IMO GUBER: JUDGE REFUSES TO SIT ON SUIT TO STOP ELECTION
A Federal High Court judge, Justice Bilikisu Aliyu, yesterday in Abuja kept lawyers and politicians in suspense and confusion over a suit brought by the All Progressives Grand Alliance (APGA) and its Imo State governorship candidate, Owelle Rochas Okorocha seeking to stop the supplementary governorship election holding today in the state.
The situation was created by the absence of the judge to sit over the exparte application which was supposed to be moved in her court. However, after waiting for hours, an official of the court announced that Justice Aliyu was attending a meeting and would sit after the said meeting. The information kept lawyers, politicians and journalists who thronged the courtroom waiting with bated breath for hours.
But while the waiting game was on, calls started coming in from interested parties in Imo State that the elections had been cancelled by the court. It was in the midst of this confusion that an Abuja based legal practitioner, Mr. Chukwuma-Machukwu Ume called on the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) to approach the Court for an order compelling the state House of Assembly to pass a resolution empowering the Attorney-General of Imo State to take over power on May 29 till when a new governor would be sworn in.
In the suit, the plaintiffs/ applicants had in a motion on notice filed by their lawyer, Prof. Francis Dike (SAN) asked the court to stop INEC from conducting supplementary elections slated for today in the state. They warned that unless the court stoped the elections, there would likely be a breakdown of law and order in Imo State.
As at the time of filing this report, the court was yet to sit, as the Judge was said to be out of the court premises.
Meanwhile, Ume, who was reacting to the development said the supplementary election would generate a serious constitutional crisis.
To avoid such a stalemate, he called on INEC to apply to the court for an order, compelling the state House of Assembly to pass a resolution empowering the Attorney-General of the state to take over power on May 29 till when a new governor would be sworn in. He said that would be the only solution to the looming constitutional crisis engendered by the supplementary election.
The constitutional lawyer, in a letter to the Chairman of INEC, Prof. Attahiru Jega, made available to Journalists in Abuja, stated that proceeding with the election in four local government areas where election did not hold in April 26 would worsen the constitutional problem that cropped up following the commission's inability to declare a winner.
He warned that if not properly handled, the Imo State inconclusive governorship election could lead to avoidable anticlimax,u capable of dampening the accolade on the manner the commission had conducted some of the elections in the recent past.
According to him: 'Even constitutionally, only court of law has the capacity to give an unbiased and bidding interpretation and way out from the grave constitutional quagmire. This is more so as after 29 April, 2011, any election, the declaration of result and making of a return must require validation from court of law, else all the processes in the Imo State governorship election would be void, having offended the constitutional provision.
'The Commission needs to consider putting on hold, the conclusion of the Imo State inconclusive governorship election slated for May 6, 2011.
The Commission should urgently approach court of law with, all the governorship candidates in Imo State, all political parties sponsoring them and Imo State House of Assembly, for interpretation of the constitutional issues now cropping up. Simply put, as the Commission has failed to put in place a governor-elect for Imo State as expected by the constitution, it is envisaged that this suggestion would also enable the Commission to apply to the Court for an order compelling the Imo State House of Assembly to pass a resolution empowering the current Attorney-General of the state to handle the affairs of the state from May 29, 2011 till when a new governor is sworn in and validating the conduct of the remaining election, the attendant declaration of result and return of the governor-elect.'
Umeh said the supplementary election ordered by INEC was illegal as it was not known to the nation's statute books.
He said: 'The reality now is that as at April 29, 2011, the Commission has neither declared nor returned a governor- elect for Imo State contrary to what the constitution expects of the Commission. 'Section 178 (2) of the Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria, 1999 as amended, states that, an election to the office of governor of a state shall be held on a date not earlier than 150days and not later than 60 days before the expiration of the term of office of the last holder of that office.'
Ume argued that Governor Ohakim, the current governor of Imo State took the oath of allegiance and oath of office on May 29, 2007. Thus, any valid election, declaration of result and return to that office ought to have been concluded on or before April 29, 2011.'It is interesting to note that though Section 178 (3) of the constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria, 1999 (as amended) grants the Commission power to extend time for nomination of candidates for election to the office of the governor of a state, same constitution denies the commission the power to hold election and return a candidate to that office on any date not lesser than 30 days to the expiration of the term of office of the last holder of the office.'
He stated that the Imo State inconclusive governorship election on May 6, 2011 would never be in consonance with section 178 (2) of the constitution. The puzzles were, considering the provision of section 26 (3) of the electoral Act, 2010 (as amended), if the Imo State inconclusive governorship election was concluded on or about May 6, 2011, what date would the Certificate of Return bear and how would that date not offend section 178 (2) of the constitution.
'Agreed that Section 26 (2) of the Electoral Act, 2010 (as amended) empowers the commission to postpone election, in any case, the postponement must be subject to that constitution provision of Section 178(2) as the constitution overrides every other law', he stated. He stated that since the commission had failed to take advantage of section 26 (4) and (5) of the Electoral Act 2010 , coupled with the failure to continue and conclude the election, declare a winner and make return on or before April 25, 2011, the Imo State governorship election had gone far beyond the May 6, 2011 hasty solution.