By Andrew Orolua & Val Okara
A Federal High Court in Abuja on Thursday ordered the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) to declare Chief Ifeanyi Ararume as the winner of the Imo North Senatorial District’s bye-election held on December 5, 2020.
The Judge further ordered the electoral body to issue a Certificate of Return to Ararume within 72 hours from the delivery of the judgment to enable him to be formally inaugurated by the Senate President.
But, the All Progressives Congress (APC), and Supreme Court declared candidate in the election, Frank Ibezim, has accused Justice Taiwo Taiwo of involving himself in judicial rascality.
Three months after the Imo North Senatorial bye-election the electoral body has not declared anybody as a winner or issued a Certificate of Return to either Chukwuma Francis Ibezim or Chief Ifeanyi Ararume who were contesting the party candidacy.
Though APC won the majority of lawful votes cast at the election, INEC has been in dilemma over who is the authentic candidate of the party, because of conflicting court judgments on the candidacy of APC for the election.
Delivering the judgment, Justice Taiwo dismissed the preliminary objection filed by the APC and Ibezim.
Both had challenged the jurisdiction of the court to entertain Ararume’s suit.
The Judge held that the objection lacked merit because Ibezim being purportedly APC candidate in the by-election had been disqualified by a Federal High Court whose decision had been upheld by the Court of Appeal for supplying false information to INEC to secure clearance for participation in the election.
Ararume had, through his counsel, Ahmed Raji (SAN) told Justice Taiwo to invoke the judgements of a Federal High Court and that of Appeal Court to disqualify Ibezim and declare him as the rightful candidate of APC.
He also said that the judgements of the high court and later the Court of Appeal have conclusively disqualified Ibezim and he cannot claim to be an aspirant or candidate in the Imo North Senatorial election.
In opposing Ararume’s suit, APC had told the court that it never fielded Ararume for the last year December senatorial bye-election for Imo North Senatorial district of Imo State.
The party had, insisted that Ararume lacked locus standi to lay claim to the candidacy because he did not even come second in the primary election conducted for candidates’ nomination and urged the court to dismiss his suit.
Ararume had dragged the INEC, APC and Ibezim before the Federal High Court praying for an order to compel INEC to recognise him as the APC senatorial candidate in the election won by the party.
He claimed that Ibezim, having been disqualified by a Federal High Court on account of supplying false information to INEC to secure clearance and the disqualification having been upheld by the Court of Appeal in Abuja had knocked off Ibezim from laying any claim to the outcome of the by-election.
But, the APC, through its counsel, Osho Daudu asked the court to discountenance Ararume’s claims, insisting that his name was never forwarded to INEC, but that of Chukwuma Francis Ibezim.
The counsel submitted that a Federal High Court judgment delivered in Owerri, Imo State which erroneously conferred locus on Ararume had been voided by Supreme Court and cannot confer any advantage on the plaintiff.
Emma Osayomi, representing Ibezim, in his own submissions, had said that his client has approached the Supreme Court to challenge his disqualification on account of variation in his name.
The counsel argued that as at the election day, the name of his client was on the INEC list and not that of Ararume and urged the court to dismiss Ararume’s claims and hold that Chukwuemeka Francis remains the APC candidate.
Reacting to the ruling while speaking with journalists through telephone, shortly after Justice Taiwo delivered the judgment, Ibezim said that the verdict was “a shame on our democracy.”
Ibezim, who is a former Commissioner for Agriculture and Natural Resources in Imo State, said that the “judgment is a shame of democracy.
It is a big shame on our judicial process too.” He said that it was baffling that Justice Taiwo could ignore a Supreme Court judgment which had on February 5, declared him the legally recognized APC candidate for the bye-election.
READ ALSO: Imo North senatorial seat: court orders INEC to issue certificate of return to Ararume
He said that Justice Taiwo ought to be reported to the National Judicial Council for undermining the judgment of the Supreme Court. Ibezim said, “Today’s judgment is a sad commentary on our judicial process and democracy.
On why Justice Taiwo decided to embark on this judicial rascality is still a surprise to me. The question is, on what premise did Justice Taiwo deliver this judgment.
If it was a pre-election matter, it was filled out of time. If it is a post-election matter, Justice Taiwo does not have the locus to entertain it. It is the tribunal.
“Justice Taiwo is supposed to be reported to the National Judicial Council for judicial recklessness.
The issue of who is the authentic candidate of APC for the Imo North bye-election was decided by the Supreme Court in its judgment on February 5, which went in my favor. Araraume was not a party to the bye-election,” he said.
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