From Godwin Tsa, Abuja
The Abuja division of the Federal High Court on Thursday declared Senator Ifeanyi Araraume candidate of the All Progressives Congress (APC) for the Imo North senatorial election.
Justice Taiwo Taiwo in his judgment ordered the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) to declare Chief Ifeanyi Ararume as the winner of the December 5, 2020 by-election for the Imo North senatorial district of Imo state.
Justice Taiwo held that Senator Ararume remained the authentic candidate of the All Progressive Congress (APC) in the election as of today and should be declared the winner of that election.
The judge also ordered the electoral body to issue a Certificate of Return to the senator within 72 hours from the delivery of the judgment for him to be formally inaugurated by the Senate President.
Earlier, Justice Taiwo dismissed the preliminary objection filed by the APC and one Chukwuma Francis Ibezim challenging the jurisdiction of the court to entertain Ararume’s suit.
The judge held that the objection lacked merit because Ibezim, being purported by APC as its candidate in the by-election, had been disqualified by a federal high court and later Court of Appeal for supplying false information to the electoral commission to secure clearance for participation in the election.
Ararume had, through his counsel, Ahmed Raji, SAN, told Justice Taiwo to invoke the judgments of a Federal High Court and that of Appeal Court to disqualify Ibezim and declare him as the rightful candidate for the APC.
Raji said that the judgments of the high court and later the Court of Appeal have conclusively disqualified Ibezim who cannot claim to be an aspirant or candidate in the Imo North senatorial election.
In opposing Ararume’s suit, the APC had told the court that it never fielded Ararume for last year’s December by-election for Imo North senatorial seat.
The party had insisted that Ararume lacked locus standi to lay claim to the candidacy because he did not even come second in the primary election conducted for candidate nomination, and urged the court to dismiss his suit.
Ararume had sued INEC, APC and Ibezim at the Federal High Court, praying for an order to compel the electoral umpire to recognise him as the APC senatorial candidate in the election won by the party.
He claimed that Ibezim, having been disqualified by a Federal High Court on account of supplying false information to the INEC to secure clearance, and the disqualification having been upheld by the Court of Appeal in Abuja, had ceased to have any claim to the outcome of the by-election.
The APC, however, through its counsel, Osho Daudu, asked the court to discountenance Ararume’s claims, insisting that his name was never forwarded to the INEC.
The counsel submitted that a federal high court judgment delivered in Owerri, which erroneously conferred locus on Ararume, had been voided by the Supreme Court and cannot confer any advantage on the plaintiff.
Emma Osayomi, representing Ibezim, in his own submissions, had said that his client has approached the Supreme Court to challenge his disqualification on account of variation in his name.
The counsel argued that as of election day, the name of his client was on the INEC list and not that of Ararume, and urged the court to dismiss Ararume’s claims and hold that Chukwuemeka Francis remains the APC candidate.
The Imo North senatorial by-election was to fill a Senate seat left vacant after the death of Benjamin Uwajiomogu, who had initially won the primary election.
The election’s Returning Officer, RO Hakeem Adikum, reported that the APC polled a total of 36,811 votes, with the People’s Democratic Party (PDP) coming in a close second with 31,903 votes.