The Election Petitions Tribunal sitting in Awka, Anambra State has dismissed for lack of merit the motion by Dr Chris Ngige of the Action Congress of Nigeria (ACN) challenging its competence to entertain the petition by Prof. Dora Akunyili of the All Progressive Grand Alliance (APGA), after the expiration of stipulated 180 days.
In a ruling delivered yesterday, it also fixed fresh 180 days for hearing of the petition filed in respect of the poll conducted for Anambra Central senatorial seat.
The News Agency of Nigeria (NAN) recalled that Ngige had through his counsel, Mr. Emeka Ngige (SAN), filed a motion challenging the competence of the tribunal to entertain the petition after the expiration of the stipulated 180 days for election petitions.
Ngige had contended that the petition had since expired on November 11, urging the tribunal to strike out or dismiss the petition or on the alternative suspend it pending the determination of an appeal at the Court of Appeal, Enugu.
Counsel to Akunyili, Obiora Obianwu (SAN), while opposing Ngige’s argument, reminded the tribunal of its earlier ruling to take motions along with the hearing and urged it to abide by its decision.
However, the tribunal Chairman, Justice Onajite Kuejubola, held that accepting the application by Ngige would render ineffective the order of the Court of Appeal which directed that the matter be heard on merit.
It also held that since there was hierarchy in the courts, it was bound to follow the directives of the Court of Appeal.
It further held that the order of the appeal meant that “the constitution which is a grundnorm cannot give with one hand and take with another.”
“The intention of the Constitution is to give judgment substantially and not on technical grounds. I do not think that the intention of the lawmakers was to create confusion. The creation of 180 days was to limit the time for which election petitions are tried. To hold the flimsy excuse that 180 days has expired is to make mockery of the order of the Court of Appeal. The successful petition at the Court of Appeal will be hindered from reaping the fruits of litigation if this tribunal accedes to the application and arguments by Ngige.
“We find no merit in the application and hold that this tribunal has jurisdiction to hear this petition on merit and the 180 days commences from November 16, to expire sometime in May 2012. The application, therefore, suffers defeat as the tribunal has the jurisdiction following the directive of the Court of Appeal,” he said.
The matter was adjourned till December 6, for hearing. Reacting to the ruling, Akunyili thanked members of the panel and the judiciary in general, saying that the ruling showed that the tribunal was up to date.
“I am happy beyond expression for today’s landmark ruling. For six or seven months, my opponent has done everything to see that my case does not see the light of the day, but I will continue to trust God like a child. This ruling means that very soon the world will know that I won that election,” Akunyili added.
In his reaction, Ngige’s counsel said the tribunal’s ruling was an indication that it was not biased, but quickly added that the extension of 180 days by the tribunal would be appealed.
“The tribunal went as far as acting like father Christmas. The petitioners had asked that the petition be extended till December 9, but it went ahead to say it will now expire in May. What the court did was a judicial amendment of the constitution. We are taking it up at the Court of Appeal,” he said.
NAN further recalls that the said petition was filed on May 17, struck out on October 20 for lack of compliance, but was re-listed on Nov. 18, following a ruling at the Court of Appeal on November 16 that the petition should be allowed on merit at the lower court.
However, the recent Judges Conference stalled hearing of the petition on November 22, compelling the tribunal to reschedule hearing till November 29.
It took the intervention of the Chief Justice of Nigeria, Justice Dahiru Musdapher, to bring the hearing date back to November 25.
On that day, the tribunal was faced with the motion of notice by Ngige on its competence to hear the petition.