By Ikechukwu Nnochiri
ABUJA – The Federal High Court in Abuja, on Friday, reversed itself by vacating its judgment that declared Dr. Obiora Okonkwo of the Peoples Democratic Party, PDP, as the validly elected representative for Anambra Central Senatorial District.
The court said it was misled by Okonkwo to enter the consent judgment that ordered the Independent National Electoral Commission, INEC, to issue Certificate of Return to him as Senator for the district.
The decison of the court has cleared the coast for INEC to proceed with the re-run election slated for Saturday.
Justice John Tsoho had in the said vacated judgment that was delivered on December 13, 2017, also directed the Senate President, Dr. Bukola Saraki to immediately swear-in the plaintiff to occupy the Senatorial seat which has been vacant since 2015.
The verdict followed a suit marked FHC/Abj/CS/1092/14, which Okonkwo filed against the PDP, its former National Chiarman, Alhaji Adamu Muazu, INEC and Mrs. Uche Ekwunife.
Meantime, Justice Tsoho reversed himself on the strenght of an application that INEC lodged before the court.
INEC had in a motion it filed on December 21, asked the court to set-aside the judgment which it said was in contrast with three subsisting decisions of the Court of Appeal.
According to the electoral body, the appellate court had in three separate verdicts in suit number CA/EPT/28/2015, delivered on December 7, 2015, CA/A/160/2016 and CA/A/165/2016, both delivered on November 20, 2017, directed it to within 90 days, conduct a re-run poll for the Senatorial district.
INEC, through its lawyer, Chief Adegboyega Awomolo, SAN, insisted that the high court lacked the powers to order it to issue Certificate of Return to Okonkwo, when the appellate court which is higher in hierachy, earlier made definite orders that fresh election should be conducted.
However, Okonkwo’s lawyer, Mr. Sebastian Hon, SAN, urged the court to dismiss INEC’s motion with substantial cost, insisting that the application was incompetent in law.
Hon stressed that the case of his client bordered on pre-election dispute.
Similarly, counsel to the PDP and that of Ekwunife aligned themselves with Hon’s position, contending that the high court had become functus-officio in the matter and could not sit on appeal to vary its own orders as it was prayed to do by INEC.
In his ruling on Friday, Justice Tsoho held that Okonkwo took steps that was not only deliberately misconcieved, but was meant to misdirect the court.
“The judgment entered by this court is a consent judgment rendered on procedural ground without trial. On that basis, this court is not rendered functus-officio.
“The judgment is not one based on merit, therefore this court has jurisdiction to revisit it. It cannot be described as final judgment to strip the court of its jurisdiction to revisit it”, the judge held.
Justice Tsoho stressed that Okonkwo’s claim that he was not a party to any of the cases decided by the Court of Appeal was immaterial in view of the fact that he is a member of the PDP which has already gone before the Supreme Court to challenge the verdicts.
He held that Okonkwo could not feign ignorance of the three verdicts that okayed fresh election for Anambra Central Senatorial district.
The Judge said if Okonkwo felt his interest was affected by the appellate court judgements, he ought to have gone before the Supreme Court for remedy.
“By doctrine of judicial precedence, decision of the Court of Appeal is ordinarily binding on this court in respect of this matter. If consent judgment of this court is at variance with decisions of the Court of Appeal, it is bound to be declared a nullity.
“Therefore, the consent judgment of this court is vacated and set-aside. Consequently, this suit is adjourned indefinitely pending the outcome of the appeals filed by the PDP at the Supreme Court”, Justice Tsoho held.
Meanwhile, after the ruling, Okonkwo, through his lawyer, Hon, SAN, vowed to appeal the decision.
Okonkwo had in the suit he filed in 2014, told the court that he contested and won the primary election PDP conducted for the district held on December 7, 2014, at Ekwueme Square in Awka by scoring the highest number of votes cast at the said primary.
He said the primary was conducted by the National Executive Committee of the party.
However, the plaintiff told the court that Chairman of the Electoral Panel that was sent to Anambra state to conduct the exercise, refused to sign and forward the Result Sheet of the primary poll and insisted that Abuja had directed them on whom they should return whether the Plaintiff scored the highest number of votes or not.
Dissatisfied with action of the party, the plaintiff filed the suit wherein he sought an interpretation of section 87 of the Electoral Act, 2010, by the court, even as he alleged breach of provisions of 2014 PDP Guidelines for primary election.
The Plaintiff said he was aware that the Court of Appeal in Enugu had in an election petition No CA/EPT/28/2015, held that Ekwunife did not win the said primary election and was not qualified to contest the National Assembly Election.
He insisted that what the appellate court decided in the petition that was filed by Chief Victor Umeh of the All Progressives Grand Alliance, APGA, against the PDP, was what he equally went to court to challenge, to the effect that he was the the validly nominated candidate of the PDP that scored highest number of votes at the primary and not Ekwunife.
Neverthless, after about three years into hearing of Okonkwo suit, all the defendants including INEC and Ekwunife, withdrew their objections to the suit, saying they would abide by the decision of the court.
Justice Tsoho agreed with counsel to the plaintiff that in view of the withdrawal of counter-affidavits by all defendants, he said the court was at liberty under the law to enter judgment in Okonkwo’s favour.
Justice Tsoho therefore granted relief three and sub-paragraph (i-iv) of the plaintiff’s amended originating summons dated June 20, 2017, a decision that was reversed on Friday to clear the coast for the Anambra Central Senatorial poll slated for today (Saturday).