Godwin Tsa, Abuja
After a prolonged court session laced with legal theatrics, Justice Okon Abang of the Abuja division of Federal High Court has fixed Thursday for ruling on the application brought by the People’s Democratic Party (PDP) seeking to be joined as a defendant in the suit filed against the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) by Imo State governor, Rochas Okorocha, over his certificate of return.
The court fixed the date as the electoral body joins forces with other defendants in the suit against the plaintiff.
The position of INEC manifested in court when its counsel, Mrs. Wendy Kuku, said the commission was not opposed to the application by the PDP to be joined in the suit as the 8th defendant.
In the said suit marked FHC/ABJ/CS/296/2019, filed by his counsel, Kehinde Ogunwumiju (SAN), the governor is seeking the court order compelling the INEC to issue him a certificate of return as the validly- elected senator for Imo West senatorial district.
Justice Taiwo .O. Taiwo who was the first judge to adjudicate on the matter he eventually rescue himself had already joined the candidates of the People’s Democratic Party, Jones Onyeriri and Senator Osita Izunaso of the All Progressive Grand Alliance (APGA) as defendants in the suit.
Also joined as co-defendants by the court are Nwachukwu Goodluck Clement of KOWA Party; Uche Onyeoma Ibe, Labour Party; Precious Nwadike, United Progressive Party (UPP) and the All Progressives Grand Alliance (APGA).
Before Justice Abang, the PDP had in a motion filed by its counsel, Stanley Imo, prayed the court for an order extending the time within which it might apply to be joined in the suit.
An order of court joining the PDP as the 8th defendants in the suit as well as an order directing the plaintiff/respondent to amend his originating processes and other subsequent processes issued in the suit in order to reflect the joinder of PDP as the 8th defendant in this suit.
The party in its motion brought pursuant to Order 9, Rule 25, further prayed the court for an order directing that all originating processes in the suit be served on it as the 8th defendant in this suit.
But while other counsels in the matter, Mrs. Wendy Kuku for INEC, N. A. Nnwuchi (SAN) for Jones Onyeriri, Prince Orji Nwafor-Orizu for Senator Osita Izunaso and others did not opposed the request by the PDP, Okorocha’s counsel, Ogunwumiju raised objections to it.
Canvassing his arguments against the application, the plaintiff counsel submitted that PDP was not a necessary party in the suit having regard to the reliefs sought by the plaintiff which are against INEC and not against the party.
He further submitted that PDP had gone to the National Assembly election tribunal with a petition against the return of the plaintiff as winner of the Imo West Senatorial seat.
Ogunwumiju submitted that “by filling this petition, the PDP has admitted that the plaintiff won the election which it seeks to upturn at the tribunal. Having so admitted and filed a petition, it cannot now say it has interest in the purely administrative and consequential action of the issuance of certificate of return.”
The plaintiff counsel who further referred the court to the proviso to Section 75(1) of the Electoral Act submitted that in paragraphs K, on Page 42 of the PDP petition pending at the tribunal, the party stated that it lost the election to the plaintiff.
He described the motion for joinder as an attempt to frustrate the expeditious hearing of the suit arguing that the issue of fair hearing was not a one-way traffic.
He urged the court to refuse the application and to consider the interest of the plaintiff who had come to court in a matter that was time sensitive, in exercising its discretion.
But responding to the objections raised by the plaintiff’s counsel, counsel to PDP, Mr Imo, posited that the objection to his client’s application for joinder by Okorocha on the grounds that his client was already adequately represented was misguided.
He said that because the second defendant in the suit, Mr Jones Onyereri was a candidate of the PDP in the election under contention was not enough reason to shut out the PDP from the proceedings.
“We beg to disagree with this line of argument because this court, differently constituted, joined the 7th defendant (All Progressives Grand Alliance, APGA), as an interested party even when the 3rd defendant (Osita Izunaso) was a candidate of the 7th defendant.
“It is not in doubt that a political party that sponsored a candidate is an interested party in an action of this nature.
“The Electoral Act says the two people who can challenge the outcome of an election are the political party that sponsored a candidate or the candidate himself.”
He submitted that it was wrong for Okorocha to say that the interest of the PDP could not be pursued by it, independent of its candidate.
Imo prayed the court to discountenance the objection of Okorocha and allow his client to be joined as a party adding that the interest to be considered should be that of the party and not of the counsel.
In a short bench ruling, Justice Abang agreed that the matter was time sensitive but assured that all parties would be given fair hearing.
He adjourned the matter until May 9 to rule on whether to join the PDP as a party in the suit or not.