ABUJA—Respite came the way of Governor Sullivan Chime of Enugu State, yesterday, as the Abuja Division of the Federal High Court, declined to sack him from office, citing lack of jurisdiction to nullify his candidacy in the last general elections.
Justice Adamu Bello, who delivered judgment in a suit filed before him by an aggrieved governorship aspirant of the Peoples Democratic Party, PDP, in the state, Chief Alexander Chukwuemeka Obiechina, maintained that the nomination and sponsorship of a candidate for any given election was within the realm of the domestic affairs of a political party.
Dismissing the case on grounds that the court could not meddle into issues bordering on party nominations, Justice Bello stressed that the plaintiff, having failed to participate in any of the primary elections conducted in Enugu State by the PDP, lacked the locus-standi to seek the nullification of the said electoral processes.
Though the Independent National Electoral Commission, INEC, in a written address it tendered before the court, queried the legal propriety of the January 12, 2011, primary election that produced Governor Chime as the gubernatorial candidate of the PDP in Enugu State, the Court, yesterday, maintained that “any aspirant who did not participate in the primaries of a political party, does not have the right to challenge the outcome of such primaries.”
The Court further relied on the case of the former Governor of Bayelsa state, Timipre Sylva, and held that PDP had the right to bar the plaintiff or any other aspirant from participating in its primary election.
Meanwhile, the plaintiff had pleaded the High Court to determine whether there was a valid special congress or primary election held in Enugu State on January 12, 2011, in which Chime was nominated as the PDP candidate.
He contended that the laid down condition precedent for nominating a candidate for the governorship position, as enshrined in sections 85(1) and 87(1)(4)(b) of the Electoral Act 2010 (as amended) was not fulfilled in the case of governor Chime.
Insisting that Chime was handpicked through a kangaroo process, the litigant, who argued through his lawyer, Mr Oba Maduabuchi, urged the trial court to nullify the said illegal primary election and order the sitting Governor to vacate the office, stressing that January 9, 2011, was the validly set date for the gubernatorial primaries in Enugu State.
Obiechina told the court that as a governorship aspirant in the state, he had met the requirements and was duly cleared to contest the primaries alongside the governor and other aspirants.
He said while he was busy soliciting the support of the electorates, he heard over the state radio that Chime had won the gubernatorial ticket to fly the party’s flag in the election.
The plaintiff averred that upon enquiry, he discovered that the party did not fix any primaries for January 12 and it did not also notify INEC at least 21 days to the primaries as required by section 85 (1) of the Electoral Act before such primaries could be held.
Likewise, INEC, via a written address it filed before the court, washed its hands off the said controversial primary election.
According to the Commission, “with respect to primary elections said to be conducted on January 11 and 12, 2011, it can be said that what was passed as the “Notice’ was the plaintiff’s exhibit addresses to the Resident Electoral Commissioner at Enugu, which most certainly is not the same as the 1st defendant, who by the clear terms of section 85(1) of the Electoral Act, 2010 must be the Commission itself.
“This apart, the letter is dated January 10, 2011 and apparently was received on January 11, 2011, the very next day.
“It gave notice of primaries scheduled for the same day. Certainly, no one should be left in doubt that the envisaged notice of 21 days was not complied with in obvious violation of section 85(1]) Added to the foregoing is the fact that the resident Electoral Commissioner cannot be regarded as the Commission, which presents a further violation.
“It stands to reason that a notice of primary election dated January 10, 2011 for the events to be held on January 11 and 12, 2011 has the potential of violating the right to equal opportunity to be voted for. Be that as it may, what really transpired within the party can best be considered intra party, which must be ventilated by affected members of the party”.
“Having said that, the 1st defendant, (INEC) reiterates that there was clear non-compliance with section 85(1) of the Electoral Act, 2010”, the Commission submitted.
Nevertheless, governor Chime and the PDP have adduced reasons why the suit should be dismissed in its entirety.
Both The party which was represented in court by its former National legal adviser, Chief Olusola Oke, and the embattled governor, filed separate preliminary objections against the suit.
The respondents challenged the jurisdiction of the high court to entertain the matter, maintaining that the plaintiff was bereft of the locus-standi to seek the sack of the governor from office.
According to Oke, “my lord, we wish to draw your attention to a judgment the Supreme Court delivered on December 16, in a case involving Senator Lado Vs the CPC, which we believe has fortified our objection to the jurisdiction of this court to entertain the instant suit.
“The apex court has made it clear that where a suit invites a court to determine which of two primary elections of a political party is valid; such issue goes beyond the jurisdiction conferred to courts under section 87(9) of the Electoral Act, 2010.
“A look at the process before this court will reveal that the case bothers on which of the two primary elections of the PDP in Enugu state is valid. Is it that of January 9, or that of January 12, and it is our humble submission that such issues are outside the jurisdiction of either this court of INEC.
“As a political party, we urge this court to strike out this suit for want of jurisdiction or alternatively, dismiss same for lacking in merit” he added.
Governor Chime who was represented by Chief Mrs Justina Offiah, SAN, equally adopted the prayers of the party, insisting that he (Chime) was validly nominated for the Enugu state gubernatorial election.
It would also be recalled that hearing on the suit suffered setbacks owing to a petition that was forwarded to the National Judicial Council, NJC, by governor Chime, who accused the previous judge that presided over the case, Justice Gladys Olotu, of bias.
Sequel to the said petition dated April 28, 2011, Justice Olotu disqualified herself from the matter, a situation that culminated to the re-assignment of the case-file to Justice Bello who dismissed the matter yesterday.
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