CERTIFICATE OF RETURN: Legal battle shifts to Court of Appeal

by on May 24, 2019

The legal battle for the Imo West Senatorial ticket has shifted to the Court of Appeal where Senator Osita Izunaso is challenging the jurisdiction of the Federal High Court to adjudicate on the suit filed by Imo State governor, Rochas Okorocha, against the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) over his certificate of return.

Besides, Izunaso who is the 3rd responded in the suit has asked the appellant court to set aside the ruling of Justice Okon Abang of the Abuja division of the court assuming jurisdiction to hear the case.

In the suit at the trial court, Okorocha through his counsel, Kehinde Ogunwumiju, is seeking the order of the court compelling INEC to issue him a certificate of return as winner of the senatorial seat.

Meantime, proceedings in the case have been adjourned to await the outcome of the appeal filed by Izunaso.

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Justice Okon Abang who adjourned further proceedings in the matter before him said he had received the affidavits of facts filed by Izunaso dated May 20, 2019, regarding the pending appeal.

In the notice of appeal before the Abuja division of the Court of Appeal, dated May 13, 2019, Senator Izunaso, who is the 3rd respondent in the suit is asking the court to set aside the ruling of the Federal High Court on the issue of jurisdiction.

The appeal which is predicated on six grounds is also challenging the decision of the trial court to join the People’s Democratic Party (PDP) as a defendant in the suit.

Senator Izunaso is contending that the trial judge erred in law by assuming jurisdiction to continue with the proceedings in court without first of all determining whether the court has jurisdiction to entertain the said suit.

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In addition, it is the case of the appellant that the court below misdirected itself on the law by assuming jurisdiction after the same court made a finding that a court cannot proceed in the face of a preliminary objections challenging its jurisdiction.

He further argued that the trial court erred in law and misapplied the principles in the decision of Inakoju vs Adeleke (2007) LPELR-1510 (SC) and order 29 (1)(a) of the Federal High Court Civil Procedure rules 2009, which dealt with a situation where a court is faced with the issue of determining a challenge of its jurisdiction and the hearing of the substantive suit.

Izunaso contended that the trial court lacked jurisdiction to continue with the hearing and determination of any matter relating to the suit including the application filed by the PDP without first hearing the applications challenging its jurisdiction.

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He, therefore, urged the appellant court to hold that allowing the PDP to proceed to move its application for joinder by the trial court was against the weight of evidence.

The appellant accordingly urged the Court of Appeal to allow his appeal and set aside the ruling of the trial court made on May 8, 2019.

Before this development, Senator Osita Izunaso had petitioned the National Judicial Council (NJC), the acting Chief Justice of Nigeria (CJN) and the Chief Judge of the Federal High Court over the conduct of Justice Okon Abang.

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