The Abuja division of the Federal High Court, Abuja, will on January 20, 2020, deliver judgment in a suit challenging the eligibility of governor of Kogi State, Yahaya Bello, to participate in the November 16 governorship election over alleged double registration. Social Democratic Party (SDP) governorship candidate in the recent governorship election in Kogi State, Natasha Akpoti, brought the suit.
Justice Inyang Ekwo, yesterday, fixed the date shortly after parties in the matter adopted their briefs of argument. Akpoti had dragged Bello to court over alleged double registration, an act said to be offensive to the electoral laws.
Backed by her counsel, Chief Mike Ozekhome (SAN), the aggrieved politician is seeking the disqualification of Bello in the November 16 governorship election in the state on the grounds that he was not qualified to contest the election on account of alleged double registration.
She listed defendants in the suit to include the All Progressives Congress (APC), the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) and Kogi State governor, Yahaya Bello. While adopting his brief of argument, Ozekhome urged the court to make a consequential order that Bello was not qualified to have contested the election having registered in both Abuja and Lokoja, capital city of Kogi, an offence against Section 24 of the Electoral Act. He told the court that the case is not a pre-election matter that requires time limit to file but a case of fraud, which could be filed anytime. He submitted that the 2nd defendant, INEC, already admitted it committed an error to have registered Bello twice but according to Ozekhome, the electoral body its hands were tied to do anything now because of the governor’s immunity. INEC has said on television that it committed a grave error by registering him (Bello) twice in Abuja and Lokoja, saying if not for immunity, they would have moved against him.” Ozekhome insisted that when fraud is involved, as in the instant case, time of filing is not an issue. In his submission, counsel to the APC, Abdulwahab Mohammed, urged the court to dismiss the suit, while questioning the competence of the court to entertain the matter. He said it was a pre-election issue, which is staled because time allowed to file a pre- election matter has already elapsed.
He argued further: “The electoral act is very clear on this, only a person who has been convicted that cannot stand election. Bello has not been convicted, he is not on trial, and the case is only an academic exercise. I urged my Lord to dismiss the suit.” In his submission, counsel to the 2nd defendant – INEC, Al Hassan Umar (SAN) , argued along the same line, and urged the court to dismiss the suit.
Umar also said INEC was challenging the jurisdiction of the court to entertain the matter, saying the 3rd defendant has not been charged or convicted to warrant being disallowed to contest an election. He submitted further that mere suspicion of alleged double registration or an offence, “bordering on fraud was not enough to disqualify anyone through administrative tribunal.” He therefore urged the court to dismiss the case in its entirety and award cost against the plaintiff for wasting the time of the court and counsel.