Less than 24 hours after he granted a controversial order, halting the collation of Bauchi State governorship election results, the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) Wednesday dragged Justice Inyang Ekwo of the Federal High Court in Abuja before the National Judicial Council (NJC) over alleged violation of the 1999 Constitution as altered and Electoral Act 2010 as altered.
But in a similar case involving Rivers State governorship election, Justice Ekwo yesterday refused to stop the collation of results of Rivers State governorship and House of Assembly election conducted by the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC), on March 9, 2019.
However, the Federal High Court will today commence hearing on the objection of INEC to the order of Justice Ekwo, which on Tuesday restrained it from going ahead with collating, concluding and announcing the governorship election results of Bauchi State.
In a related development, the President of the Court of Appeal, Justice Zainab Bulkachuwa, yesterday, threatened to deal with any election tribunal judge involved in any unethical conduct, saying that over 250 judges handling election petition cases across the country, had been placed on watch-list.
The PDP told the NJC in its petition that Justice Ekwo misconducted himself when he sat on post-election matter contrary to the provisions of the Electoral Act.
PDP in a statement issued yesterday by its National Publicity Secretary, Mr. Kola Ologbondiyan, insisted that not only did Justice Inyang violated the clear provisions of the Electoral Act, the motion granted was also an affront to the electoral wishes of the people of Bauchi State, who had clearly chosen their next governor by voting for the PDP candidate, Senator Bala Mohammed.
The party noted that in granting an exparte order, stopping the electoral commission from concluding the governorship election in Bauchi State, Justice Ekwo violated Section 87(11) of the Electoral Act, which states that no court has the power or jurisdiction to stop any election pending the determination of a suit.
In an affidavit sworn to by the PDP's National Chairman, Prince Uche Secondus, in Abuja, the party noted that issues of collation of results and declaration of winner, is a post-election event and, therefore, falls under the Electoral Act and constitutional provisions for the election petition tribunal.
The affidavit read: "Despite this clear provision of the law, Justice Ekwo decided to hear the application of Alhaji Mohammed Abubakar and his political party, the All Progressives Congress (APC), within 24 hours on March 19, 2019 and issued an order on INEC not to continue with the election until the case before him is finally decided.
"That the collation of results is a post-election event and under section 87(11) of the Electoral Act, no court has the power or jurisdiction to stop any election pending the determination of a suit.
"That an election includes voting, collation of results and the declaration of results. That as a result of the order on the Independent National Electoral Commission, the conclusion of the Bauchi State Governorship election, which was to take place on 19th March 2019 was stalled.
"That the order of Justice Ekwo was made contrary to the provisions of the Constitution of Nigeria, 1999 as amended dealing with fair hearing and also section 87(11) of the Electoral Act.
"That the Chief Justice of Nigeria has constituted the various Election Petition Tribunals in Nigeria to handle such cases and the assumption of jurisdiction by Justice Inyang Ekwo is an affront to the Constitution and electoral wishes of the people of Tafawa Balewa Local Government Area and Bauchi State."
The party, therefore, urged the NJC to save the country's democracy by taking an urgent step against the violations by Justice Inyang.
Court Refuses to Stop Collation, Announcement of Rivers Election Results
Meanwhile, Justice Ekwo Wednesday refused to stop, as requested by the African Action Congress (AAC), the collation of results of Rivers State Governorship and House of Assembly election conducted by INEC, on March 9.
INEC had last week, following the report of its fact finding committee on Rivers election fixed Wednesday, March 20, for the resumption of collation, conclusion and announcement of the remaining results in the election.
The electoral body had suspended the electoral process after some military personnel and armed men invaded its collation centre in Port Harcourt, Rivers State.
In announcing the resumption of collation of the results, the electoral body, disclosed that it had in its custody results from 17 local government areas.
Following the announcement, the African Action Congress' (AAC), Mr. Biokpomabo Awara and Ben-Gurion Peter, filed an exparte application before the court, seeking to stop INEC from resuming collation of the election results.
Defendants in the exparte application are the INEC and PDP.
In a bench ruling, Justice Ekwo who refused to grant the application, held that the reliefs sought by the applicants are "such that the court cannot grant without hearing from the other party."
Justice Ekwo, however, ordered the plaintiffs to put the respondents on notice to come and show cause why the prayers of the plaintiffs should not be granted.
The judge subsequently adjourned till March 25 for parties to address him on the propriety or otherwise of granting the order.
The plaintiffs represented by Mr. Taiwo Taiwo SAN in an exparte application moved in the court yesterday, prayed for an order to stop INEC from going ahead to resume, conclude and announce the results of the March 9 election.
Earlier, Justice Ekwo had drawn the attention of the plaintiffs' counsel to social media reports to the effect that he had already stopped the electoral body from going ahead to take further action on the March 9, governorship and House of Assembly elections in Rivers State.
While stating that there is no judge by the name "Inyang Ewa," who was alleged to have granted the purported order, he warned counsel and litigants from spreading false news.
Justice Ekwo said that it was wrong for anybody or group to resort to self-help because such self-help has been prohibited in the judiciary.
The plaintiffs had in their originating summons prayed the court to stop INEC from resuming collation and conclusion of the March 9 election results in Rivers State and from declaring any person or group as winners of the poll.
The plaintiffs specifically applied for an order compelling the electoral body to maintain the inconclusiveness of the election as announced earlier.
INEC Challenges Court's Powers to Halt Collation
Meanwhile, the Federal High Court will thursday commence hearing on the objection of INEC to the order of Justice Ekwo, which on Tuesday restrained it from going ahead with collating, concluding and announcing the governorship election results of Bauchi State.
In a counter affidavit by INEC deposed to by one Mr. Hassan Adamu, a Higher Executive Officer, in its Legal Department, the electoral body said the Federal High Court has no jurisdiction to dabble into a post-election litigation.
The counter affidavit specifically stated that the matter of post-election is exclusively for the Election Petition Tribunal and not any regular court including the Federal High Court.
It said contrary to the claim of the APC, and Governor of Bauchi State, Alhaji Mohammed Abubakar, that INEC could not continue with collation of results, the counter affidavit stated that, INEC's decision was made based on the figures contained in the duplicates of the results of the election.
The electoral body further stated that the decision of the Returning Officer in respect of declaration of scores and return of candidate is the exclusive reserve of an Election Petition Tribunal.
INEC said that although the governorship election in Bauchi State was declared inconclusive, it, however, rescinded its decision based on the facts that emerged later and made a return, adding that any grievance arising from that return rest with Election Petition Tribunal.
At the resumed hearing yesterday, counsel to APC and Abubakar, Mr. Ahmed Raji SAN, told Justice Ekwo that the counter affidavit and notice of object to the suit of his client have just been served on him and that he needed a short adjournment to respond to the counter and the notice of objection.
Justice Ekwo, in his bench ruling fixed today for hearing of all issues relating to the Bauchi governorship tussle.
Justice Ekwo on Tuesday halted INEC from proceeding with the collation, conclusion and announcement of the result of the governorship election in Bauchi State.
The order was issued after the court listened to submissions of counsel to both the plaintiffs and defendant in the matter.
In the exparte motion, the APC and Abubakar had prayed the court for an order of interim injunction restraining INEC from resuming, concluding or announcing the result of the Tafawa Balewa Local Government Area of Bauchi State in respect of the election to the office of Governor of Bauchi State.
The judge in a bench ruling, granted the interim injunction restraining INEC from resuming, concluding and announcing the governorship election result in Bauchi State pending the determination of all issues raised by the plaintiffs in their originating summons.
Justice Ekwo also granted accelerated hearing in the matter and ordered parties to appear before him on Wednesday, 20, 2019, to present their positions in the substantive matter.
Appeal Court President Places Election Tribunal Judges on Watch-list
Also Wednesday, the President of the Court of Appeal, Justice Zainab Bulkachuwa, threatened to deal with any election tribunal judge involved in any unethical conduct, saying that over 250 judges handling election petition cases across the country had been placed on watch-list.
She added that the judges would be "closely monitored," warning all the election tribunal judges not to grant frivolous adjournments or allow undue technicalities capable of causing delay in the dispensation of petitions brought before them.
Bulkachuwa stated these while flagging-off an induction programme put together for justices of the Court of Appeal that will serve as chairmen and members of election petition tribunals.
According to her, "The judiciary has been a major role player in the sustenance of democracy in Nigeria by adjudicating in all cases that arise from pre-election as well as post-election activities. By the end of this week, we will all be in our various states for the tribunals and the appeals that will follow suit by the aggrieved parties.
"I need not remind you that the assignment ahead of you is enormous and due diligence and professionalism is expected from each and every one of you. Always be law abiding and do not allow yourselves to be stirred by emotions, fear or sentiments. You are expected to be in charge of your courts.
"The judiciary is in the limelight and as judicial officers we should discharge the responsibilities reposed on us both individually and collectively by dispensing justice in accordance with the law without fear or favour, affection or ill-will within the dictates of our conscience and oath of office."
She reminded the judges that in an Election Petition Tribunal, time is of the essence, urging them to desist from granting frivolous adjournments and also discourage the practice of employing undue technicalities or any act capable of causing delay in the dispensation of petitions before you.
The President of the Court of Appeal said that each and every one of the judges would be closely monitored by her office, saying she would not hesitate to descend on any judge found wanting in the discharge of his or her duties.
"By the end of this induction training, you will all be abreast with what is expected of you and I am sure by the time you resume your duty posts you will be ready to carry out the task assiduously. Feel free to interact with your colleagues in areas that are unclear to you especially those of you that are coming to tribunals for the first time.
"Forums like these are meant for discussions and exchange of ideas so that by the end of the day we would have tapped from each other's knowledge and experience, and we will be wiser and better equipped to meet the tasks ahead of us," she further explained.