By Ikechukwu Nnochiri
ABUJA – Last minute move by a Chieftain of the Peoples Democratic Party, PDP, from Ogun state, Mr. Walihu Taiwo, to secure an interim order of injunction stopping the Independent National Electoral Commission, INEC, from using the Smart Card Reader Machines for the presidential election, crumbled yesterday.
The court however summoned both INEC and the Attorney General of the Federation, AGF, Mr. Mohammed Bello Adoke, SAN, who were cited as defendants in the suit, to appear before it on April 24.
The defendants are to address the court on the legality or otherwise of employing card readers for the 2015 general election.
Meanwhile, even though Justice Adeniyi declined to issue the interim order of injunction as he was prayed to do, he however stressed that if eventually the court ascertains that the use of the card readers were illegal and unconstitutional, he said the outcome of the elections would be annulled.
Besides, Justice Adeniyi said he was minded to reject the prayer in view of the fact that none of the two defendants were represented in court yesterday.
Counsel to the plaintiff, Prince Ajebola Oluyode had informed the court that the suit was originally lodged before the Lagos Division of the Federal High Court, but subsequently transferred to Abuja by the Chief Judge, Justice Ibrahim Auta.
Oluyode told the court that the matter was initially before Justice Ibrahim Buba who he said had on March 21, not only okayed the suit for accelerated hearing, but equally abridged the time within which the defendants were to file their defence.
He said that Justice Buba made the orders after he refused an ex-parte application to stop INEC from deploying the card readers for the 2015 general elections.
“My Lord, the defendants were duly notified that this matter is coming up today through two separate letters. The AGF was served with our originating summons at 1:05pm on March 23, while INEC was served on the same day at 2pm.
“The substantive suit is only praying this court to construct certain sections of the Electoral Act and the Constitution which has made it clear that once you have voters’ card, you are entitled to vote. But the very purpose of this matter is being frustrated by the defendants. The 48 hours that was earlier granted to them by Justice Buba expired since Wednesday and this matter is ripe for hearing today.
“It is obvious that there is conspiracy of circumstances to thwart the very purpose of this suit.
“My lord, the appropriate thing to do at this stage is to tilt the scale to remain balanced on the side of justice. If these card readers are used for the election tomorrow (today), whatever happens in this suit becomes academic. We therefore pray this court to preserve the ‘Res’ of this matter.
“I am applying for an interim order restraining INEC from using the card reader until the constitutionality is determined. INEC should be restrained pending hearing of our originating summons.
“The need for the intervention of the court have now been reinstated by the conspiracy of circumstances which we have brought to the notice of this court”, the plaintiff’s lawyer submitted.
While declining the application, Justice Adeniyi maintained that there was no evidence before him to show that the defendants were duly served with hearing notices, adding that the initial ex-parte application to stop use of card readers had been overtaken by events.
“I will have to be very careful and tread on the path of caution. Even if the election is held tomorrow, if it is established that what they have done is illegal, the court has the power to cancel the entire election.
“Either way, there is a remedy for all the parties. It will be a hard thing at this eleventh hour for any court to make any drastic order on this issue now. The processes before me have not convinced me that INEC has been served.
“Having listened to the submission of counsel to the plaintiff on the propriety of granting an interim order pending the hearing of the originating summons, this court is convinced that the balance of convenience has been in favour of the plaintiff and the issues in the suit will remain germane even after the election.
“This matter was filed on March 11. The application is refused and the suit adjourned to April 24, 2015, for hearing.
“Hearing notices to be issued on the 1st and 2nd defendants to appear in court on the next date”, Justice Adeniyi ruled.
Specifically, the plaintiff had in his suit marked FHC/Abj/CS/296/15, contended that the use of the card readers were not only unconstitutional, he said that it would cause chaos in the nation.