ABIA TRIBUNAL: Confusion as Court Gives Conflicting Judgments in Case Challenging House of Representatives Deputy Speaker's Election | #NwokeukwuMascot
There is confusion in the Action Alliance party over two conflicting court judgments of the National Assembly Election Petitions Tribunal in Umuahia, Abia State, in the case challenging the election of Benjamin Kalu, Deputy Speaker of the House of Representatives.
The Action Alliance led by Adekunle Omo-Aje had petitioned the tribunal following the failure of the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) to upload the name of its candidate submitted for Bende federal constituency of Abia state.
The party had chosen Ifeanyi Chukwuka as its candidate for the constituency.
In his address, Daniel Anya, counsel for the AA candidate, asked the tribunal to annul Kalu’s election over the exclusion of the party’s (AA) name and logo from the ballot during the poll.
The deputy speaker through his counsel, Kelvin Nwufo, however, pleaded with the court to dismiss the petitions for lacking in merit.
The first judgement released by the tribunal noted that the case was dismissed after the petitioner and AA called for its withdrawal. Another judgement released by the lower court two days later revealed that it was dismissed because of the factional chairman’s application, Udeze.
“Cause after we got the CTC of the first judgement, the party was surprised that it never asked the case to be dismissed, why basing the judgement on that?
“Two days after, we got the second CTC which was an afterthought. To be on the safe side, the tribunal then added Kenneth’s name as the chairman of AA who called for the withdrawal,” an executive member of AA told SaharaReporters.
The true copy of the first judgement obtained by SaharaReporters and signed by Bello Hassan, Principal Registrar of the Tribunal read, “Based on the two applications before the Tribunal, what the applicants in the two applications are seeking to do is to withdraw the petition, the petitioners being Ifeanyi Chukwuka Igbokwe and Action Alliance (or AA). Section 133 (1) of the Electoral Act, 22 has provided for persons entitled to present election petitions. We reproduce same as follows.”
The second one with Udeze’s name also signed by Yusuf read, “The instant affidavit filed in support is deposed to by one Chief Barrister Kenneth Udeze, the acclaimed National Chairman of the second Petitioner (Action Alliance) while the earlier application filed on 24th July, 2023 was deposed to by one Ifeanyi Chukwuka Igbokwe,” a true copy of one of the judgements obtained by SaharaReporters and signed by Bello Hassan, Principal Registrar of the Tribunal read.
“The difference in the two applications is that the first application was deposed to not by the applicant himself but by the National Chairman. Meanwhile, the second application was deposed to by the one who bears the name of the first Petitioner, Ifeanyi Chukwuka Igbokwe.”
While the petition was filed by the Omo-Aje-led leadership of the AA, the three-member panel of judges led by Samson Paul-Gang in its judgement reportedly dismissed the case because another faction of the party led by one Kenneth Udeze said it never filed or authorise anyone to initiate any legal action against Kalu.
“The instant affidavit filed in support is deposed to by one Chief Barrister Kenneth Udeze, the acclaimed National Chairman of the second Petitioner (Action Alliance) while the earlier application filed on 24th July, 2023 was deposed to by one Ifeanyi Chukwuka Igbokwe,” a certified true copy of one of the judgements signed by Bello Hassan, Principal Registrar of the Tribunal and obtained by SaharaReporters, read.
“The difference in the two applications is that the first application was deposed to not by the applicant himself but by the National Chairman. Meanwhile, the second application was deposed to by the one who bears the name of the first Petitioner, Ifeanyi Chukwuka Igbokwe.
“The Petitioners being the Respondents have filed two separate counter affidavits in opposition to the two applications. The earlier application had been argued before and ruling reserved till judgment.
“Since the subsequent application was filed after judgment had been reserved, we have seen the need to determine the two applications together at the same time since they are based on the same subject matter. Having adopted their processes before Tribunal, we are only left with the issue of determining whether this application is grantable or not.”
SaharaReporters gathered that the move by Udeze was after all parties had initially adopted their final written addresses and the matter was closed before the tribunal.
“After the matter was closed before the tribunal and all the parties in the matter had made their final submissions and the panel of the tribunal was to fix a date to deliver final judgement on the matter, we were shocked to hear another issue arose about the petition,” a top member of AA told SaharaReporters.
“While expecting the tribunal to fix a date for the final judgement on the petition filed by the AA, we learnt that the matter was allegedly withdrawn by one Kenneth Udeze, who had since been suspended and subsequently expelled from the party.
“Udeze who reportedly withdrew the matter was an impostor and an impersonator as he has no link to the party, having been expelled by the National Convention, which is the highest organ of the party.
“To our surprise, the purported withdrawal of the petition by the same Udeze who is not recognized by law nor INEC prompted the tribunal panel made up of Justices Samson Paul Gang, Kabiru Ibrahim Ahmed and Abdulfatai Baba Sekoni to dismiss the petition.
“Also, two conflicting judgements were delivered by the tribunal and the two different judgements were gotten by us. Omo-Aje filed a petition before you but a few days to judgment, an impostor approached the court that he wasn’t interested in the case again and the tribunal based its judgement on that; no investigation, a check on INEC website alone would have guided the tribunal that this man isn’t the National Chairman of AA.”
AA had been engulfed in a leadership crisis before the 2023 general elections.
In a judgment delivered on November 4, 2022, Justice Zainab Abubakar of the Federal High Court asked INEC to recognize Omo-Aje as the party's national chairman.
The court also ordered INEC to discountenance all the candidates submitted to it by Udeze, who was sacked as the party’s chairman by another court.
It then ordered INEC “to upload and display the names of the applicant’s candidates for the 2023 general election which had been forwarded to the respondent as its candidate for the said general election.”
However, Udeze filed an application before the same court seeking to reverse the judgment on the grounds that the other faction had deceived the court.
Abubakar reaffirmed her verdict of November 4, adding that Udeze cannot lay claim to the chairmanship of the party since he had been sacked by a Federal High Court in Abeokuta as well as two subsisting judgments of the Court of Appeal.
The two judgments of the Court of Appeal were delivered on January 7, 2022, and November 11, 2022, respectively, while the ruling by the Federal High Court in Abeokuta was delivered on September 8, 2022.
Abubakar held that her earlier judgment delivered on November 4 was not obtained by fraud as claimed by Udeze.
The judge described Udeze as a “meddlesome interloper” trying to interfere in the affairs of the party from which he was suspended and later expelled.
Aggrieved by the dismissal of his application at the Federal High Court, Udeze went to the Court of Appeal.
Dongban-Mensem, President of the Appeal Court, in the lead ruling, held that Udeze was wrong to have initiated the appeal in the name of the AA and also listed the party as a respondent.
The judge said that the AA cannot be an appellant and a respondent in the same appeal.
Meanwhile, the Omo-Aje-led leadership of the party had approached the Court of Appeal, asking it to set aside the decision of the tribunal.
It said the lower court erred in law when it dismissed its petition without calling for oral evidence from the parties involved “not minding that the signature on the petition as signed by the appellant is different from the signature on the motion for withdrawal of the petition allegedly signed by the appellant and thereby occasioned miscarriage of justice on the appellant.”
The court document read, “Exhibit AA3 relied upon by the tribunal is not the authentic list of candidates filled by the appellant in respect of 2023 election which the Federal High Court ordered the 2nd Respondent to publish.
“The trial tribunal did not give the appellant fair hearing as provided in section 36 of the 1999 constitution as amended before dismissing the appellant's petition with a motion filed by an unknown person.
“GROUND TWO: ERROR IN LAW
The trial tribunal erred in law when it dismissed the appellant's petition without calling for oral evidence from the parties involved not minding that the signature on the petition as signed by the appellant is different from the signature on the motion for withdrawal of the petition allegedly signed by the appellant and thereby occasioned miscarriage of justice on the appellant.
“PARTICULARS OF ERROR: The tribunal in its decision noted that the two applications filed for the withdrawal of the petition were filed by two different lawyers for the petitioners.
“When the petitioners filed the petition, the petitioners were represented by one counsel in the petition i.e. the petitioners did not file two different petitions. That the motions for dismissal which the tribunal considered and ruled on were filed by two different lawyers for each of the petitioners which ought to have raised strong suspicion on the minds of the tribunal thereby making them to call for oral evidence from the parties.
“That the law is settled that when there is conflict of affidavit evidence, the court is to call for oral evidence.
“GROUND THREE: ERROR IN LAW: The Lower Tribunal erred in law when after hearing the petition and taking evidences from witnesses, went ahead and determined the petition only on the controversial motion for withdrawal without considering the petition on its merit and thereby occasioned miscarriage of justice on the appellant.”