A Federal High Court, Abuja, on Tuesday, fixed Nov. 8 for hearing a suit challenging the emergence of Kola Abiola as the People’s Redemption Party (PRP)’s presidential candidate. Justice Ahmed fixed the date after a consensus agreement by counsel for the parties in the suit.
The News Agency of Nigeria (NAN) reports that Madam Patience Ndidi Key, a female presidential aspirant in the June 5 primaries conducted by the party, had prayed the court to nullify the poll that produced Abiola as the PRP’s presidential candidate.
Key, in an originating summons marked FHC/ABJ/CS/1001/2022, also prayed for an order setting aside the declaration of Abiola as the winner of the primaries conducted across the country. NAN reports that Mr Kola is the son of late MKO Abiola, the acclaimed winner of the June 12, 1993, presidential election.
The plaintiff (Key) had sued PRP, the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) and Mr Latifu Kolawole Abiola and as 1st, 2nd and 3rd defendants respectively. Upon mentioning the matter, the plaintiff’s lawyer, Chief Magnus Ihejirika, informed that the matter was scheduled for further mention. He said he had just been briefed by the plaintiff to take over the matter from the former counsel.
“Consequently, we have filed our notice of change of counsel as required,” he said
Ihejirika, however, told the court that the 2nd and 3rd defendants (INEC and Abiola) were yet to file any response. He said he was just being informed by Abiola’s counsel that he was served with court processes last Friday. He, therefore, applied for an adjournment to enable parties to put their house in order.
“Subject to the convenience of the court, we have agreed on Nov. 7,” he said.
Lawyer to the PRP, Regina Audu, complained that she was yet to be served with the notice of change of counsel by the plaintiff.
“But since it is a pre-election matter and time is of essence, we will not be challenging this since a copy is already in the court file,” he said.
Ijeoma Madu, who appeared for Abiola, told the court that her client had not been properly served with the originating process. She said they only got the court order for substituted service of court processes which was pasted on the party’s national headquarters in Abuja.
“We only saw the court order at the gate of PRP’s National Headquarters located at No. 8, Ogabi Street, Garki 2, Abuja,” she said.
The judge said that based on the affidavit deposed to by the court bailiff, all the court documents, including the originating summons, were pasted in accordance with the order. He said the onus was on the 3rd defendant (Abiola) to go and check the court file for confirmation. Justice Mohammed, however, raised observation over the incessant change of counsel by the plaintiff in the suit, bearing in mind that a pre-election matter has a 180-day life span.
“Do you have any idea when this matter was filed,” Mohammed asked Ihejirika.
The lawyer said it was filed on June 28. The judge then said that he would not hesitate to make a clear statement if time consequently affected the outcome of the suit as a result of a change of lawyers.
“Less than two months when this matter will expire, we are still talking of change of counsel? The matter that has a life span?” Mohammed queried.
He subsequently fixed Nov. 8 for a hearing of the matter and ordered that INEC (2nd defendant) be issued with a hearing notice. Shortly after the court session, Madam Key told newsmen that four previous lawyers she engaged in the suit had planned to frustrate the matter. She said the first lawyer that started the case, even claimed to file an appeal on her behalf before the party’s Appeal Committee.
“We first spoke with Barr. Yakubu Eleto on the 10th of June on the matter. He then released a statement asking PRP to conduct a new election and/or declare me the flag-bearer or we’ll meet in court. Another press release was done by him on the 16th of June while my team and I waited for him to file our case in court.
“Only on the 17th of June, he sent a document to one of us which he sent to the PRP National Secretariat being a re-appeal to PRP. I was devastated because we were waiting to receive confirmation of a filed case in court but got that a re-appeal was sent. He claimed he was being advised by senior colleagues and some SANs,” she said.
Madam Key alleged that afterwards, Eleto continued to be deceptive and kept promising he would file.
“On the 27th of June, we had to get another lawyer who quickly filed the originating summons on June 28th in preparation to file an amendment. After a few days of interaction, he too went to sleep and stopped communicating with us. And after 15 days, he sent an amendment with so many errors.
“He had asked me to give him ideas of what should be done. I am not a legal practitioner,” the aggrieved aspirant said.
She said the last lawyer, Wilson Ivara, even threatened not to proceed with the case if he was not given more money against their agreement. She said all these dramas played out until she got the fifth lawyer. The plaintiff said it was disheartening that all the lawyers she employed, before now, worked against her interest.
She, however, expressed optimism that justice would be done in the matter. NAN reports that only INEC was not represented in court. Justice Mohammed had, on Sept. 7, ordered Abiola, the party’s presidential candidate, to be served with documents filed in the suit seeking his nullification at the party’s Headquarters in Abuja.
Mohammed gave the order after the lead counsel for the plaintiff moved an ex-parte motion seeking substituted service of court processes on Abiola.