…….as court abridges hearing of suit to August 7
By Ikechukwu Nnochiri
ABUJA—The Independent National Electoral Commission, INEC, on Thursday, alleged plot to frustrate process for the recall of Senator Dino Melaye.
The allegation came on a day the Federal High Court in Abuja, adjourned hearing on the suit Melaye filed to challenge his recall, till August 7.
Justice Nnamdi Dimgba said he was minded to hear the matter within the court’s vacation, owing to “the constitutional pillar upon which the application was hoisted”.
The Judge stressed that the court has a responsibility to exercise its discretionary powers in deciding the matter judicially and judiciously.
Meanwhile, two sets of applicants, on Thursday, applied to be joined as interested parties in the suit.
INEC, which had through its lawyer, Mr. Sulayman Ibrahim, applied for expeditious hearing of the suit, expressed its displeasure over the application which it described as a deliberate ploy to delay the recall process.
The commission told the court that under section 69(a) and (b) of the 1999 constitution, as amended, it has 90 days, starting from June 21, to conduct a referendum in line with the approved time table and schedule of action on the petition seeking Melaye’s recall.
It told the court that the recall process is time bound, adding that the 90 days period for the exercise will lapse on September 18.
“My lord the 90 days is sacrosanct. It cannot be moved, even if the foundation of the petition is being questioned. INEC is under obligation to conduct the process”, Ibrahim added.
Whereas one Michael Olowolayemi, who identified himself as an electorate from Melaye’s Senatorial District, Kogi West, through his lawyer, Mr. Ponsak Biyan, applied to be joined as a co-plaintiff in the matter.
The second application was filed by three persons, Chief Olowo Cornelius, John Anjorin and Mallam Yusuf Adamu, who sought to be joined as co-defendants in the matter.
Their lawyer, Chief Anthony Adeniyi, said they were the persons behind the petition that was submitted against Melaye.
Though INEC initially opposed the joinder applications, it subsequently withdrew its counter-affidavit.
“My lord, for the sake of expeditious hearing of the substantive suit, we shall be withdrawing our objection to the two joinder applications.
“However, we believe that the joinder applications are deliberate ploy to delay the process.
“Nobody should be allowed to subvert the course of Justice through filing of frivolous applications”, INEC stated.
Nevertheless, Melaye’s lawyer, Mr. Nkem Okoro, said he was opposed to the application by parties seeking to be joined as co-defendants in the matter.
Consequently, Justice Dimgba directed all the parties to file and exchange their legal processes before the next adjourned date.
INEC had earlier asked the court to vacate the interim order that stopped it from going ahead with the process to recall Melaye.
It queried the legal propriety of the restraining order that Justice John Tsoho of the high court issued against it on July 6.
Justice Tsoho had ordered all the parties involved in the recall process to maintain their status quo until September 29 when the court originally fixed to hear Melaye’s suit.
The interim order followed an ex-parte motion that Melaye lodged before the court through his lawyer, Chief Mike Ozekhome, SAN.
Specifically, Justice Tsoho directed INEC to put the recall process on hold until the substantive suit marked FHC/ABJ/CS/567/2017, which Melaye filed pursuant to sections 36,68 and 69 of the 1999 Constitution and Order 3, Rule 6 of the FHC Civil Procedure Rules 2009, is disposed off.
Melaye had in the suit, prayed the court to declare that the petition his constituents presented to INEC for his recall was illegal, unlawful, wrongful, unconstitutional, invalid, null and void and of no effect in law.
He prayed the court for a declaration that the petition purportedly forwarded to the INEC was invalid and of no effect, alleging that it was signed by fictitious, dead and none existing persons in his senatorial district.
Determined to resume the recall process that would have started on July 10, INEC, via a 16 paragraph affidavit, contended that the court lacked the powers to stop it from initiating the recall process it said was one of its time bound duty under the 1999 constitution.
Besides, the commission alleged that Melaye misrepresented and suppressed material facts and thereby misled the judge to issue an interim order of injunction in his favour.
INEC told the court that it had on June 21, received a petition dated June 19, seeking Melaye’s recall from the Senate.
It said upon the receipt of the petition, it accordingly published a time table and schedule of activities for the recall process, in line with provisions of the law.
INEC decried that the court had by its restraining order, a copy of which it said was served on it on July 10, tied its hands.