Judge withdraws from Okorocha’s certificate of return suit against INEC

A judge of the Federal High Court in Abuja, Justice Taiwo Taiwo has withdrawn from a suit filed by Imo Governor Rochas Okorocha with which he sought to compel the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) to issue him with a certificate of return.

INEC has failed to issue Okorocha a certificate of return weeks after declaring him winner of Imo West Senatorial District with the returning officer claiming to have acted under duress.

The decision by Justice Taiwo to withdraw from the case was informed by allegation of bias raised against him by the candidates of the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) and the All Progressive Grand Alliance (APGA) in the February 23 National Assembly election – Jones Onyeriri and Senator Osita Izunaso.

Onyeriri wrote petition to the court’s Chief Judge, querying the judge’s neutrality while Izunaso filed a motion, asking the judge to disqualify himself from further hearing the case on grounds of likelihood of being bias.

Justice Taiwo, while announcing his withdrawal on Wednesday, said he would return the case file to the court’s Chief Judge for re-assignment to a new judge.

Onyeriri , in his petition, accused the judge of making utterances in which he “clearly prejudged the substantive issues that will be resolved in this matter and clearly showed he has taken sides with the plaintiff (Okorocha).”

In an affidavit deposed to by a lawyer, Chijioke Nzekwe, on his behalf, Onyeriri claimed the judge told INEC’s lawyer, Wendy Kuku that the electoral body was responsible for the problems associated with the election.

He added: “’The honourable judge went further to say that he has read through the provisions of the Electoral Act, 2010 (as amended) and found nothing therein that robs him of the jurisdiction to hear his suit.’

“This pronouncement shocked all the counsel who were present in court and even members of the public and press men, who were in the gallery because 2nd and 3rd defendant (INEC and Onyeriri) have notices of preliminary objection, challenging the jurisdiction of the court to hear this matter.”

Izunaso, in his motion on notice dated April 8, 2019, asked for an order transferring the suit to the Chief Judge of the Federal High Court for re-assignment to any other judge of the court.

In the motion, filed by his lawyer, Prince Orji Nwafor- Orizu, Isunso urged the judge to desist from further hearing the suit, on the grounds that “there is likelihood of bias on the part of this honourable court to continue to hear the suit as the honourable presiding Judge has expressed an opinion favourable to the plaintiff even without the hearing of the substantive suit.

“The said utterances were made on April 5, 2019 which utterances clearly pre-judged the substantive issues that will be resolved in this matter and clearly showed that the Honourable presiding judge has taken sides with the plaintiff.”

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