, Molaji, informed the court that although trial was slated for December 7, however, following recent applications by defendants in the suit, the trial would not be able to proceed as scheduled.
He disclosed that INEC which had all the while maintained neutrality, pledging to abide by whatever the court decided, filed a notice of preliminary objection to the suit, as well as a defence statement.
In addition he informed the court that the 12th defendant (INEC), prayed for an extension of time for the process to be regularized and deemed filed and served on all parties.
Counsel to the plaintiffs, who lamented the development, said it is sad that the defendants chose to come up with their various motions not only at “the 11th hour but at the eve of trial.”
He however accused INEC of colluding with some of the defendants, adding that a look at the applications revealed that they are all saying the same thing.
The SDP, Chief Supo Shonibare and 10 others had in 2019 dragged Professor Adeniran and 11 others before the Federal High Court in Abuja, over the authentic leadership of the SDP.
Other plaintiffs who claimed to be part of the national and state executives of the SDP include Nasiru Naaba, Kelvin Damara, Saleh Dass, Cornrulus Oreruan, Tunde Onokoya, Abubakar Babaiya, Hassan Adamu, Aniekwe Ikechukwu, Isaac Bello and Mohammed Ibrahim.
Defendants however include; Professor Adeniran, Shehu Gaban, Emeka Atuma, Professor Rufai Alkali, Marian Tolopari, Dr Junaid Mohammed, Senator Ebenezer Ikeyina, Senator Erin Henshaw, David Umah, Stanley Nnanka, Joseph Achile, and INEC, who are 1 to 12 defendants respectively.
In the suit marked FHA/A/ABJ/CS/1358/2019, plaintiffs claimed that they were elected at the party’s National convention in March 9, 2016 for a period of four years and would leave office on March 8, 2020.
Plaintiffs however averred that their tenure had not expired, when sometimes in 2018, Professor Adeniran and his group hijacked the party on claims that they were appointed at the party’s 2018 national convention.
Shonibare, who claimed to be the Acting National Chairman of the party, following the resignation of the National Chairman, Chief Olu Falae in 2019, insisted that there was no election of party officials in 2018.
In addition, plaintiffs who tied their claim to office on the provisions of the party’s 2012 Constitution, noted that neither the 2012 constitution nor the purported one adopted by Falae and some others did not allow for appointment of NEC members.
They there urged the court to hold that the 1 to 11 defendants are not the authentic leadership of the SDP.
However, the 1,2,4,9 and 11 defendants represented by Peter Nwata, in denying claims that they have colluded with INEC, informed the court that the 2 to 12 plaintiffs had no locus to institute the legal action in the first place and that their names should be struck out from the suit.
According to him while the second defendant was expelled from the party, others at various times had resigned and so ceased to be members of the party.
In its own opposition to the suit INEC maintained that the case of the plaintiffs have become statute barred by provisions of section 251 of the 1999 Constitution as amended, adding that the court lacked jurisdiction to hear the matter.
However, counsel to the 7 and 10 defendant, R. O. Mohammed, who pleaded with the court to file its defense out of time, did not object to the hearing of the suit.
4,5,6 and 8 defendants however have never been represented by counsel despite been served with court processes.
Justice Ojukwu after listening to parties in the suit announced January 19 for definite hearing.