Godwin Tsa, Abuja
Justice Okon Abang of the Abuja division of the Federal High Court has refused to disqualify himself in the suit filed by the Imo State governor, Rochas Okorocha, against the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) over his certificate of return.
Rather, Justice Okon said proceedings in the suit were conducted in accordance with the law and rules of the court and therefore, he has nothing to hide.
Senator Osita Izunaso, one of the defendant in the case had petitioned the National Judicial Council (NJC), the Acting Chief Justice of Nigeria (CJN) and the Chief Judge of the Federal High Court over the conduct of Justice Okon Abang.
Izunaso who is dissatisfied with the conduct of Justice Abang in the proceedings sought the intervention of the NJC and the senior judicial officers to intervene in the matter.
The petition titled, “Re: Suit No: FHC/ABJ/CS/296/2019- Rocha’s Okorocha vs Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) and others, petition against Hon Justice O. E Abang,” chronicled the alleged acts of misconduct on the part of the Judge.
Specifically, the petitioner, Izunoso premised his petition on the grounds that Justice Abang restrained his counsel, Prince Orji Nwafor-Orizu to represent him in the suit and instead, foisted another counsel, S. N. Anichebe, whom he did not brief to represent him.
When the matter came up today, Justice Abang informed parties to the suit about the existence of a petition against him by the 3rd defendant, Izunaso, asking him to disqualify himself from the case for another judge of the court to take over.
According to him, “at about 12:30 pm, I received a petition that the 3rd defendant wrote to the Chief Judge that the matter be reassigned to another judge as he was not satisfied with the way I am conducting the case.
“He made reference to several issues with legal authorities to back up his claim. It is my view that the petition was written by his lawyer and he merely signed it given the legal authorities cited.
“The law is settled that where a petition is written against a judge or court, it is the duty of the lawyer that wrote the petition to serve copies of the petition to other parties to the proceedings.
“The proceedings of this court were conducted in open court and not in chambers in line with the law and rules of the court. There is nothing to hide in this matter. The 3rd defendant ought to have served his petition to all parties to the suit.
Order 32, Rule 1 of Rules of Professional Conduct for legal practitioners is clear on this.
“Therefore, the registrar of the court shall make copies of the petition and serve on other parties for their information and for them to ascertain if the issues raised in the petition are correct. This matter shall proceed,” Abang held.
Meanwhile, both counsel to 4th, 5th and 6th defendants made their submissions and adopted their briefs of arguments as well as their notice of preliminary objections in urging the court to dismiss the suit.
In her submission, C.O. Nwako who represented the 4th defendant, challenged the jurisdiction of the court to adjudicate on the suit she described as a post-election matter.
Nwako argued that the subject matter of the suit which is election-related is within the jurisdiction of the National Assembly election petition tribunal and not that of the Federal High Court.
Mr. E. U. Chinedum and Okere Kingdom who appeared for the 5th and 6th defendants made similar arguments in urging the court to dismiss the suit.
Chinedum in addition challenged the mode of the commencement of the suit through originating summons saying that it had rendered the entire suit incompetent.
He submitted that the proper way of bringing the action was through a writ of summons where oral evidence would be adduced to ascertain as to whether or not, the INEC returning officer for the Imo West senatorial district made his declaration under duress on not.
Hearing on the matter continues tomorrow, May 22.