Enugu North/South: Drama as APC, Arum opt for tribunal’s discretion

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There was mild drama at the National Assembly and Houses of Assembly Election Petition Tribunal sitting in Enugu, on Monday, as a petitioner, Mr. Maduka Nelson Arum, and his party, the All Progressives Congress, APC, told the Tribunal to use its discretion in deciding the fate of their petition.

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Arum had dragged Hon. Offor Chukwuegbo, representing Enugu North/South to the Tribunal, seeking the nullification of his election.

Joined as 2nd and 3rd respondents in the petition are the Peoples Democratic Party, PDP, and the Independent National Electoral Commission, INEC, respectively.

Our correspondent reports that the case was scheduled for the petitioners to move their motion for withdrawal of the petition.

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However, when the matter was called up, counsel to the petitioners, A.P Samson told the Tribunal that “this matter is scheduled for hearing of an application for withdrawal in pursuant to Paragraph 29 of the First Schedule to the Electoral Act, 2010 (As Amended).

“But we are unable to file this application due to the fact that we could not get the 1st petitioner to sign the verified affidavit.

“We leave it at the discretion of this court to decide what it does with this petition.”

In a vehement opposition to his submission, counsel to the 1st respondent, P.M.B. Onyia told the Tribunal that the case “was ripe and qualified for dismissal on the 16th day of July, 2019, when it was scheduled for hearing to commence and the petitioners could not call any witness on that day owing to what they called ‘internal set-back’.

“We applied on that day that the petition be dismissed but Your Lordships were rather disposed to granting their application for adjournment.”

He reminded the Tribunal that when the case was called up again on the 17th of July, the petitioners failed to call any witness despite the undertaking they made to do so the previous day.

Onyia said the petitioners, Instead, applied for a date to enable them move a motion for the withdrawal of this petition, and that despite his opposition to it, the case was adjourned till today, July 22, in favour of the petitioners.

He said the petitioner, having failed for the third time to make any progress on the matter, “we are urging Your Lordships to do the needful. This is not a matter of discretion; the law already provided what will happen; it is to dismiss this petition; that is the language of Paragraph 46 of the First Schedule to the Electoral Act, 2010 (As Amended).

“I urge Your Lordships to dismiss this petition with heavy costs. We are asking for N300,000 (Three hundred thousand naira).

On a similar note, counsel to the 2nd respondent, Tochukwu Odoh, while adopting the entire argument of the counsel to the 1st respondent, urged the Tribunal to dismiss the case.

He said pursuant to Paragraph 54 of the First Schedule to the Electoral Act, 2010 (As Amended), he was referring the Tribunal to Order 19, Rule 15 of the Federal High Court, Procedure Rules, 2019, as further grounds for the dismissal of the petition.

“The only option open to Your Lordships is dismissal of this petition for lack of diligent prosecution”, Odoh submitted.

The INEC, represented by H.I. Okoli toed the same line of submission, describing the action of the petitioners as provocative. He asked for a cost of N100,000 (one hundred thousand naira) against the petitioners.

In its ruling, the Tribunal, while agreeing with the entire submissions made by the respondents, reiterated that it was clear that the fate of the petition would be determined by the Tribunal.

Chairman of the Tribunal, Hon. Justice H.H. Kerang held that “accordingly, this petition, though not with any form of motion for withdrawal, stands withdrawn. Accordingly, it is hereby dismissed.

“The 1st and the 3rd respondents are entitled to cost; consequently, we award the cost of 50,000 and 30,000 in favour of the 1st and 3rd respondents, and shall be paid out of the deposit to the Tribunal.”