By Jonathan Ugbal
A Federal High Court sitting in Calabar and presided over by Justice Ijeoma Ojukwu has fixed October 24, 2022, for the judgment on a suit seeking to disqualify Senator Bassey Otu as the gubernatorial candidate of the All Progressives Congress, APC, in the 2023 general elections.
The date was fixed following the adoption of processes filed by the different parties in suit number FHC/CA/CS/95/2022 between Senator John Owan-Enoh (plaintiff), and the APC (first defendant), Independent National Electoral Commission, INEC (second defendant) and Senator Bassey Otu (third defendant).
The Court had earlier struck out an application to subpoena a staff of the West African Examinations Council to testify on the authenticity of the results of the third defendant.
The plaintiff had approached the Court via an originating summons to, among other reliefs sought, disqualify the third defendant as the guber candidate of the first defendant in the 2023 general elections.
At the hearing of the substantive matter on Thursday, counsel for the plaintiff, Awa Kalu, SAN submitted that the third defendant was at all times not qualified to contest the first defendant’s primaries to qualify as a candidate. He drew the attention of the Court to different arguments in their affidavits and pointed out that it was the first defendant that provided the educational qualifications of the third defendant.
He prayed the Court to uphold their arguments, while also submitting amidst other points that the counter-affidavits of the first and third defendants were not in tandem, as one will expect that a Father and his Son will have the same story of the same event they witnessed.
Counsel for the first defendant, Essien Andrew, SAN, however, objected to the point raised by the Plaintiff on the differences in their affidavits. He submitted that the fact that the first defendant provided more details was not a contradiction, since there was no conflict.
On whether the third defendant was cleared to participate in the primaries, He argued that there was no provision in the Electoral Act 2022, as amended, that showed how political parties must conduct their primaries, therefore, the clearance to participate was solely the internal affair of the first defendant. Furthermore, he submitted that the plaintiff has failed to provide any counter documents to the ones filed by the first defendant and pointed out that the language used by the first defendant’s screening committee was “inconclusive” and not, “disqualified.”
The second defendant did not join any issues with other parties. However, the Counsel, Matthew Ugwuocha Esq said the second defendant in fulfillment of Sections 83 and 84 of the Electoral Act 2022 as amended, duly monitored and observed the primary elections of the first defendant in which the third defendant emerged as the winner.
The Counsel to the third defendant, Mike Ozekhome, SAN, while relying on their depositions filed before the Court, said the plaintiffs’ case was anchored on two points – the clearance of the third defendant to contest in the primaries of the first defendant and the academic qualifications of the third defendant.
He submitted that at no point was the third defendant disqualified by the first defendant and that the allegations of questionable credentials were vague. He queried whether the plaintiff presented their case in the best way and submitted that the Court lacked jurisdiction to entertain the matter since it was premature as per Section 29 subsection 5 of the Electoral Act 2022. Citing the withdrawal letter by Senator Owan-Enoh, he urged the Court to dismiss the case with ignominy as lacking in merit, depth, and substance with cost.
In response, the plaintiffs’ Counsel raised the issue of a Counsel deposing to the Counter Affidavit of the third defendant to which the third defendant’s Counsel, responded that he is his Personal Assistant.
The plaintiffs’ Counsel also sought the leave of the Court to reply by filing and, on points of law, certain submissions of the third defendant, which the Court granted and limited such to 14 days. The Court also ruled that the responses must be restricted to new issues.