Appeal Court sacks Nwajuba as Imo State lawmaker
The Court of Appeal, Abuja Division, has ordered return of the Certificate of Return to Chike Okafor of the All Progressives Congress (APC) by the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) as a representative of Ehimembano/Ihiteuboma/Obowo Federal Constituency of Imo State at the House of Representatives.
In a unanimous judgment delivered yesterday, the court set aside the April 29, 2019 order by Justice Bello Kawau of the Federal Capital Territory High Court, Kubwa Division.The court in the said order had directed INEC to issue a Certificate of Return to Emeka Nwajuba as a member representing the federal constituency.
The three-man panel of the appellate court, comprising Justices Adamu Jauro, Stephen Adah and Wilson Akomolafe, also set aside the May 10, 2019 ruling of the trial court in suit No. FCT/HC/CV/423/2018. Justice Adamu Jauro, who delivered the lead judgment, consequently upheld the appeals filed by Okafor and the APC for being meritorious.
The Court of Appeal had in an earlier ruling dismissed the notice of preliminary objection raised against the appeals by Nwajuba, insisting to hear the appeals on merit.
Reading the lead judgment yesterday, Justice Jauro, after analylising the evidence and issues canvassed for and against the appeals in separate judgments, held that the appeals were meritorious and should be allowed.
In the first judgment, which was on Chike’s appeal, Justice Jauro held that in the final analysis, he found that the lower court has jurisdiction to have revisited its ruling, which bordered on the fundamental rights of the appellant.
“Consequently, the appeal is meritorious and is hereby allowed only on reliefs one and two,” the judge said.Okafor had through his counsel, Solomon Umoh (SAN), urged the Court of Appeal to nullify the decision of the trial court on the ground that it erred in law.
He 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 he and not Emeka Nwajuba (third respondent) was the candidate of the APC for the federal constituency seat.He submitted that the order made by the judge on April 29 was against the appellant, who was not a party before the court.
According to Umoh, the orders made by the court on April 29 were made without jurisdiction as they were made well outside the 180 days permitted to conclude pre-election matters.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.He also asked the Court of Appeal to hold that the lower court lacked the jurisdiction to determine a pre-election matter outside its geographical area under the provisions of Section 257 of the 1999 Constitution.
The party submitted that the decision of February 12, which gave birth to the ruling of April 29 was barred by statute, having been made outside the mandatory period allowed by law.Justice Kawau, in his ruling, cited various authorities and concluded that Nwajuba’s nomination was “inappropriate, unlawful, null and void for failure to comply with the first defendant’s 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, 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 to compel the INEC to enforce its ruling delivered of February 12 .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 Kawu while ruling on the applications by Okafor date May 13 for the setting aside of its injunctive orders and the entire proceedings, had on June 10, refused 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.
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