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Court fixes March 25 to decide on Bauchi guber election case

THE Federal High Court, Abuja, has fixed March 25 for judgement on the case filed by the Governor of Bauchi State, Mohammed Abubakar, and the All Progressives Congress (APC) challenging the decision of the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) to resume collation exercise in the state’s gubernatorial election.

The election had been declared inconclusive on the basis that the number of cancelled votes was higher than the margin of lead between the two top political parties. But INEC later announced that it was resuming collation because it found out that the number of cancelled votes was tampered with, and instead of 2,533, was written as 25,330.

But Abubakar and the APC took the matter to court, saying that INEC has no power to overrule the pronouncement of the returning officer who had already declared the election inconclusive.

In the case filed before Justice Inyang Ekwo on March 18, the plaintiffs, through their counsel, Ahmed Raji, a Senior Advocate of Nigeria, asked the court to determine whether any other person or body, except a court of competent jurisdiction, has the powers to overrule a returning officer whose pronouncement ought to be final in an election process.

But INEC, represented in court by Tanimu Inuwa (SAN), filed an objection, saying that the court lacks jurisdiction to entertain any case that deals with issues of an election or any of its processes. The commission claims that such cases ought to be heard by the election petitions tribunal.

During the hearing on Thursday, Raji argued that elections petitions tribunal could only entertain cases where a return has been made by the INEC returning officer, but where no return has been made, as is the case in Bauchi, the election petitions tribunal is powerless.

“If the court shut us out, by saying it has no jurisdiction, and the election petitions tribunal shut us out because a return has not been made, to whom shall we go? We would be left in the lurch. Do not leave us in the lurch, my Lord,” he prayed the court.

Raji also posited that while INEC consulted with the various political parties before it declared the election inconclusive, the commissioner made a U-turn and unilaterally announced that collation would resume, in violation of his clients’ right to fair hearing.

He, therefore, urged the court to overrule INEC’s objection to the suit filed by his client’s prayers but to grant them the reliefs they sought.

Responding, Inuwa said that the Electoral Act does not permit any court to entertain any issue bordering on election or any of its processes, and since what was being argued is the issue of collation of result, which is an election process, the court lacked jurisdiction to hear the matter.

He also said that being an independent body, INEC does not need to consult anyone before taking any decision on an election matter, hence the issue of denying the APC and Abubakar fair hearing does not arise.

Inuwa said that since the election was still in progress, Abubakar and the APC ought to have waited for a return to be made, and then approach the election petitions tribunal with its complaints, rather than jumping the gun and coming to the federal high court which, according to him, clearly lacks jurisdiction in the matter.

Having listened to both parties, justice Inyang commended them for their “industry” in pursuing the case and ensuring that it was concluded in good time. He said the development is a good one for the Nigerian justice system which has been painted bad before the public as never delivering timely judgements.

He assured the parties that justice would be delivered in the case in less than ten days from the date it was first filed, on March 18. Justice Inyang subsequently adjourned the matter till March 25 for judgement.

The Bauchi governorship race is between the incumbent Governor, Mohammed Abubakar of the APC, and Bala Mohammed, former Minister of the Federal Capital Territory, who is contesting on the platform of the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP).

As at the time the election was declared inconclusive, the PDP candidate, Mohammed, was leading the race with a slim margin.

Meanwhile, INEC has released the schedule for the supplementary election which will be held in 36 polling units across 15 LGAs of Bauchi State. The timetable, which was obtained by The Punch from the commission’s office in Bauchi on Thursday, showed that a total of 22, 641 registered voters are expected to participate in the exercise.

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