Godwin Tsa, Abuja
Judgment has been reserved in the appeal brought by the All Progressives Congress (APC) and its candidate, Chike Okafor, seeking to nullify the judgment of the High Court of the Federal Capital Territory (FCT) that produced Emeka Nwajuba of the Accord Party as a member of the House of Representatives for Ehimembano/Ihiteuboma/Obowo Federal constituency of Imo State.
The Abuja division of the Court of Appeal reserved judgment after rejecting moves by Kingdom Okere, counsel for Emeka Nwajuba, to terminate the appeal.
The three-man panel of the appellate court comprising Justice Adamu Jauro, Stephen Adah and Justice Wison Akomolafe insisted to hear the appeal on its merit.
The date of the judgment according to the court will be communicated to the parties.
In the multiple appeals, the appellants are challenging the decision of Justice Bello Kawau of the Bwari division of the FCT High Court which had barred the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) from accepting or listing the candidate of the APC in the rescheduled National Assembly election.
The said order issued on February 12, 2019, gave rise to the eventual emergence of Nwajuba as a representatives of the federal constituency in controversial circumstances.
In the appeal proper, Okafor had through his counsel, Solomon Umoh, urged the Court of Appeal to nullify the decision of the trial court on the grounds that it erred in in law in holding that he was functus officio to set aside his order of April 29, 2019 and the entire proceedings in suit No. FCT/HC/CV/423/2018.
Canvassing arguments in the appeal, which is predicated on seven grounds, Umoh submitted that the decision of April 29, 2019 and the entire proceedings in the suit is a nulity as it was made without jurisdiction adding that a court can never be functus officio to set aside or revisit its null orders.
The appellant contended that the refusal to set aside his orders of April 29 as well as the entire proceedings in the suit has occasioned a miscarriage of justice.
Umoh further told the court that he was never made a party to the suit and Mrs Uzoma Chioma Mary Ann who originated the suit knew that the he and not Emeka Nwajuba (3rd respondent) was the candidate of the APC for the Federal constituency seat.
He submitted that the order made by the judge on April 29, 2019 was against the appellant, who was not a party before the court.
“The orders made by the court on April 29, 2019 were made without jurisdiction as they were made well outside theb180 days permitted by the 4th alteration to the 1999 constitution for the trial court to conclude pre-election matters.
“The orders were made after the election at a time Emeka Nwajuba who is now the beneficiary had filed an election petition at the National Assembly Election Tribunal in Owerri challenging the return of the appellant.
“That the orders of the lower court were completely at variance with its ruling of April 29, whereas the court restrained the Independent National Electoral Commission (4th respondent) from recognizing Emeka Nwajuba as a candidate in the 2019 election, the same court in its orders of April of April 29, 2019 directed INEC to issue certificate of return to the same Emeka Nwajuba.
“That Nwajuba suppressed information at the lower court when he refused to informed the court that at all material times to the suit, he had ceased to be a member the APC and was the candidate of Accord Party in the election.”
On his part, the National Legal Adviser of the APC, Babatunde Ogala, urged the appellate court to allow the appeal and set aside the judgment of the lower court.
The legal Adviser also asked the Court of Appeal to hold that the lower court lacked the jurisdiction to determine a pre- election matters outside its geographical area under the provisions of section 257 of the 1999 constitution.
The party submitted that both the decision of February 12, 2019, which gave birth to the ruling of April 29, 2019, were barred by statute having been made outside the mandatory period allowed by law.
The legal action was commenced at the trial court by a House of Representatives aspirant, Mrs Uzoma Chioma Ann, who had filed a suit before the High Court against the APC, Emeka Nwajuba and the Independent National Electoral Commission.
Among other reliefs, she sought for the nullification of the nomination of Chukwuemeka Nwajiuba as its candidate for the Okigwe South Federal Constituency for the 2019 elections.
According to her, Nwajiuba’s emergence violated the party’s rules and guidelines.
Justice Kawu in his ruling cited various authorities and concluded that Nwajiuba’s nomination was “inappropriate, unlawful, null and void for failure to comply with the first defendants guideline for nomination of candidate.”
He also barred INEC “from further recognising, accepting or listing Nwabuja’s (second defendant) name as the candidate of the first defendant in the 2019 ballot paper for Okigwe South House of Representatives election because the first defendant (APC) did not conduct primary for the office.”
Ironically, Chika Okafor, who was the nominated candidate of the APC for the Federal seat, was not made a party in the suit and denied the opportunity of being heard.
While the suit was pending before the court, Emeka Nwajuba joined the Accord Party where he contested the elections against Chika Okafor of the APC, who won the election and was issued with a certificate of return by INEC.
It was after the issuance of the certificate of return on Okafor that his attention was drawn to the suit pending at the Kubwa division of the FCT High Court.
Having become aware of the suit, Okafor approached the court seeking to set aside the entire proceedings as well as any order emanating there from and for injunctive orders against INEC in respect of Ehimembano/Iiteuboma/Obowo Constituency of Imo state.
While the said application was pending for hearing, Nwajuba who contested and lost the election and lost to Okafor, approached the FCT High Court on April 29, 2019 to compel the INEC to enforce its ruling delivered of February 12 2019.
Consequently, the electoral body in compliance with the said ruling of the FCT High Court issued a certificate of return to Nwajuba of the Accord Party as the elected member of the federal constituency.
Meanwhile, Justice Bello Kawu, while ruling on the applications by Okafor date May 13, 2019 for the setting aside of its injunctive orders and the entire proceedings, had on June 10, 2019 refusd to grant it on the grounds that he has become functus officio.
Dissatisfied with the decision, the APC and its candidate Okafor in their separate notices of appeals asked the appellate court to set aside the decision of the lower court and to declare the entire proceedings a nullity.