*… dismisses eligibility suit for lacking in merit
By Ikechukwu Nnochiri, ABUJA
Respite came the way of the governor-elect of Anambra State, Prof. Chukwuma Soludo, on Wednesday, as the Federal High Court sitting in Abuja, declined to nullify his election.
The court, in a judgement that was delivered by Justice Taiwo Taiwo, dismissed a suit that sought to invalidate Soludo’s election on the allegation that he supplied false information to the Independent National Electoral Commission, INEC.
The Plaintiffs, Adindu Valentine and Egwudike Chukwuebuka, had in their suit marked FHC/ABJ/CS/711/2021, alleged that Soludo lied in the affidavit (Form EC9), which he submitted to INEC.
They claimed that Soludo, in the said affidavit attached to his nomination form, stated that he was contesting the Aguata 2 Constituency seat, when, in fact, he was contesting the governorship seat.
More so, they told the court that an affidavit Soludo’s running mate and Deputy Governor-elect, Onyeka Ibezim, also submitted to INEC, contained false particulars considering that he stated that he was vying for Awka 2 Constituency seat.
Cited as Defendants in the suit were the INEC, the All Progressives Grand Alliance, APGA, Soludo and the Deputy Governor-elect, Ibezim.
The Plaintiffs, through their lawyers, , A. O. Ijeri and Kelvin Okoko, argued that having indicated the wrong seat on the form, Soludo, violated extant legal provisions and ought to be disqualified.
“The constitution has made a state a constituency in relation to the governorship election, but in this case, the third defendant (Soludo) named Aguata 2 as the constituency he is contesting.
“The cause of action in a pre-election matter, by the provision of Section 285(9) of the Constitution, is determined by the date of the occurrence of the event, a decision or action complained about in the suit by the Plaintiff.
“And in the instant suit, the cause of action of the Plaintiffs arose on July 6, 2021, when the 3rd Defendant’s (Soludo’s) Form EC9 was submitted by the political party (the 2nd Defendant)”, they argued.
However, counsel for APGA and Soludo, Onyechi Ikpeazu, SAN, queried jurisdiction of the court to entertain the matter which he maintained was statue barred.
Aside from contending that the suit was filed outside the 14 days period stipulated by the Constitution, Ikpeazu, argued that error in an affidavit could not be a basis to disqualify a candidate from an election.
He argued that the false information claimed by the Plaintiffs was not among the grounds stated in the 1999 Constitution for the disqualification of a candidate.
“False information, as envisage in Section 31 of the Electoral Act is criminal in nature. Section 31 does not deal with error, but a deliberate effort to steal a match and to misrepresent”, he added.
On its part, INEC, through its lawyer, Bashir Abubakar, said it would leave the issue to the discretion of the court.
Meanwhile, in his judgement on Wednesday, though Justice Taiwo dismissed the preliminary objection challenging the competence of the suit and jurisdiction of the court to hear it, he however held that the Plaintiffs, failed to establish that they had a reasonable cause of action.
Justice Taiwo held that the Plaintiffs failed to convince the court on how the alleged false information both Soludo and Ibezim supplied to INEC, misled them.
The court held that since the allegation by the Plaintiffs were also criminal in nature, it ought to be proved beyond reasonable doubt.
It held that the suit was filed in bad faith and a good example of cases that are not geared towards strengthening of the tenets of democracy in the country.
“I am yet to come to terms on the purpose for which this suit was filed. I am saying this because I am not convinced that this action is reasonable”, Justice Taiwo added.
Consequently, the court awarded N2million cost against the Plaintiffs, in favour of the APGA, Soludo and Ibezim.