Godwin Tsa, Abuja
Chairman of the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC), Prof. Mahmoud Yakubu, has asked Justice Stephen Pam of the Abuja division of the Federal High Court to disqualify himself from the contempt proceedings against him on account of alleged bias.
His application was, however, refused by Justice Pam, who revived his earlier order for the arrest of the INEC boss for disobeying the order of the court.
The matter which was adjourned tillWednesday for continuation of contempt proceedings against Prof. Yakubu could not go on, owing to his absence.
Regardless, Chief Adegboyega Awomolo (SAN), counsel to the INEC chairman informed the court that his client has written to the Chief Judge of the Federal High Court, Justice Abdul Karafati to disqualify Justice Pam from hearing the case and to transfer same to another Judge on grounds of bias.
In addition, Awomolo drew the attention of the court to a motion filed by his client challenging the jurisdiction of the court to adjudicate on the matter.
He argued that until the motion is heard and dispensed off, there is no valid contempt charge before the court.
Awomolo who submitted that the condition precedent has not been met for the hearing of the contempt charge, could however not account for the whereabouts of his client who was absent in court.
Responding, counsel to the plaintiff, Chief Gordy Uche (SAN), however opposed the move for the matter to be adjourned on the ground that there was no basis for that.
He told the court that Chief Adegboyega Awomolo (SAN) had written to the Chief Judge for the disqualification of Justice Pam, the Judge cannot act on that letter because there was no directive from the Chief Judge on the letter.
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Uche insisted that until there is a directive from the Chief Judge, the matter must go on. He added that the matter is before a special court that was issued with a fiat to hear the contempt charge within a specific time.
He said since the fiat issued to the Judge to sit as a special court has not been withdrawn, Awomolo’s letter cannot take precedence over the fiat. He urged the court to continue to sit and determine the contempt charge against INEC chief.
In a short ruling, Justice Pam held that the court can no longer tolerate the continued absence of the defendant in court for his trial.
He struck out the motion by Yakubu, asking for stay on the grounds that the motion for stay runs contrary to Section 360 of the Administration of Criminal Justice Act (ACJA), which does not permit stay in a criminal matter.
The court further held that the reason given for Yakubu absence was not tenable because the INEC chief had, on three occasions refused to honour the summon issued against him to appear in court to defend the contempt charges brought against him by one Ejike Oguebego, the current chairman of the PDP in Anambra State.
Justice Pam, who was apparently worried over the refusal of the INEC boss to appear in court said that the court will not fold its hands and allow it to be turned into a toothless dog by the defendant.
Consequently, the judge ordered that the INEC chairman be arrested for his persistent refusal to appear in court and adjourned further proceedings to August 8, 2018.
Reaffirming its earlier order of arrest, Justice Pam noted that the matter was slated for continuation yesterday, but unfortunately, counsel to the defendant has informed the court that he did not know the where about of his client. Though, he had told the court at the last sitting that the defendant had travelled and would be back on 7 August.
“In the circumstances, the earlier order of bench warrant of arrest issued on 1st August 2018 subsists . The police is hereby ordered to arrest and bring Prof . Mahmoud Yakubu to court on 14, August.”
A chieftain of the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP), Ejike Oguebego had filed a contempt charge against INEC and its chairman for their refusal to recognize him as PDP chairman in Anambra State in compliance with the Supreme Court judgment of December 2014.