Nigeria: Court Decides Bello's Fate in Alleged Double Registration Suit, January 20

7 December 2019

Justice Inyang Ekwo of the Federal High Court, Abuja, will on January 20, 2020, decide the culpability or otherwise of Governor of Kogi State, Yahaya Bello in an alleged double registration suit.

Justice Ekwo fixed the date to deliver his judgment in the suit filed by a governorship candidate in the recent governorship election in Kogi State shortly after parties in the matter adopted their briefs of argument.

The Social Democratic Party governorship candidate, Natasha Apoti had dragged Bello to court over alleged double registration, an act said to be offensive to the electoral laws.

Apoti, through her counsel, Mike Ozekhome (SAN), is seeking the disqualification of Bello in the November 16 governorship election in the state on the grounds that he was not qualified to contest the election on account of alleged double registration.

Defendants in the suit include the All Progressives Congress (APC), the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) and Kogi State Governor, Yahaya Bello.

Ozekhome while arguing his brief prayed the court to make a consequential order that Bello was not qualified to have contested the election having registered in both Abuja and Lokoja, capital city of Kogi, an offence against Section 24 of the Electoral Act.

According to Ozekhome, the case is not a pre-election matter that requires time limit to file but a case of fraud, which could be filed anytime.

He submitted that the 2nd defendant, INEC already admitted it committed an error to have registered Bello twice but according to Ozekhome, INEC said its hands were tied to do anything now because of the governor's immunity.

"INEC has said on television that it committed a grave error by registering him (Bello) twice in Abuja and Lokoja, saying if not for immunity, they would have moved against him."

Ozekhome insisted that when fraud is involved, as the instant case, time of filing is not an issue.

Counsel to the 1st defendant (APC), Abdulwahab Mohammed, however, urged the court to dismiss the suit, while questioning the competence of the court to entertain the matter.

He said it was a pre-election issue, which was stalled because time allowed to file a pre-election matter had already elapsed.

He argued further: "The electoral act was very clear on this, only a person who had been convicted that cannot stand election. Bello has not been convicted, he is not on trial, the case is only an academic exercise. I urged my Lord to dismiss the suit."

In his submission, counsel to the 2nd defendant - INEC - Al Hassan Umar (SAN) , argued along the same line, and urged the court to dismiss the suit.

Umar also said INEC was challenging the jurisdiction of the court to entertain the matter, saying the 3rd defendant has not been charged or convicted to warrant being disallowed to contest an election.

He submitted further that mere suspicion of alleged double registration or an offence "bordering on fraud was not enough to disqualify anyone through administrative tribunal."

On his part, Bello's lawyer, U. Abdullahi challenged the competence of the plaintiff to file the case on the grounds that there was no documents from the plaintiff to prove that Bello registered twice.

"He was not in the country when he was alleged to have carried out the double registration. He was not in the country between May 13 - 18, to have registered twice as being alleged."

He further submitted that the suit cannot come through originating summon in the case of fraud but only through writ of summon.

He therefore urged the court to dismiss the case in its entirety and award cost against the plaintiff for wasting the time of the court and counsel.

Consequently, Justice Ekwo adjourned to January 20, 2020 for judgment.

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