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By Akintayo Balogun Esq.
The judgment that emanated from the Federal High Court, sitting in Kano State, coram, Honourable Justice M.N Yunusa, on the 18th day of May 2023 came in as one of the biggest shockers of this political dispensation. I had personally thought it was just another ex-parte order that litigants nicodemously go to court to obtain without notice to the other parties, but I was stunned to my bone when I realized that it is a full and final judgment of the court.
A suit instituted on the 11th of May 2023 has been decided on the 18th of May 2023, which is exactly one week after the suit was instituted. Should we not invite the markers of the World Guinness Book of Records to take judicial notice of this judgment and record it as one of the fastest-determined Originating Summons in the history of legal practice in the world? Should we not invite justices all over the world to come and learn from this feat that has been achieved in Nigeria? Should we not apply to have all our cases transferred to this court for the suits to be determined in record time? Can we be proud of what the court has determined?
In summary, the court, in Suit No. FHC/KN/CS/107/2023 filed by one Mr. Ibrahim Haruna Ibrahim against the Labour Party and the Independent Electoral Commission (INEC) had ruled that the failure of the Labour Party to submit its membership register to the INEC within 30 days before their primaries renders the process invalid. The court in its judgment stated that the party that has not complied with the provision of the electoral act cannot be declared the winner of an election, this being so, the votes credited to the 1st Defendant is a wasted vote.
Upon a perusal of the facts of the suit, the date of its institution, and the judgment thereof, I must assert firmly that everything is wrong with the suit and the resulting judgment. The Federal High Court sitting in Kano with utmost respect ought to have known better and not allow itself to be dragged into the political gutters of the Nigerian politician.
The flaws of the suit/judgment
The suit was predicated on events that when taken to court would be classified as pre-election matters. The suit was instituted on the 11th day of May 2023, a few days short of one year after the cause of action must have arisen. This is contrary to Section 285 of the Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria which provides that such actions must be instituted not later than 14 days after the cause of action must have arisen. The court even without an objection by parties ought to have suo moto determined whether it had the jurisdiction to determine an issue whose cause of action arose nearly a year ago. The court does not only lack the jurisdiction to hear and determine the suit, but the suit also does not even exist, not to talk of being dead on arrival.
In an Originating Summons instituted on the 11th day of March 2023, ordinarily, parties to the suit have not less than 10 days to respond to the Originating Summons as provided for in the Federal High Court Pre-Election Practice Direction 2022. Where it is not classified as a pre-election suit, the Defendants have 30 days within which to enter their appearances. Where it is an election tribunal, the Defendants have 21 days to respond to the Petition. Either way, the Defendants are still within time to file their processes. But shockingly, the judgment of the court has been delivered while the Defendants are still within time to file their Defences. The decision of the court was made within 7 days of the filing of the Originating Summons. What a feat! What an achievement! What a performance!
A critical look at the prayers 1 to 10 of the suit as contained in the judgment order, the prayers were specifically directed to persons elected under the auspices of Labour Party in Kano and the other 35 States of the Federation. However, the name “Abia State” suddenly appeared in the reliefs granted by the court. Where Abia State appeared from is still a mystery we are digging into. In local parlance, we say “Wetin join Abia join matter?” Is the court delivering judgment on facts contained in the averments but not contained in the reliefs sought? More questions. Furthermore, none of the persons who stand to lose their seats by virtue of the judgment was joined as a party in the suit. How do you shave the head of a person in his absence? The court most respectfully ought to have known better.
It is also reported that the cause of action being the alleged failure of the Labour Party to submit its membership register to the INEC within 30 days before their primaries have been earlier decided by the Supreme Court in favour of the party when similar suits were filed against two of the House of Representatives candidates- Obi Aguocha, and Ginger Onwusibe. This same issue is the bone of contention before the Federal High Court, yet recourse was not made to the judgment of the apex court.
Even if all the parties were in court and they said they were not averse to the prayers before the court (which would never happen except if there is a conspiracy by the parties), the court on its own ought to raise questions, raise issues as to the propriety or otherwise of the issues before it before delivering a judgment. We have seen instances where a court refused the prayers of parties despite the seeming consent of all the parties involved.
With utmost respect to the honourable justice of the Federal High Court, he should not be caught napping again with the experiences he has been through in the last few years having just been recently restored to his post as a judge of the Federal High Court. Shockingly, a questionable judgment of this nature could emanate from his stable. The court ought to have known that the reward of this judgment is a drag of its name in the mud and much more.
In my myopic opinion, this judgment does not even deserve an appeal. It simply requires an application for setting it aside by the same judge that entered the judgment because there are obvious elements of fraud, concealment of facts, deception, conspiracy, absence of proper parties, abuse of court processes, elements of statute-barred, and absence of jurisdiction to determine the suit. The question marks this judgment poses are endless. We can only hope that the judiciary can make haste to correct this enormous and fatal blunder.
Akintayo Balogun Esq., LL.B (Hons), BL, LL.M, is a legal practitioner in private practice, based in Abuja, FCT. He is a prolific writer, a public affairs analyst, and a commentator on national issues. firstname.lastname@example.org, 08051051659
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