Nigeria’s judiciary was virtually thrown into palpable confusion on Thursday, following the upturning of a Supreme Court judgment on the Imo North Senatorial election by Justice Taiwo Taiwo of the Federal High Court, Abuja.
Justice Taiwo declared Senator Ifeanyi Ararume the authentic candidate of the All Progressives Congress (APC) for the December 5, 2020, Imo North Senatorial by-election and ordered the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) to issue a certificate of return to Ararume within 72 hours based on the result of the election in which the APC was declared winner.
Judicial analysts, however, view the order as running contrary to an earlier judgment by the Supreme Court on February 5, 2021, affirming the judgment of the Federal Court of Appeal, which had declared Sir Frank Ibezim as the authentic candidate of the APC for the Imo North Senatorial by-election.
A three-member panel of the Court of Appeal had set aside an earlier judgment of the Federal High Court, Owerri which declared Ararume candidate, and directed INEC to reinstate Ibezim as the APC candidate.
However, Justice Taiwo Taiwo of the Federal High Court, in Abuja, in the judgement delivered on Thursday, overruled the apex court, stating that by a recent judgment by the Court of Apeal in Abuja, the 3rd defendant, Frank Chukwuma Ibezim, remained disqualified.
Although INEC had declared APC winner of the by-election, the commission 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. Ibezim and Araraume had both laid claims as APC candidates prior to the election.
Judicial watchers have been left wondering the legal impact of a High Court discountenancing the Supreme Court ruling on the issue of the APC candidate for the election. This is all the more confusing given that the issue of Ibezim disqualification was an ongoing litigation before the Supreme Court and the apex court was billed to give a final determination on or before April 16th 2021.
More surprising was the fact that Ararume who filed a cross appeal on the issue at the apex court hurriedly withdrew the matter when Ibezim’s lawyers had queried his suit at the Federal High Court, Abuja as an abuse of court processes.
Justice Taiwo took judicial notice of the withdrawal of the cross appeal by Ararume’s lawyers in dismissing a motion by Ibezim’s lawyers seeking to arrest Thursday’s judgement.
As at the time of filing this report, Ibezim has already filed a notice of appeal and an Order of Stay of Execution against the judgment.
Expectedly, Ibezim has quickly appealed against the judgment and also filed for Order of Stay of Execution at the Appeal Court.
Meanwhile, an Owerri High Court has restrained INEC from issuing Certificate of Return to Araraume.
Presiding Justice E.O. Agada issued an interim order restraining the Independent National Electoral Commission INEC from recognizing Sen. Ararume as the winner of the bye-election.
The suit brought by the All Progressives Grand Alliance (APGA) and some of its members was brought pursuant to order 7 Rule 5 (1) , (2) and Order 39 Rule 1 of the High Court of Imo Court (Civil Procedure) Rules 2017.
Justice Agada further restrained INEC from issuing Ararume with Certificate of Return or any other instrument in his favour pending the hearing and determination of the Motion on Notice in the suit.