The Federal High Court in Kano has declared the votes polled by the Abia State governor-elect, Alex Otti, in the last general election as wasted, but refused to nullify the certificate of return issued to him as the winner of the poll.
The judgement delivered by M.N. Yunusa on Thursday affects other Labour Party candidates for various elective positions in Abia and Kano States in the 2023 general elections.
Mr Yunusa, who faced corruption trial for years before his recall to the bench, cited the failure of the Labour Party to submit its membership registers to the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) preparatory to the party’s primary election as the basis for his verdict.
“That the failure of the 1st defendant to submit its register of members in Kano State and Abia State is in crass breach of the provisions of section 77(3) of the Electoral Act, 2022, and the purported Primary Elections of the 1st defendant is invalid, null and void and of no effect,” Mr Yunusa ruled, according to the summary of the court judgement seen by on Friday.
The judge, ruling on a suit by one Ibrahim Haruna Ibrahim, said under section 77(3) of the Electoral Act, Labour Party ought to submit its membership registers to INEC 30 days before its primary elections in Kano and Abia states.
Certificates of return
But the court judgement stopped short of making an order withdrawing Mr Otti’s and other affected candidates’ certificates of return.
The plaintiff prayed for the order in its prayer nine, but the judge did not grant the request.
The judge also turned down the request contained in prayer 10 for the court to order the INEC to declare as the winner the first runners-up in all the elections in Abia and Kano states which Labour Party candidates were declared returned as elected.
Mr Yunusa said since the candidates that came second in the election were not parties in the suit before him, “this court, as such, lacks the jurisdiction to make an order for the issuance of certificate of return to them.”
“They are, however, at liberty to seek the said redress in the appropriate division of the court,” Mr Yunusa said.
The judgement came days before Mr Otti’s inauguration as governor, scheduled to hold on 29 May.
Mr Otti, the candidate of the Labour Party (LP) in the March 18 governorship election in the state, was declared winner of the exercise by the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) on 22 March.
Mr Otti won 10 of the 17 local government areas in the state to win the governorship election after polling a total of 175,467 votes.
His Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) counterpart, Okey Ahiwe, polled 88,529 votes, while Enyinnaya Nwafor of the Young People’s Party (YPP) came in third with 28,972 votes.
The verdict by Mr Yinusa came as of the major verdicts he had issued after he was recalled last year from years-long suspension over alleged acts of misconduct and facing corruption trial that was terminated on technical grounds.
The Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC) has appealed against the discharge of Mr Yunusa, urging the Court of Appeal to send him back to face trial.
Mr Yunusa’s judgement leaves issues hanging, making the implementation of the verdict almost an impossibility.
The matter is also complicated by the fact that Mr Otti and other Labour Party candidates the judgement was aimed at were not parties to the suit. Also, those who came second in the affected elections and who could have benefitted from the judicial windfall were also not joined as parties.
Lawyers say it would be difficult to enforce a judgement against persons that are not parties to a suit.
The judgement also sounds more like an opinion as it deliberately refused to give any enforceable order.
The plaintiff requested the withdrawal of the certificates of return issued to Mr Otti and other affected Labour candidates, but the court refused to grant the prayer.
It also refused to declare the candidates who came second in all the affected elections the winner.
The court acknowledged that the first runners-up in the elections could not take benefit of the verdict since they were not parties to the suit.
It advised whoever who wished to benefit from it among them to approach the appropriate court for redress.
If the two prayers were granted it would have thrusted a role on INEC to enforce the verdict.