From Godwin Tsa, Abuja

The Abuja division of the Federal High Court, has ordered the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) to accept and publish Fred Atteng’s name as Social Democratic Party (SDP)’s candidate for the Feb. 25 Rivers South East Senatorial District election. 

In his judgment on Monday, Justice Emeka Nwite, held that the refusal of INEC to recognise Atteng’s name as sent to it by the party for substitution was contrary to the provisions of the Electoral Act, 2022.

Justice Nwite said that going by the provision of Section 29 of the Electoral Act, a candidate can only be substituted either as a result of death or withdrawal from a poll. 

The judge agreed with the plaintiffs that Gokana Geoffrey, having withdrawn his candidature and resigned his membership from the party as its candidate for the senatorial district poll, and the party, having conducted another primary within 14 days of the action and monitored by INEC, the commission ought to have recognised the new candidate sent to it.

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 SDP and Fred Atteng had sued INEC as sole defendant in the suit marked: FHC/ABJ/CS/2205/2022.

In the amended originating summons dated Dec. 14, 2022 and filed Dec. 15, 2022 by their team of lawyers, the plaintiffs sought a court declaration that by virtue of Sections 65(2) (b), 106 (d), 177(c) and 187 (1) & (2) of the 1999 Constitution (as amended), INEC cannot recognise Gokana Geoffrey, who had withdrawn his candidature and resigned his membership from SDP as their candidate for the Rivers South East Senatorial District election. 

Besides, they averred that the commission cannot refuse to accept the name of Mr Atteng submitted to it as party’s candidate after a validly conducted and monitored primary. 

They, therefore, sought an order, directing INEC to allow the party submit Atteng’s name as represented by it, following Geoffrey’s withdrawal from the race and his subsequent resignation from the party, among others.