A Federal High Court, Abuja, on Monday, ordered the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) to accept and publish Fred Atteng’s name as Social Democratic Party (SDP)’s candidate for the Feb. 25 Rivers South East Senatorial District election.
Justice Emeka Nwite, in a judgment, held that the refusal of INEC to recognise Atteng’s name as sent to it by the party for substitution was contrary to the provisions of the Electoral Act, 2022.
Justice Nwite said that going by the provision of Section 29 of the Electoral Act, a candidate can only be substituted either as a result of death or withdrawal from a poll.
The judge agreed with the plaintiffs that Gokana Geoffrey, having withdrawn his candidature and resigned his membership from the party as its candidate for the senatorial district poll, and the party, having conducted another primary within 14 days of the action and monitored by INEC, the commission ought to have recognised the new candidate sent to it.
The News Agency of Nigeria reports that SDP and Fred Atteng had sued INEC as sole defendant in the suit marked: FHC/ABJ/CS/2205/2022.
In the amended originating summons dated Dec. 14, 2022 and filed Dec. 15, 2022 by their team of lawyers, the plaintiffs sought a court declaration that by virtue of Sections 65(2) (b), 106 (d), 177(c) and 187 (1) & (2) of the 1999 Constitution (as amended), INEC cannot recognise Gokana Geoffrey, who had withdrawn his candidature and resigned his membership from SDP as their candidate for the Rivers South East Senatorial District election.
Besides, they averred that the commission cannot refuse to accept the name of Atteng submitted to it as party’s candidate after a validly conducted and monitored primary.
They, therefore, sought an order, directing INEC to allow the party submit Atteng’s name as represented by it, following Geoffrey’s withdrawal from the race and his subsequent resignation from the party, among others.
Though the matter was slated for judgment last Friday, the judge adjourned the matter due to a counter affidavit earlier filed by INEC dated Dec. 30, 2022.
Besides, INEC was not represented in court despite a notice of judgment served on the commission.
Counsel to the plaintiffs, Jibrin Jibrin, had earlier prayed the court to dismiss INEC’s counter affidavit which, he argued, was filed out of time contrary to Order 3, Rules 3 to 4 of the FHC Practice Direction.
In addition, he said they were not served with the said application.
When the matter was called on Monday, though Musa Ogah appeared for the plaintiffs, no lawyer represented INEC in court.
Delivering the judgment, Justice Nwite agreed with the plaintiffs that “elections are sui generis.”
He held that though the electoral umpire had about 10 days to respond to the originating summons served on them by the plaintiffs, the commission only responded on Dec. 30, 2022.
Nwite, therefore, discountenanced INEC’s application.
He said though the commission was the statutory body empowered to regulate activities of elections in the country, this must be done within enabling provisions of the law.
He held that INEC’s scheduled of activities to ensure a successful election cannot supersede the Electoral Act, 2022.
The judge, who directed INEC to allow SDP submit its candidate for substitution in the poll, order the commission to accept and publish Atteng’s name as the party’s candidate for the Rivers senatorial election.