IMO North Senatorial Bye-Election: Court to deliver judgment on Ararume suit March 16

From Godwin Tsa, Abuja

The Abuja division of the Federal High Court has fixed March 16, 2021 to deliver judgment in the suit filed by Senator IIfeanyi Ararume over the controversy surrounding the December 5, 2020 Imo North Senatorial Bye-Election.

The date was fixed on Tuesday after arguments were canvassed by counsel to parties to the suit.

The issues for arguments bordered centrally on the earlier judgements of the Supreme and Appeal Courts on the subject matter.

In the suit, the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC), the All Progressives Congress (APC) and Chukwuma Ibezim are listed as defendants.

Although the electoral body had declared APC winner of the December 5 senatorial bye-election, it however did not return a candidate from the party.

INEC hinged its decision on what it described as “several court orders” for and against the two major contenders.

Specifically, two court judgments had surfaced on December 4, 2020: one from the Court of Appeal, Owerri, and another from the Federal High Court, Abuja.

The Court of Appeal faulted the judgment of the Federal High Court, Owerri, which had nullified the candidacy of Ibezim and declared him candidate, while sacking Araraume barely 24 hours to the election.

However, the Federal High Court, Abuja had on the other hand declared Araraume as candidate of the party on the grounds that Ibezim presented fake certificates to the APC and INEC.

Araraume, in his argument, said he had also filed an application at the Supreme Court praying that the execution of the Appeal Court judgement be stayed.

It is on this basis that the former lawmaker approached Justice Taiwo’s court for an order compelling INEC to issue him the certificate of return as the winner of the poll.

However, another contestant for the seat on the platform of the APC, Ibezim has urged the court to reject Ararume’s plea.

Justice Taiwo had, on February 9, directed the parties to submit the earlier judgements by the apex court and Appeal Court for his perusal to avoid judicial rascality.

At the resumed sitting on Tuesday, Ararume’s counsel, Ahmed Raji, SAN, argued that following the Appeal Court’s decision in Abuja, Ibezim cannot claim to be APC’s candidate.

In urging the court to discountenance Ibezim’s argument, he submitted “My lord, the two judgements of the Court of Appeal conclusively disqualified Ibezim (the third defendant) in this matter.

“Therefore, we have three concurrent findings of the trial court and the two court of Appeal judgements, disqualifying Ibezim; meaning that the third defendant cannot be an aspirant or a candidate which was why we did not join him before he forced his way into this matter.

“There is no way a trial court can make an order in favour of a disqualified person and the second defendant (APC) is not allowed by law to put forward a disqualified person,” he said.

He further added that “regarding the Supreme Court judgments, I submit that they are not relevant to this matter.

“The narrow point in that matter is that no relief can be granted against a non-party (Ibezim) to a suit.

“Supreme court never talked about disqualification or qualifications; more so, the Appeal Court judgement came having been aware of the apex court judgement.

“I urge the court to be bound by the Court of Appeal judgement because it is relevant to the issue in this matter, and not the Supreme Court judgement.”

Raji urged the court to grant the reliefs sought by his client.

Counsel to the APC, Emman Osayomi, said though parties were bound by the decisions of the Appeal and Supreme Courts under review, the apex court verdict had an effect on Ararume too.

On her part, Ibezim’s lawyer, Mrs. Oso Daudu, told the judge that the matter was predicated on the judgement of the Federal High Court, Owerri (in Ararume’s favour) which had been nullified by the Supreme Court on Feb. 5.

“Can the plaintiff enforce judgement that has been nullified by the Supreme Court?” she asked, adding that, “If the question is not answered in the affirmative, I urge my lord to dismiss the plaintiff’s suit as he has no locus in this matter before your lordship.”

But Justice Taiwo asked Daudu to address the court on the implication of the Appeal Court judgement on her client (Ibezim).

Also speaking, Raji corrected that the suit was based on the trial court judgement of Justice Inyang Ekwo and not that of Owerri court.

Justice Taiwo, who pointed out that his decision would be based on earlier judgements of the courts, said he would deliver judgment in the suit on March 16.