By Ikechukwu Nnochiri
ABUJA- The Abuja Division of the Federal High Court, on Tuesday, gave the Independent National Electoral Commission, INEC, the nod to proceed with the collation of results of the Rivers State Governorship and House of Assembly elections.
The court, in a judgment that was delivered by Justice Inyang Ekwo, dismissed the suit that was lodged by the African Action Congress, AAC, its governorship candidate in the state, Mr. Biokpomabo Awara and Dr. Ben Gurion John Peter.
Justice Ekwo agreed with the Peoples Democratic Party, PDP, that the court lacked the requisite jurisdiction to entertain the suit.
The court stressed that the suit being a post-election matter, could only be entertained by an election petition tribunal.
It held that the suit was an attempt by the plaintiffs to constitute the court to an election petition tribunal.
The court therefore upheld PDP’s preliminary objection and dismissed the suit for want of merit.
The plaintiffs had in their suit marked FHC/ ABJ/CS/303/2019, prayed the court for an order “restraining the 1st Respondent (INEC) from further action in any manner whatsoever, including the counting/collation of votes, declaration and return of any candidate in the Gubernatorial and Houses of Assembly election of 9th March, 2019, in Rivers State, pending the hearing and determination of the Motion on Notice”.
They anchored the request on section 36 of the 1999 Constitution, section 26(5) of the Electoral Act, 2010, as well as Order 46 Rule 5 of the Federal High Court Civil Procedure Rules 2009.
Listing the grounds upon which the application was brought, the plaintiffs, told the court that, “The 1st Respondent (INEC) had earlier admitted that the election in Rivers State was marred with substantial violence that compromised the credibility of the entire process thereby suspending the election.
“Without calling for a fresh election, the 1st Respondent has announced via a press release that it is now set to continue with the election from this Wednesday, 20th March 2019”.
They urged the court to abridge the time within which the parties should file their processes for the matter to be heard.
It will be recalled that INEC which earlier stopped the entire election process in Rivers State, had declared its intention to resume the collation of the results in 17 Local Government Areas of the state.
The electoral body said its decision to resume the collation process was based on the report of a fact-finding committee it had set up to investigate allegations that elections in Rivers state was fraught with manifest irregularities.
However, dissatisfied with the decision, the AAC candidate who had insisted that he should be declared winner of the governorship contest, approached the court for an interim order to stop INEC from proceeding with the planned collation exercise.
Awara who is backed by the All Progressives Congress, APC, and the Minister of Transport, Mr. Rotimi Amaechi, maintained that with results already on ground, he won the incumbent Governor of the state and flag-bearer of the PDP, Mr. Nyesom Wike.
Cited as Respondents in the suit the plaintiffs filed on March 18, were INEC and the PDP.