By Ikechukwu Nnochiri
ABUJA – The Abuja Division of the Federal High Court, on Monday, gave the Independent National Electoral Commission, INEC, the nod to resume process for the recall of Senator Dino Melaye.
Justice Nnamdi Dimgba dismissed as lacking in merit, Melaye’s contention that the petition his constituents presented to INEC for his recall, was illegal, unlawful, wrongful, unconstitutional, invalid, null and of no effect in law.
The court held that Melaye’s allegation that the petition was signed by fictitious, dead and none existing persons in his senatorial district, was “hasty and premature”.Dino Malaye
Justice Dimgba stressed that the embattled lawmaker could only prove that signatures behind the petition were bogus, after they must have been duly verified by INEC as part of the recall process.
He held that Melaye and his party, the All Progressives Congress, APC, failed to exhaust the “domestic remedy” provided by the verification procedure, before they separately approached the court to stop the recall exercise.
The court maintained that Melaye’s constituents were not under any legal compulsion to give him reasons why they want him recalled.
It however directed INEC to in the interest of fair hearing, furnish the plaintiff with a copy of the petition against him, schedule of signatures attached to it, as well as the full list of persons in support of the recall application.
Meanwhile, the court faulted INEC’s position that the 90 days period the constitution provided for the conclusion of Melaye’s recall will elapse on September 18.
INEC had through its team of lawyers led by, Mr. Usman Uztaz, SAN, argued that under section 69(a) and (b) of the 1999 constitution, as amended, it has 90 days, starting from June 21, to conduct a referendum in line with the approved time table and schedule of action on the petition seeking Melaye’s recall.
It told the court that the recall process was time bound and therefore ought to be concluded before September 18.
However, Justice Dimgba held that INEC’s argument was misconcieved, saying the 90 days period was paused on July 6 when the court ordered all the parties to maintain status quo on the matter.
He also dismissed INEC’s contention that APC lacked the locus-standi to institute an action with a view to stopping Melaye’s recall.
The Judge held that APC, being the political party that sponsored and canvassed for votes for Melaye during the election, it had the right to challenge his planned recall from the Senate.
He said the party was a jurisic person that can sue and be sued.
Nevertheless, he dismissed the two consolidated suits marked FHC/ABJ/CS/567/2017 and FHC/ABJ/CS/601/2017, which Melaye and APC lodged before the court.
While refusing to grant the plaintiffs’ prayers, the court directed that aside a copy of the petition, INEC should also serve Melaye with an amended timetable for the recall process which it said resumed again with delivery of the judgment.
The court ordered that INEC should commence the verification exercise at least two weeks after it had served all the documents on Melaye to enable him to prepare his defence.
Melaye had in his suit, urged the court to determine whether by provisions of Sections 68 and 69 of the Constitution, he is entitled to a fair hearing before the process of his recall as envisaged by the provisions of Section 69 of the Constitution can be triggered.
Insisting that he was not availed with a copy of the petition before INEC attempted to kick-start his recall process, Melaye, prayed the court to determine whether the petition presented to INEC was in compliance with the requirements of the constitution, same being heavily tainted with political malice, bad motive, personal vendetta and bad faith, which were initiated by top politicians in Kogi State, who wield enormous power over his Senatorial constituency.
Likewise to determine whether the process of recall as provided for in Section 69 of the constitution can be initiated against him when the number of registered and qualified voters in the constituency who purportedly signed the petition is grossly less than the number required in Section 69(a) of the constitution.
Similarly, APC, through its own lawyer, Mr. S.T. Ologunrisa, SAN, told the court that it was opposed to bid by INEC to recall Melaye who is representing Kogi West Senatorial District, on the basis of what it termed “an illegal petition”.
The party asked the court to declare that the recall process initiated vide a purported petition against their sponsored member of the Senate by some of his constituents, pursuant to Section 69 of the 1999 Constitution, was illegal, unlawful and of no effect whatsoever for being contrary and in contravention to the rules of natural justice and constitutionally guaranteed right to fair hearing under section 36 of the 1999 constitution.
APC urged the court to determine whether upon a proper interpretation of the provisions of Section 65(2) (b), 68(1) (g) and 69 of the 1999 Constitution, the 1st plaintiff’s sponsored member Senator Dino Melaye to the Senate is not entitled to a fair hearing before the process of his recall as contemplated by the provisions of the aforesaid section 69 of the 1999 constitution.
To determine whether by the provisions of Sections 68 and 69 of the 1999 constitution, Melaye , the plaintiff’s party’s sponsored member to the Senate can be validly recalled from the Senate upon an invalid petition presented to the chairman of INEC.
As well as to determine whether having regard to the provisions of section 69 of the 1999 constitution, INEC can commence validly the process of conducting referendum for the recall of the plaintiff’s member from the Senate in the absence of a valid and competent petition on the ground that the purported signatories to the alleged petition are either dead, fictitious, nonexistent persons from outside the Kogi West senatorial constituency.
APC lodged the suit alongside twelve chieftains of the party in Kogi State- Alhaji Haddy Ametuo, Hon. Shaibu Osune, S.T Adejo, Comrade Yahaya Ade Ismail, Chief Gbenga Ashagun, Ahovi S. Ibrahim, Ghali ND Usman, Isa Abubakar, I. Molemodile, Abubakr M. Adamu and Daniel Sekpe.
The court had in the course of the proceeding, joined authors of the petition against Melaye- Chief Olowo Cornelius John Anjorin and Mallam Yusuf Adamu- as co-defendants to the consolidated suit.
The trio, through their lawyer, Chief Anthony Adeniyi, told the court that as Melaye’s constituents, they no longer have confidence in his ability to give them quality representation at the Senate.
Five others who identified themselves as registered voters from Kogi West- Afolabi Lydia Olufunke, Mrs. Iyabose Owolabi, Sanya Grace Folake, Salihu Abubakar Abdullahi and Micheal Olowolaiyemo- prayed the court to abort the entire recall process for being “a waste of time”.
Arguing through their lawyer, Mr. Ponsak Biyan, the five purported registered voters in Kogi West who were also joined as co-plaintiffs in the case, said they were satisfied with Melaye’s performance in the Senate.
While adopting his final brief of argument, Melaye’s lawyer, Mr. Nkem Okoro, told the court that his client was “the best legislator” Kogi West has so far produced.
He further adduced death certificates of some of the persons he insisted signed the petition before INEC.