The senator representing Akwa Ibom Southwest and former Governor of Akwa Ibom State, Godswill Akpabio, his party, the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) and one other have lost their bid to stall proceedings at the state’s Legislative Election Tribunal.
The Justice Goddy Anunihun led tribunal, in a ruling yesterday, refused the prayer by Akpabio, his party and the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) for an indefinite adjournment of all the tribunal’s activities pending its ruling on an earlier application challenging its sitting in Abuja.
The tribunal had adjourned to yesterday for ruling on the application by Akpabio, challenging the relocation of the tribunal to Abuja and the commencement of pre-trial proceedings in the petition by the All Progressives Congress (APC) and its candidate Inibehe Okori who contested against Akpabio.
Yesterday, Justice Anunihun announced that the ruling was not ready, but sought to proceed with the other business scheduled for the day, a decision Akpabio’s lawyer, Offiong Offiong (SAN), PDP’s lawyer, Adekunle Oyesanya (SAN) and T. Nweke (for INEC) objected to.
The judge gave two reasons why the ruling could not be read. He said it was not yet written and that the tribunal would await the decision of the Court of Appeal in a similar case.
“The tribunal is yet to conclude work on the ruling. It is the tribunal’s position to await the Court of Appeal’s decision in a case referred to it from the Federal High Court for the determination of similar issue.
“The need to defer the ruling is to avoid conflicting rulings on the same issue by different courts of coordinate jurisdiction.”
All parties in the case agreed that the tribunal reserved the right to decide when to deliver its ruling, but with petitioner’s’ lawyer, Solomon Umoh urged the tribunal to begin the pre-trial proceedings, while the respondents’ lawyers urged the court to stay further proceedings until its ruling was ready.
Offiong argued that the tribunal could not proceed to conduct any business while it was yet to rule on the application challenging it’s jurisdiction. He said since the court was yet to decide the issue of whether or not it was right for it to sit in Abuja, it could not take any further steps in relation to the petition.
“It is a fundamental principle of our jurisprudence that once an issue of jurisdiction is raised, it must be treated first and promptly. The tribunal should adjourn the matter until ruling is delivered on the objection on jurisdiction,” Offiong said.
He argued that since the case referred to the Court of Appeal was not an electoral matter, the appellate court’s decision might not be binding on the tribunal.
Nweke and Oyesanya agreed with Offiong and urged the court to defer further activities in the case till the tribunal was ready with its ruling.
Responding on point of law, Assam Assam (SAN), who took over from Umoh referred the tribunal to Paragraph 25(1) of the First Schedule of the Constitution, which requires a tribunal to hear election cases on a daily basis.
He urged the tribunal to note that similar applications were pending before other tribunals transferred to Abuja, but that although the tribunals have ruled on the application challenging their jurisdiction, they have proceeded to conduct pre-trial proceedings.
“Similar situation exist in other tribunals that were transferred to Abuja. While they are yet to rule on this issue of jurisdiction, they have all proceeded to conduct pre-trial proceedings. One has even given a judgment in favour of the respondents,” Assam said.
Justice Anunihun said while the tribunal would awaits the decision of the Court of Appeal which will help it in deciding the pending application relating to its jurisdiction, it will proceed with pre-trial proceedings.
He said the pre-trial proceeding would be conducted here in Abuja as the application was earlier heard here since the proceedings will not affect the main petition. He also noted that time was of the essence in election cases.
Justice Anunihun adjourned to July 14 for the commencement of the pre-trial proceedings.