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The leadership of the Labour Party has cried out over what it described as the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) was striving to frustrate its efforts at reclaiming the mandate of its suspended House of Representatives candidate, Amobi Ogah, after two INEC lawyers clashed at the appellate court in Lagos.
This was even as the party appealed to the INEC chairman, Prof Mahmood Yakubu, to carry out investigations and address the issue on time.
The electoral umpire had on February 28 declared Ogah as the winner of Isiukwuato Umunneochi Federal Constituency election with 11,769 votes as against the 8,752 votes bagged by Nkeiruka Onyejeocha, who is now the current Minister of State for Labour and Employment.
But a National Assembly Election Petitions Tribunal sitting in Umuahia, Abia State capital had on September 6 nullified the election of the LP candidate representing Isiukwuato Umunneochi Federal Constituency.
Delivering judgment in the petition tagged EPT/AB/HR/8/2023 on Wednesday in Umuahia, a three-member panel of the tribunal ruled that Ogah did not comply with the provisions of the Electoral Act.
Ogah argued that the acceptance of the ministerial appointment of Onyejeocha as minister of the Federal Republic of Nigeria was a clear sign that she had abandoned her petition.
But the tribunal in its ruling dismissed the submission of the lawmaker.
Confusion, however, arose on Thursday when two legal practitioners showed up, each brandishing a letter of authority to speak on behalf of INEC, when the case came up for hearing in Lagos, the venue of the Appeal Court.
The drama has forced the leadership of the Labour Party to write a letter titled, ‘Open letter to INEC Chairman, Prof. Mahmood Yakubu, on the show of infamy and dishonour by the commission in election appeal held in Lagos’, to the commission’s chairman, pleading with him not to scuttle the appeal of its candidate.
Reacting at a press conference on Friday, the National Publicity Secretary of LP, Obiora Ifoh, also read out the letter and described the incident as a deliberate act by the commission to frustrate their effort at reclaiming Ogah’s mandate.
He said, ‘Mr Chairman Sir, we, therefore, bring to your notice an ugly incident that happened yesterday October 19 at Lagos State, venue of the Appeal Court on case No. CA/OW/HR/AB/06/2023 between the Labour Party candidate, Hon. Amobi Ogah, who is the plaintiff and the All Progressives Congress candidate, Nkiruka Onyejeocha, who is the respondent. INEC is also a respondent in that matter.
‘What played out yesterday was unbelievable hence we call on you to nip the development in the bud to avoid a messy situation. INEC had engaged a Senior Counsel, J.O. Asoluka (SAN), as its lawyer with a letter of authorisation to represent the commission. But at the commencement of the hearing at the Appeal Court, another lawyer surfaced with a letter of authority to take over the case of the same INEC without prior notice to J.O. Asoluka (SAN), that the new counsel had been engaged. They also did not see any need to inform the plaintiff of the development as required by law. When the matter thus came up, a squabble ensued between the two counsel as to who had the authority of INEC to represent it in the case.
‘Mr Chairman Sir, it has now dawned on us that the change of legal guard without properly notifying the interested parties was carefully orchestrated by the commission in an alliance with our opponents with the intention to stall proceedings at the Court of Appeal and frustrate our candidate’s appeal that was due for hearing on Thursday.”
An emotional Ifoh disclosed that they were even more embarrassed to observe some expelled LP members, who had joined the Lamidi Apapa-faction fraternising with members of the ruling party at the court.
The LP spokesman stated that the sight made them start suspecting the court drama must have been stage-managed to embarrass their candidate.