A Federal High Court in Abuja has slated judgment for March 25 this year in the case filed by the Governor of Bauchi State Mohammed Abubakar and the All Progressives Congress (APC) challenging the decision of the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) to resume collation exercise in the state’s gubernatorial election.

INEC had declared the election inconclusive on the grounds that the number of cancelled votes was higher than the margin of lead between the two top political parties.

The electoral body later announced it would resuming collation because it found out that the number of cancelled votes was tampered with, stating instead of 2,533, 25,330 was written, a decision Abubakar and the APC are now challenging in court.

It is the plaintiffs’ contention that INEC has no power to overrule the pronouncement of the Returning Officer, who had declared the election inconclusive.

The plaintiffs, represented by Ahmed Raji (SAN), asked the court to determine whether any other person or body, except a court of competent jurisdiction, has the powers to overrule a returning officer whose pronouncement ought to be final in an election process.

INEC, represented by Tanimu Inuwa (SAN), filed an objection, in which it argued that the court lacks jurisdiction to entertain any case that deals with issues of an election or any of its processes. The commission claims that such cases ought to be heard by the election petitions tribunal.

While arguing his client’s case on Thursday, Raji contended that elections petitions tribunal could only entertain cases where a return has been made by the INEC returning officer, but where no return has been made, as is the case in Bauchi, the election petitions tribunal is powerless.

He added: “If the court shut us out, by saying it has no jurisdiction, and the election petitions tribunal shut us out because a return has not been made, to whom shall we go? We would be left in the lurch. Do not leave us in the lurch, my Lord.”

He argued that while INEC consulted with the various political parties before it declared the election inconclusive, the commissioner reversed the decision and unilaterally announced that collation would resume, in violation of his clients’ right to fair hearing.

Raji urged the court to overrule INEC’s objection to the suit filed by his client’s prayers but to grant them the reliefs they sought.

On his part, Inuwa said that the Electoral Act did not allow any court to entertain any issue bordering on election or any of its processes, and since what was being argued is the issue of collation of result, which is an election process, the court lacked jurisdiction to hear the matter.

He contended that, INEC, being an independent body, did not need to consult anyone before taking any decision on an election matter, hence the issue of denying the APC and Abubakar fair hearing does not arise.

Inuwa added that since the election was not yet completed, Abubakar and the APC ought to have waited for a return to be made.

He added that it was only after a return is made that the plaintiffs can approach the election petitions tribunal with their complaints, rather than jumping the gun and coming to the federal high court which, according to him, clearly lacks jurisdiction in the matter.

After listening to arguments from parties, Justice Inyang Ekwo adjourned to March 25 for judgment.

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