Agbaso/ohakim Suit: Court Of Appeal Commences Hearing


The Court of Appeal, Owerri commenced hearing on the ressurected Agbaso/Ohakim governorship suit on Tuesday, 19th October. During the hearing, the lead Counsel to Chief Agbaso,P.I.N IKWUETO, said “I concede that my application is one of a very exceptional character as concerned the governorship election”. He said that he was prepared to advance arguments in the matter. He asked for the court's direction with regard to written addresses.

Chief Bon Nwakamma (SAN), the lead counsel to Governor Ohakim, said that they were served on 15/10/10. He raised a preliminary objection and asked for a few days to enable him study the papers.

Mrs B.I Amadi, counsel to INEC, said “we are not responding until we receive the 1st Respondent's (i.e. Governor Ohakim) papers. The court adjourned the hearing to 3rd November, 2010.

Addressing members of All Progressives' Grand Alliance (APGA) who thronged around him, Mr. Chudi Onuzor, the Deputy Governorship candidate of APGA in the 2007 governorship election, gave a brief insight into why APGA was back in the court in search of justice, three and half years after the governorship election. Mr. Chudi Onuzor's explanation could be paraphrased thus: The APGA Appeal is caused by the judgment of the Supreme Court (SC) which was delivered on July 16th. The SC held that what took place on April 14th, 2007 was an election and suits arising therefore should be heard in the Election Petitions' Tribunal. This contrasts sharply with the judgments in the Imo State Election Petitions Tribunal, Owerri and the Appeal Court in Port Harcourt where APGA's suit was thrown out on the grounds of lack of jurisdiction. Both courts held that Agbaso's suit was a pre-election matter which should not be heard by the Elections Petitions Tribunal but by regular courts. Perhaps, it is pertinent to state that Chief Agbaso's suit at Abuja High Court- a regular court-was also set aside on the grounds of lack of jurisdiction.

In its judgment of 16th July, the Supreme Court said: “no, it's a post-election matter”. The Supreme Court went further to say that “the tribunal is not an ad hoc panel, it's a court set up by the Constitution that can sit any time when there are matters within its jurisdiction to warrant it to sit”. They also ruled that “the 14th April 2007 exercise having been an election, the Tribunal has power and jurisdiction to hear everything that concerns the election, including what happened during the election and after the election including the cancellation of the election”.

So, with this pronouncement the Supreme Court set aside all the reasons given by the Election Tribunal and Appeal Court for not hearing the suit. Simply put, the Supreme Court said: “You have jurisdiction. All those reasons you gave are not admissible. You did not interpret the law correctly. The correct interpretation of the law is that Agbaso's suit should be heard in the Election Tribunal because what took place on 14th April 2007 was, indeed, an election”. The APGA Group went back to the Court of Appeal because it's a court of final jurisdiction in election matters. It's not like regular courts where you can appeal to the Supreme Court, if you are dissatisfied with the judgment. In election matters, the only court that can set aside what it did before is itself (i.e. Court of Appeal). The Supreme Court cannot direct it to set aside its judgment. However, the Supreme Court can intervene whenever there are issues that border on constitutional interpretation. So, what the Chief Agbaso suit is all about is that the Appeal Court should set aside its earlier ruling.

The prayer to set aside its earlier ruling is grounded on the premise that the earlier ruling was based on wrong understanding of the law. In the eyes of the law, the judgment was made per incuriam( mistake) – it was made with a wrong understanding of the law as it ought to be. What the APGA Group is saying is that since the Supreme Court is the apex Court and senior to the Court of Appeal, the doctrine of Stare Decisis i.e. judicial precedent holds. This means that when a higher court makes a pronouncement on an issue, the lower court is bound to follow it.

So, the APGA Group is saying that this is not a new suit. It's the same matter that we brought before you but which was thrown out on the grounds of lack of jurisdiction. Now the Supreme Court has made a pronouncement on the matter clarifying any lingering doubts at the time the Court of Appeal made its judgment and above all contradicting your views, the theory of Stare Decisis demands that you are bound to follow the decision of the Supreme Court and correct your mistakes by setting aside your former judgment and thereafter assume jurisdiction and send the matter to the Elections Tribunal for hearing.

It will be recalled that in its judgment dated 16th July, 2010 the Apex Court conclusively clarified that “what took place on 14th April 2007 in Imo State in particular was an election and as such any action relating to the processes leading thereto including the actual conduct of the event or its cancellation falls within the jurisdiction of the Election Tribunal by operation of law” In the light of the Supreme Court judgment, Chief Agbaso demands that “on the immutable principle of Ubi Jus Ibi remedium, it is of fundamental importance to the administration of justice in this country that this Honourable Court exercises its discretion to review and or rescind/set aside the judgment dated 14th April 2008 to enable the radical issue of the cancellation of the Governorship election held in Imo State on 14th April 2007 by the 2nd and 3rd respondents to be determined on its merits” .

In the suit, Martin Agbaso is listed as the Appellant/Applicant. The respondents are

1. Ikedi Ohakim
2. Independent National Election Commission (INEC)

3. The Residential Electoral Commissioner for Imo State

The suit is being heard by the Justices of the Court of Appeal, Owerri. They include Hon. Justice A.J. Addulkadir, Hon. Justice H.M. Ogunwumiju, and Hon. Justice M.A. Owoade.

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