4 March 2001

Nigeria: Senator Onuaguluchi Loses Seat

Abuja — The long drawn legal battle for the Enugu West Senatorial zone ended yesterday as the Supreme Court in a unanimous decision upheld an earlier ruling of Court of Appeal in Enugu nullifying the election of Senator Hyde Onuaguluchi as the Senator representing Enugu West Senatorial zone.

By the decision of the apex court, the appellant, Senator Hyde Onuaguluchi has lost his position as the Senator representing the zone while a fresh election will be conducted for the vacant position in the senate.

Senator Onuaguluchi's opponent in the said election, Ben Collins Ndu, the first respondent and candidate of the People's Democratic Party (PDP) had challenged the election of the former at the National Assembly Election Tribunal, Enugu Division. The petition was dismissed by the tribunal which the defeated candidate appealed at the Enugu Court of Appeal which subsequently set aside the judgement of the tribunal and ordered a fresh election.

Senator Onuaguluchi had filed an originating summons July last year at the Federal High Court, Abuja praying for an order that having been sworn in as a senator under the 1999 constitution his seat could not be made vacant by any "any act or judgement except in accordance with the provisions of section 312(2) of the said constitution" but the Federal High Court declined jurisdiction on the matter thus necessitating another appeal at the Court of Appeal by the appellant seeking an order to set aside the judgement of the Enugu Court of Appeal, an appeal that was equally dismissed.

In the lead judgement delivered by Justice Saline Medico Belgore, leading four other justices, struck out the case on the grounds that the decision of the Court of Appeal in such matters was final.

Citing section 246((3) of the 1999 constitution which provides that "The decisions of the Court of Appeal in respect of appeals arising from election petitions shall be final". Section 246(1)(b), according to the ruling, specifies the elections concerned to be National Assembly, Governorship and State Houses of Assembly elections.

"This court is without jurisdiction to entertain an appeal from the said decision of 30 May, 2000. I therefore hold that there is merit in the preliminary objection challenging the competency of the appeal lodged in respect thereof to this court. Accordingly, I uphold the objection and strike out the appeal as being incompetent", he ruled awarding N10,000 costs to the 1st respondent and N10,000 costs to the 2nd-189th respondents.

Furious over the judgement, Senator Onuaguluchi vowed that the matter was not over yet." We will go back to the constitution", he said while elated Ben Collins Ndu said he was looking forward to the next election.

Another senatorial aspirant in the zone, Dr Chinedu Ogbuagu also warned against the imposition of candidates in the zone.

"Enugu West Senatorial Zone will not accept imposed candidates. Any party that imposes candidate on the zone will live to regret that imposition", he said

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