By Ikechukwu Nnochiri
ABUJA – The Federal High Court in Abuja, on Monday, gave the Independent National Electoral Commission, INEC, the nod to proceed with the collation and announcing of result of the governorship election that held in Bauchi State on March 9.
The court, in a judgment that was delivered by Justice Iyang Ekwo, dismissed the suit the All Progressives Congress, APC, and its candidate, Mohammed Abubakar, who is the incumbent Governor of the state, lodged to stop further collation of results by INEC.
Justice Ekwo held that the court lacked the requisite jurisdiction to adjudicate on post election matters, even as he vacated the interim order that hitherto restrained the electoral body from going ahead with its plan to conclude the collation process and announce the final result.
The court upheld INEC’s preliminary objection to the suit, stressing that the plaintiffs ought to have channelled their grievances to the election petition tribunal.
It will be recalled the the court had on March 19, ordered all the parties to maintain status quo ante, pending the final determination of the suit which had INEC as the sole defendant.
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The APC and governor Abubakar had through their lawyer, Mr. Ahmed Raji, SAN, prayed the court to hold that INEC was wrong in its decision to resume collation of results of the Bauchi State governorship election which it had declared inconclusive.
They prayed the court to compel the electoral body to go ahead with the supplementary election which was earlier billed for March 23.
The plaintiffs told the court that INEC had in a press statement that was signed by its National Commissioner and Chairman Information and Voter Education Committee, Mr. Festus Okoye, on March 15, insisted on continuing the result collation process.
The APC and its candidate stressed that unless stopped by the court, INEC would collate the pending result from Tafawa Balewa Local Government Area of the state and announce a final winner of the gubernatorial contest.
Meanwhile, INEC’s lawyer, Mr. Taminu Inuwa, SAN, urged the court to dismiss the suit marked FHC/ABJ/CS/299/2019, as grossly lacking in merit.
The electoral body equally queried the jurisdiction of the court to handle the matter it said ought to have been ventilated before the election petition tribunal.
INEC prayed the court to uphold averments contained in the counter-affidavit it filed in opposition to the suit.
In the said counter-affidavit that was deposed to by one Hassan Adamu, INEC, contended that the high court was bereft of the requisite jurisdiction to entertain the suit or to halt the collation process.
It argued that contrary to the position of the plaintiffs, the decision to conclude collation of results from Tafawa Balewa Local Government Area of Bauchi State, was based on figures that were contained in the duplicates of results of the election.
The commission insisted that since it had resolved to collate the already garnered results, “only Election Petition Tribunal has the jurisdiction to review the decision”.
It said: “The decision of the Returning Officer referred to is in respect of declaration of scores and return of candidate which is the exclusive reserve of the Election Petition Tribunal.
“The defendant having rescinded its earlier decision based on facts that emerged later and made a return, any grievance arising there from, now rest with the Election Petition Tribunal.
“The availability of polling units results made the defendant to rescind its decision to conduct supplementary election.
“Contrary to paragraph 30 of affidavit in support of originating summons, I state that the plaintiffs’ right to fair election (if any) will not be affected in any way.
“Contrary to paragraph 31 of affidavit in support of originating summons, I state that none of the voting populace of Bauchi State will be disenfranchised the elections having been concluded”.
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INEC further told the court that the suit by APC and Governor Abubakar was merely targeted at stopping it from performing its constitutional duty, adding that the plaintiffs, “do not have any threatened right capable of being protected”.
Besides, INEC contended that issues the plaintiffs raised in the ex-parte application that culminated into the interim order of injunction that stopped it from collating the Bauchi State governorship election result, are not triable by a regular court since it bordered on return at an election
“All eligible voters have cast their votes leading to a return and once that is the case, this honourable court is divested of the jurisdiction to entertain this case”, INEC argued.
In his response, counsel to the plaintiffs urged the court to discountenance INEC’s argument, insisting that the court jurisdiction since no return had been made from the election to warrant recourse to the election petition tribunal.