…court adjourns case till June 1, as Atiku applies to join suit
By Ikechukwu Nnochiri
The Federal High Court sitting in Abuja, on Wednesday, suspended further proceedings on the suit seeking to halt the scheduled presidential primary election of the Peoples Democratic Party, PDP, till June 1.
Justice Donatus Okorowo deferred further hearing on the matter to await the decision of the Court of Appeal in Abuja.
The adjournment came on a day a former Vice President and presidential aspirant of the PDP, Alhaji Atiku Abubakar, applied to be joined as an interested party in the matter.
It will be recalled that PDP had fixed Saturday, May 28, to conduct its presidential primary election, and to that effect, screened 17 aspirants that obtained its presidential form to contest in the 2023 election.
However, an aggrieved aspirant, Mr. Cosmas Ndukwe, approached the court to challenge the scheduled presidential primary on the premise that PDP was planning to act in breach of its own zoning formula.
He told the court that the party had an arrangement that allowed for the rotation of elective offices, insisting that by that process, it ought to be the turn of the Southern part of the country, especially the South East geopolitical zone, to produce the next president.
Ndukwe, who is a former Deputy Speaker of the Abia State House of Assembly, also filed an application for an order of injunction to restrain his party from proceeding with the primary election, pending the hearing and determination of his suit.
Though the court declined to issue a restraining order, it, however, directed the plaintiff to put all the defendants on notice to enable them to appear before it to show cause why the primary election should not be halted.
Aside from the PDP, other defendant in the suit marked FHC/ABJ/CS/508/2022, were its National Chairman, Dr Iyorchia Ayu, Chairman of its Primary Election Planning Committee/National Secretary, Senator Samuel Anyanwu, as well as the Independent National Electoral Commission, INEC.
Meanwhile, at the resumed proceedings on Wednesday, Mr. Aliyu M. Aliyu, SAN, who appeared for the PDP Chairman, Dr. Ayu, told the court that he has entered an appeal before the Court of Appeal in Abuja.
He, therefore, urged the court to temporarily hands-off the case since the appellant had already okayed hearing on the case.
Besides, he drew attention of the court to the fact that the plaintiff lacked the locus standi to institute the action, stressing that he is not one of the presidential aspirants of the party.
Other defendants in the case aligned with Aliyu’s position and urged the court to adjourn the matter.
Though counsel to the plaintiff, Mr. Paul Erokoro, SAN, urged the court to refuse the request for adjournment, however, in a bench ruling, Justice Okorowo said he was minded to grant it.
More so, the court said there was need to suspend the proceedings since one of the parties seeking to be joined in the matter, Atiku, has not been heard.
“I have seen the processes filed by the 2nd defendant regarding the appeal and parties have acknowledged that they have received the notice of hearing.
“In the present case, there is a motion for joinder, an application which the court cannot ignore.
“I hereby order an adjournment in view of the motion for stay at the Court of Appeal.
“Matter is hereby adjourned to June 1 for continuation of hearing,” Justice Okorowo held.
The 3rd defendant in the matter, Senator Anyanwu, had earlier petitioned the Chief Judge of the Court, Justice John Tsoho, alleging that the presiding judge, Okorowo, was biased.
The PDP scribe, through his lawyer, Mr. Kalu Agu, urged the CJ to transfer the case to another judge of the high court for fair adjudication of the matter.
He alleged that Justice Okorowo granted ex-parte orders against the party, notwithstanding the fact that PDP already had a legal representative before the court.
Anyanwu, contended that processes the trial judge relied up to summon PDP to appear before him to show cause why reliefs sought by the plaintiff should not be granted, was not ripe for hearing as at the time the order was made.
He, therefore, maintained that the judge, had by his actions, exhibited “manifest bias”, insisting that allowing him to continue with the case, would lead “to a breach of fair hearing.”