By Ikechukwu Nnochiri
ABUJA – The Abuja Division of the Federal High Court has fixed Thursday to hear a preliminary objection the Independent National Electoral Commission, INEC, filed to challenge its powers to stop the collation and announcing of result of the governorship election that held in Bauchi State on March 9.
The electoral body, in a counter-affidavit that was deposed to by one Hassan Adamu, maintained that the high court lacked the requisite jurisdiction to entertain the suit the All Progressives Congress, APC, and its governorship candidate in the state, Mohammed Abubakar, filed to halt the collation process.
INEC told the court that contrary to what the plaintiffs’ claimed in the suit, it said the decision to conclude collation of results from Tafawa Balewa Local Government Area of Bauchi State, was based on figures that were contained in the duplicates of results of the election.
The commission insisted that since it had resolved to collate the already garnered results, “only Election Petition Tribunal has the jurisdiction to review the decision”.
It said: “The decision of the Returning Officer referred to is in respect of declaration of scores and return of candidate which is the exclusive reserve of the Election Petition Tribunal.
“The defendant having rescinded its earlier decision based on facts that emerged later and made a return, any grievance arising there from, now rest with the Election Petition Tribunal.
“The availability of polling units’ results made the defendant to rescind its decision to conduct supplementary election.
“Contrary to paragraph 30 of affidavit in support of originating summons, I state that the plaintiffs’ right to fair election (if any) will not be affected in any way.
“Contrary to paragraph 31 of affidavit in support of originating summons, I state that none of the voting populace of Bauchi State will be disenfranchised the elections having been concluded”.
INEC told the court that the suit by both APC its candidate who is the incumbent governor of the state, was targeted at stopping it from performing its constitutional duty, adding that the plaintiffs, “do not have any threatened right capable of being protected”.
Besides, INEC contended that issues the APC and Governor Abubakar raised in the application that culminated into the interim order of injunction that stopped it from collating the Bauchi State governorship election result, are not triable by a regular court since it bordered on return at an election
“All eligible voters have cast their votes leading to a return and once that is the case, this honourable court is divested of the jurisdiction to entertain this case”, INEC argued.
Meanwhile, counsel to the plaintiffs, Mr. Ahmed Raji, SAN, persuaded the court to allow him to respond to processes he said was served on him by INEC before the proceeding commenced.
The request was not opposed by INEC’s lawyer, Mr. Abdulazeez Sani.
Consequently, Justice Iyang Ekwo adjourned the matter till Thursday, stressing that he would hear both the substantive suit and the INEC’s preliminary objection together.
Meanwhile, the Peoples Democratic Party, PDP, whose candidate, Senator Bala Mohammed is currently leading with results that are so far collated by INEC, said it was dissatisfied with the interim order the court granted on Tuesday to halt the collation process.
Even though INEC was the only defendant that was listed in the suit, PDP, sent its team of lawyers led by Chief Chris Uche, SAN, and its National Legal Adviser, Mr. Emmanuel Enoidem, to monitor the court’s proceeding.
Uche told the court that his presence was to observe the proceeding.
PDP said it would apply to be joined as an interested party/defendant in the matter.
Justice Ekwo had on Tuesday ordered all the parties to maintain the status quo pending the determination of the suit.
“Parties shall maintain status quo ante in this proceeding pending the determination of this substantive matter of this case”, Justice Ekwo held.
The plaintiffs (APC and governor Abubakar) had in an ex-parte motion marked FHC/ABJ/CS/299/2019, applied for an order of interim injunction to restrain INEC from resuming, concluding or announcing the governorship election results that emanated from Tafawa Balewa Local Government Area of the state.
In their Originating Summons, the plaintiffs challenged INEC’s decision to resume collation of results of Bauchi State governorship election it had earlier declared inconclusive.
They prayed the court to compel the electoral body to go ahead with the supplementary election billed for March 23.
The plaintiffs drew the attention of the court to a press statement they said INEC issued through its National Commissioner and Chairman Information and Voter Education Committee, Mr. Festus Okoye.
They told the court that the INEC Commissioner had in the said statement dated March 15, declared that the electoral body would resume collation of the Bauchi state governorship election.
APC’s lawyer insisted that unless the court issued the interim order, INEC would proceed with it plans, thereby rendering the subject matter of the litigation useless.
In a bench ruling, the court granted an interim injunction restraining INEC from resuming, concluding and announcing the governorship election result, pending the determination of all issues the plaintiffs raised in their originating summons.