The Abuja Division Federal High Court will on January 20 deliver judgment in the suit seeking the disqualification of Governor Yahaya Bello of Kogi State from the November 16 governorship election over alleged double registration as a voter.
Justice Inyang Ekwo, who fixed the date after parties in the case adopted their briefs of argument, said there was the need to give it accelerated hearing.
The News Agency of Nigeria (NAN) reports that Natasha Akpoti, Social Democratic Party (SDP) candidate in the November 16 governorship election in Kogi, had filed the suit, seeking the court’s determination on the eligibility of Mr Bello at the just concluded election, having been allegedly involved in double registration as a voter.
INEC declared Mr Bello, candidate of the All Progressives Congress (APC) as winner of the election.
The governor had told the court that he was ready to defend himself on the allegation of double registration framed against him by Ms Akpoti.
While Ms Akpoti was the plaintiff, the All Progressives Congress (APC), the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) and Mr Bello were 1st, 2nd and 3rd defendants respectively.
NAN recalls that the suit, dated October 10 and marked: FHC/ABJ/CS/1221/2019, was filed by Mike Ozekhome, SAN, on Ms Akpoti’s behalf.
At Friday’s sitting, Ms Ozekhome prayed the court to make a consequential order that Mr Bello was not qualified to have contested the election having registered in both Abuja and Lokoja, in Kogi State.
He argued that the offence was against Section 24 of the Electoral Act.
Mr Ozekhome said the case was not a pre-election matter that require time limit to file but a case of fraud, which could be filed at any time.
He submitted that the 2nd defendant, INEC, had already admitted that it committed an error to have registered Mr Bello twice.
The lawyer told the court that the electoral umpire had, in a national television, disclosed that it had sacked two of its staff involved in Mr Bello’s double registration as a voter.
Mr Ozekhome said INEC said its hands were tied to do anything now because of the governor’s immunity.
“INEC has said on television that it committed a grave error by registering him (Bello) twice in Abuja and Lokoja, saying if not for immunity, it would have moved against him,” he said.
Mr Ozekhome insisted that “when fraud is involved in a matter, as the instant case, time of filing is not an issue.”
Counsel to the 1st defendant (APC), Abdulwahab Muhammed, however, urged the court to dismiss the suit, while questioning the competence of the court to entertain the matter.
He said it was a pre-election issue, hence, it had become stale because the time allowed to file pre-election matters had already elapsed.
“The electoral act is very clear on this; only a person who has been convicted that cannot stand in an election.
“The 3rd defendant has not been convicted and he is not on trial.
“So the case is only an academic exercise. I urged my lord to dismiss the suit,” he said.
In his submission, Counsel to the 2nd defendant (INEC), Alhassan Umar, SAN, also corroborated Mr Muhammed’s stand.
He argued that by the provision of Section 285(9) of the Electoral Act, the time to file the suit had elapsed.
He said INEC also challenged the jurisdiction of the court to entertain the matter, saying the 3rd defendant had not been charged or convicted to warrant being disallowed to contest an election.
He submitted further that mere suspicion of alleged double registration or an offence “bordering on fraud was not enough to disqualify anyone through administrative tribunal.”
He urged the court to dismiss the suit.
Muizudeen Abdullahi, Counsel to Bello, challenged the competence of the plaintiff to file the case.
He said there were no documents from the plaintiff to prove that his client registered twice.
“He was not in the country when he was alleged to have carried out the double registration.
“He was not in the country between May 13 and May 18, to have registered twice as being alleged,” he said.
He further submitted that the suit could not have come through originating summon in the case of fraud but only through writ of summon.
He, therefore, urged the court to dismiss the case in its entirely and award cost against the plaintiff for wasting the time of the court and counsel.
Mr Ekwo, after the arguments, adjourned till January 20 for judgment.