By IKECHUKWU NNOCHIRI
ABUJA—A Federal High Court sitting in Abuja, yesterday, fixed April 23 to determine whether Governor Sullivan Chime of Enugu State was validly nominated by the Peoples Democratic Party, PDP, to contest the April 26 gubernatorial election.
Presiding Justice Adamu Bello slated the date after he concluded hearing on a suit seeking to sack the governor from office on grounds that he emerged from an illegal primary election.
It was an aggrieved PDP governorship aspirant, Chief Alexander Chukwuemeka Obiechina, that dragged the governor, the party and the Independent National Electoral Commission, INEC, before the high court.
In his originating summons, dated April 6, Obiechina urged the court to, among other things, determine whether the PDP had the powers to organise a “special congress” for the purpose of nominating its governorship candidate without recourse to the Electoral Act.
Arguing through his lawyer, Mr Maduabuchi Oba, the plaintiff contended that the January 12, 2011, PDP gubernatorial primary election that produced the governor was legally flawed as it was not conducted in compliance with provisions of section 85 of the Electoral Act.
Consequently, he prayed the court to go ahead and ascertain whether the two-days notice given to the Enugu State Resident Electoral Commissioner, REC, of the INEC, for the said special congress or primaries, complied with section 85 of the Electoral Act.
As well as, whether pursuant to section 87 of the Act, the National Executive Committee of the PDP, followed due process when it conducted the gubernatorial primary election that saw the emergence of the governor as the standard bearer of the party for the April election.
Besides, the plaintiff tendered 13 separate exhibits, just as he yesterday implored the court to hold that governor Chime was not validly nominated ab-initio and as such, was not validly elected and should therefore vacate the office.
“My lord, it was section 31(1) of the Electoral Act that made it possible for Chime to even participate in the April 26, 2011 governorship election pending outcome of this suit, otherwise he was a goner”, the plaintiff averred.
Meanwhile, governor Chime and the PDP yesterday adduced reasons why the suit should be dismissed in its entirety.
Both the party which was represented by its National Legal Adviser, Chief Olusola Oke, and the embattled governor, filed separate preliminary objections against the suit.
The respondents challenged the jurisdiction of the high court to entertain the matter, adding that the plaintiff was bereft of the locus-standi to seek such reliefs.
According to Oke, “my lord, we wish to draw your attention to a judgment the Supreme Court delivered on December 16, in a case involving Senator Lado Vs the CPC, which we believe has fortified our objection to the jurisdiction of this court to entertain the instant suit.
“The apex court has made it clear that where a suit invites a court to determine which of two primary elections of a political party is valid, such issue goes beyond the jurisdiction conferred to courts under section 87(9) of the Electoral Act, 2010.
“A look at the process before this court will reveal that the case bothers on which of the two primary elections of the PDP in Enugu State is valid. Is it that of January 9, or that of January 12, and it is our humble submission that such issues are outside the jurisdiction of either this court of INEC”.
“As a political party, we urge this court to strike out this suit for want of jurisdiction or alternatively, dismiss same for lacking in merit” he added.
Governor Chime who was represented by Chief Mrs Justina Offiah, SAN, equally adopted the prayers of the party, insisting that he was validly nominated for the said election.
It would be recalled that hearing of the suit suffered setbacks owing to a petition that was forwarded to the National Judicial Council, NJC, by governor Chime, who accused the previous judge that presided over the case, Justice Gladys Olotu, of bias.
Sequel to the said petition dated April 28, 2011; Justice Olotu disqualified herself from the matter, a situation that culminated to the re-assignment of the case-file to Justice Bello.