BY NDUBUISI UWAEZU
The Supreme Court may have finally removed the obstacle that hindered the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) from declaring the candidate that won the Imo North Senatorial by-election, held December 5, 2020.
Even though INEC declared the All Progressives Congress (APC) as winner of the election, it, however, could not settle on either of Ifeanyi Ararume or Frank Ibezim, both of whom laid claims to being the authentic candidate of APC.
But on Friday, the Supreme Court dismissed an appeal Araraume filed to set-aside a Court of Appeal judgment that sacked him as the authentic candidate of the APC.
The apex court, in two separate unanimous decisions by a five-man panel of Justices, led by Justice Amina Augie, said it found no reason to dislodge the verdict of the Court of Appeal in Owerri, which declared Frank Ibezim as candidate of the APC for the poll.
Vanguard reports that in the lead verdict that was delivered by Justice Tijani Abubakar, the Supreme Court, held that the appellate court was right to have nullified the judgment of the Federal High Court Owerri, which had earlier recognised Ararume as APC’s Senatorial candidate.
The two judgments delivered on Friday were on appeals marked: SC/971/2020 and SC/972/2020, which were filed by Ararume.
The apex court said its judgments in the two appeals would also apply to a cross-appeal marked: SC/1060/2020, which Dr Edith Chidinma Uwajimogu filed for Ararume to be declared as the candidate of the APC.
While dismissing the appeals, Justice Abubakar said: “I hold the view that the lower court (Court of Appeal) was right in coming to the conclusion that the first Respondent (Ibezim) was shut out and denied his right to be heard as a necessary party in the suit at the trial court.
“Therefore, the proceedings of the trial court constitute a nullity and must be struck out. Appellant’s appeal, therefore, lacked merit and it is hereby dismissed.
“The decision of the lower court, setting aside the judgment of the trial court is hereby affirmed. Parties are to bear their respective costs”.
Other members of the apex court panel that concurred with the lead judgement were Justices Augie, Uwani Abba-Aji, Samuel Oseji and Emmanuel Agim.
It will be recalled that Lady Uchenna Onyeiwu Ubah had shortly after the APC held its primary election ahead of the Senatorial by-election, gone to court for an order to compel the party to submit Ibezim’s name to INEC, as its candidate for the election.
However, the Federal High Court in Owerri, in a judgement it delivered on November 6, 2020, dismissed the suit on the premise that she lacked the locus standi to institute the action.
The court went ahead and disqualified Ibezim and ordered INEC to accept Ararume as APC’s candidate for the by-election.
Dissatisfied with the judgment, both Ubah and Ibezim went to the Court of Appeal in Owerri to challenge it.
While Ubah insisted that the trial court wrongly held that she lacked the requisite locus standi to institute the action, Ibezim, contended that his right to fair hearing was breached by the court.
Ibezim argued that the trial court made declaration against him, even though he was not a party to the suit.
In its judgment, the appellate court affirmed that Ubah was bereft of locus standi to maintain the legal action.
It however held that the Ibezim’s right to fair hearing was breached by the trial court.