By Yemi Oyeyemi, Abuja.
A federal high court in Abuja on Wednesday dismissed a suit seeking disqualification of former governor of the Central Bank of Nigeria CBN, Prof Charles Chukwuma Soludo, as the governor–elect for Anambra state.
Justice Taiwo Oladipupo Taiwo, in a judgment in a suit instituted by two voters in Anambra, Adindu Valentine and Chukwuebuka Egwudike described the suit as frivolous, irritating, baseless and lacking in merit.
The Judge accused the two plaintiffs of seeking to use court as a tool to scuttle democracy and awarded a punitive cost of N2m against them to be paid to Soludo and his deputy, Onyeka Ibezim.
The plaintiffs – Adindu Valentine and Egwudike Chukwuebuka – had iin the suit contended that Soludo provided false information in the affidavit (Form EC9) that he submitted to the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) and should be deemed unqualified to stand for election.
In the suit marked: FHC/ABJ/CS/711/2021, the plaintiffs claimed that Soludo indicated, in the affidavit, that he was contesting the Aguata 2 Constituency seat when in fact, he was contesting the Anambra governorship seat and his deputy claimed to be contesting Awka constituency instead of Anambra deputy governorship.
Defendants in the suit are INEC, the All Progressives Grand Alliance (APGA), Soludo and Ibezim.
In their final submission, plaintiffs’ lawyers, A. O. Ijeri and Kelvin Okoko had argued that having indicated the wrong constituency he was contesting, Soludo supplied INEC with false information, violated extant legal provisions and ought to be disqualified.
“The constitution has made a state a constituency in relation to the governorship election, but in this case, the third defendant (Soludo) named Aguata 2 as the constituency he is contesting,” Ijeri said.
But in his judgment, Justice Taiwo held the two plaintiffs failed woefully to establish how the alleged wrong in the constituency affected or misled them as voters and in any other capacity.
The Judge said that apart from the alleged wrongful disclosure of constituency, Soludo as the 3rd defendant made it clear in other parts of his affidavit on oath that he was contesting Anambra governorship election while Ibezim as 4th defendant also indicated in other parts of his affidavit that he was contesting deputy governorship.
“From the processes filed in this suit and which I have carefully perused, the two plaintiffs did not convince the court on how they were misled by the information.
“No aspects of the 1999 Constitution as amended or any part of the Electoral Act 2010 compel 3rd and 4th defendants (Soludo and Ibezim) to name constituency as a condition for qualification to stand for election.
“Lawyers as ministers in the temple of justice should always counsel politicians against rushing to court with frivolous suits that will achieve no purpose than to waste the previous time of the court.
“As a matter of fact, I am yet to come to terms with the purpose this suit is to serve. This suit is not reasonable.
“Giving false information is a criminal offence and prove of allegation of supplying false information must be beyond reasonable doubt.
“It is high time Nigerians come together to deepen democracy and not to use frivolous suits to stagnate it and this is in our own interest.
Justice Taiwo noted with dismay that apart from the alleged wrongful disclosure of constituencies, no other aspects of the laws was alleged to have been breached by Soludo and Ibezim including their educational qualifications.
Lead counsel to APGA and Soludo, Dr Onyechi Ikpeazu (SAN) had argued that the suit was without merit and that the court lacked jurisdiction to hear it.
Ikpeazu contended that error in an affidavit cannot be a basis to disqualify a candidate from election, noting that the false information contemplated in Section 31 of the Electoral Act was criminal in nature.
He further argued that the false information claimed by the plaintiff was not among the grounds stated in the Constitution for the disqualification of a candidate.
“False information, as envisaged in section 31 of the Electoral Act is criminal in nature. Section 31 does not deal with error, but a deliberate effort to steal a match and to misrepresent.
“The contention that the 14 days required under Section 285(9) of the Constitution, should accrue from the date the first respondent (INEC) received those affidavits, has no supporting foundation,” he said.
Ikpeazu urged the court to uphold the preliminary objection filed by his clients and dismiss the case.
Lawyer to Ibezim, C. Mbaeri argued in similar vein and prayed the court to uphold his objection and dismiss the suit.
Lawyer to INEC, Bashir Abubakar said his client did not file any process in the case and has elected to leave the decision at the discretion of the court.
Justice Taiwo disagreed with Ikpeazu that the suit was statute barred as at the time it was filed while he also held that the court had jurisdiction to hear the case as he did.