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Tribunal Disappoints Ihedioha

The Election Petition Tribunal In Imo State Strikes Out Suit Filed By Pdp Governorship Candidate Against Election Of Rochas Okorocha On Technical Grounds

Former Deputy Speaker of the House of Representatives and Governorship candidate of the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) in Imo state, Hon. Emeka Ihedioha, watched yesterday and his decision to seek legal redress and unseat Governor Rochas Okorocha of the All Progressives Congress (APC) crashed like a pack of badly arranged cards.

The election petition tribunal sitting in Owerri, in a surprise move, struck out and dismissed his suit challenging Okorocha’s election. But Ihedioha has vowed not to let the decision stand as he heads to the Court of Appeal. Chairman of the tribunal, Justice David Wyon, who dismissed the petition, upheld contention of the lead counsel to Governor Okorocha, Chief Adeniyi Akintola (SAN), who sustained an argument that Ihedioha had abandoned the petition having failed to do all he was expected to do after filing, including the payment of the approved fee within the time limit.

Okorocha’s counsel had filed a motion to that effect, asking the tribunal to strike out Ihedioha’s petition on the ground of the serious flaws in the whole exercise and quoted extensively both the electoral law and the constitution and other legal authorities to back his submissions. Addressing journalists at the end of the verdict, Akintola said the petition was clear and was dismissed for running short of the provisions of the Electoral Act, adding that with the development, Ihedioha had reached end of the road at the tribunal.

According to him, the “petitioner filed on the 23rd June, and later went on July 3, 2015 to pay, which was clearly outside the 7 days prescribed by paragraph 18 of first schedule of the Electoral Act, then we latched on that, and then the question was whether the letter for pre-hearing notice without payment was valid and whether the payment made on the 3rd of July will validate the pre-trial notice that was submitted. No valid pre-hearing notice was filed”.

Akintola said the petition was dismissed on points of law because according to him, the service of the 3rd to 37 respondents at the APC secretariat had to do with the fact that majority of the respondents were members of the PDP, “and since they were members of the PDP, could the same party sue them in an election petition. The answer is no since you cannot sue yourself, adding that they waited for them until the people responded and admitted being PDP chairmen at various LGAs in Imo”.

However, dissatisfied, Ihedioha has said the pursuit is not yet over. Responding to the judgment, through his counsel, Chief Mike Ahamba (SAN), the petitioner said he would quickly proceed to Court of Appeal, because according to him, “the ruling of the tribunal was very surprising”. “He (the tribunal) has ruled and we said as the court pleases.

But I have come out and received a telephone instruction by my client to proceed to the Court of Appeal and I intend to do so because the word abandonment has lost its meaning. “If a petition that has gone through pre-hearing session in which all parties participated can it now be said to have been abandoned? It then means I don’t know the meaning of abandonment. Again, maybe at the Court of Appeal, we will get a proper definition of abandonment.

This is the position”, Ahamba said. He explained that he fulfilled all necessary requirements needed at the tribunal, but expressed surprise that the tribunal decided to rule on the pre-hearing notice application on the ground that the application notice was a jurisdictional matter.

“What happened in court was that there were three motions to be decided: one had to do with filing prehearing application, the other had to do with striking out the reply filed by the governor and the APC as being incompetent process before the court; and another one was an effort to amend that process which we said was a void process.

They were conceding that all was not well with the process. But the court decided to rule on the pre-hearing notice application on the ground that the application notice was a jurisdictional matter. That was a surprise to me because the three Supreme Court authorities I cited stated clearly that it was not jurisdictional. “For the Court of Appeal to have been used to override a Supreme Court decision as recent as 2013 and 2014 is a surprise to me”, Ahamba said.

He also expressed surprise that the tribunal overruled Supreme Court authorities on the issue of whether an application for pre-hearing was jurisdictional, saying “It was based on that, that he opted to hear the application to dismiss our petition for abandonment because it was jurisdictional. “It is law that the rule of court does not create jurisdiction.

The thing they were complaining about is Paragraph 18:1 of the rule guiding election petition proceedings and the Supreme Court has said that it does not raise a jurisdiction question but the tribunal in Owerri says it does. “The Supreme Court said it can even be done orally but they overruled the Supreme Court saying it cannot be done orally.

There is nothing I can do but to go and complain at the Court of Appeal. “In any case, this motion was pending before we started pre-hearing: Why did we start pre-hearing? If the application for pre-hearing was incompetent, the motion to strike it out to say it was incompetent was already pending before the tribunal.

Why did we go through the rigours of pre-hearing and then adjourned for report of pre-hearing before it now recognized that it was an incompetent process? That is what I want to take to the Court of Appeal for determination because I can’t overrule them: I can’t even say they are wrong but I will go to a higher court to see if they are right or wrong. “The judgment is valid, but I tell you, I am embarrassed by it as a senior lawyer in my 41 years of practice”, he said.

-Damian Duruiheoma, Owerri

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