By Ikechukwu Nnochiri
ABUJA – Justice Ibrahim Auta, assumed duty as the interim Chief Judge of the Abuja division of the Federal High Court, following the disengagement of Justice Dan Abutu who clocked the 65 years mandatory retirement age for judicial officers within that cadre, on Tuesday.
Justice Auta who was sworn into office by the Chief Justice of Nigeria, Justice Aloysius Katsina-Alu, yesterday, will remain in acting capacity pending when President Goodluck Jonathan approves a letter sent to him by the National Judicial Council, NJC, recommending that he should be appointed to replace Justice Abutu as Chief Judge of the Abuja division of the High Court.
Meanwhile, Justice Abutu before handing over, ordered all the high court Judges to transfer all the pending case-files of matters bothering on primary elections of political parties, to Federal High Courts within the jurisdiction of where such polls were conducted.
He bemoaned the fact that the Abuja division has been inundated with plethora of political cases of such nature even when the disputes thereto arose miles away from the Federal Capital Territory.
In a practice directive he issued on March 3, Justice Abutu informed the Judges that “you are hereby ordered to transfer the case-files of all the political matters currently pending before the Abuja division of the Federal High Court to states where the primary elections took place”.
Sequel to this directive, over 200 of such case have so far been transferred amidst protests by the litigants who are contending that their decision to file such matters in Abuja was owing to the location of the headquarters of the Independent National Electoral Commission, INEC, where they insisted that their names were illegally substituted by their various political parties, after they were initially adjudged winners of their respective primary elections .
While transferring two of such cases involving the gubernatorial aspirants of the Peoples Democratic Party, PDP, in Kano state, Dr Rabu’i Musa Kwankwaso and that of the Congress for Political Change, CPC, in Taraba state, Mr. Mohammed Bello Mustapha, Justice Adamu Bello noted that it was ridiculous that plaintiffs besiege the Abuja division with barrage of such cases while Judge within the jurisdiction where the dispute arose, remains idle.
According to him, “we now have a gloat of cases of this nature over burdening our courts while Judges in the jurisdiction the disputes emanated are there idling. This is why the practice directive was given to us by the CJ on March 3.
“In view of this, I will neither make any consequential order nor commence further hearing on any of such case before me, I am sending the case-files back, when you get there you are free to seek all the reliefs you want but not here.
“It is not an issue of where the headquarters of the political parties or INEC is located; it is an issue of where did the primaries took place.
“INEC is a federal government agency that has its branches all over the country, it can be sued anywhere in the 36 states of the federation, that is the reason why jurisdiction is conferred on both the Federal and State high courts which can as well be found in all the states”, he added.
Meantime, the CJN yesterday urged the acting CJ, Justice Auta to rise above intimidation and discharge the responsibilities of his new office without fear or favour, even as he was equally enjoined to carry his colleagues along