By Ikechukwu Nnochiri
ABUJA – Justice Adamu Bello of a Federal High Court sitting in Abuja, Monday, declined to sack Governor Liyel Imoke of Cross River State from office.
The Court further dismissed the suit which was entered against the Governor by candidate of the Action Congress of Nigeria, ACN, in the last governorship election in the state, Mr Usani Uguru Usani.
In his bid to sack Imoke who has been out of office on health grounds, the plaintiff, urged the court to among other things, determine whether under section 34 of the Electoral Act, 2011 (as amended) the Independent National Electoral Commission, INEC, was not legally bound to publish in its Calabar office and on its website for at least 30 days before the election, a statement of full names and addresses of all the governorship candidates and whether such omission did not amount to an infringement.
As well as, “whether by the provisions of the Electoral Act, 2011, as amended, the Commission has the power to bring down the date of an election that is already in progress.”
It was the contention of the plaintiff that INEC had no power under the law to bring down the date of election that has already been fixed, insisting that “bringing down of the Cross River State Governorship election from April 14, 2012 to February 25, 2012, is ultra vires the powers of the commission and therefore null and void.
He therefore sought for “an order setting aside every action taken by the commission in respect of the Governorship election in Cross River State for being contrary to the provision of section 34 of the Electoral Act, 2011,” as well as, “an order compelling INEC to fix a new date for the governorship election on Cross River State, in line with the Electoral Act, 2011, as amended.”
Though the high court yesterday agreed with the plaintiff that ideally, INEC ought to have published names of all the candidates, at least 30 days before the election held, however, Justice Bello noted that the decision of the electoral body to bring down the election was sequel to the judgment of the Supreme Court which on January 27, sacked Governor Imoke from office alongside four other Governors.
Justice Bello held that under section 172(8) of the 1999 constitution, INEC must fix governorship election not earlier than 60 days and not later than 30 days before the expiration of the office of the incumbent governor, stressing however that owing to the judgment of the apex court which pegged the expiration of the tenure of Governor on May 28, 2011, he said INEC was foisted with a special circumstance that warranted that it should bring down the election date.
“By January 27, 2012, when Supreme Court gave its judgment, INEC was already out of time to conduct election in Cross River State and by implication, the apex court judgment rendered section 30(1), 31(2) of the Electoral Act and section 178(2) of the Constitution impracticable.
“The situation created by the decision of the Supreme Court was not contemplated by provisions of the constitution and the Electoral Act. It is my considered view that INEC acted within its powers when it fixed February 25 to conduct election to fill the vacancy created by the expiration of Governor Imoke’s tenure.
“INEC has powers to abridge the time of election especially as in this situation. The plaintiff has failed to establish his case on merit and the suit is hereby dismissed in its entirety,” the judge added.