NIGERIA- Justice Taiwo Taiwo of the Federal High Court, Abuja, on Wednesday withdrew from the suit filed by Governor Rochas Okorocha of Imo State in respect of his Certificate of Return.
Okorocha had gone to court seeking an order compelling the Independent National Electoral Commission to issue him a Certificate of Return as the Senator-elect for Imo West Senatorial District.
When the matter came up for hearing on Wednesday, Justice Taiwo announced his decision to recuse himself from adjudicating on the matter based on allegations of bias against him.
He further announced that the case file would be returned to the Chief Judge of the Federal High Court, Justice Adamu Abdu- Kafarati, for reassignment to another judge.
The judge said his decision was sequel to allegations of bias made against him by candidate of the Peoples Democratic Party for the February 23 National Assembly elections, Jones Onyeriri; and that of the All Progressives Grand Alliance, Senator Osita Izunaso.
Onyeriri, in his petition, asked the judge to disqualify himself from the suit because of utterances he made in court.
According to him, the utterances clearly prejudged the substantive issues that will be resolved in the matter and clearly shows he has taken sides with Okorocha.
An affidavit deposed to on his behalf by a lawyer, Mr. Chijioke Nzekwe, stated that Justice Taiwo had, on Friday, told counsel to INEC, Wendy Kuku, that the Commission was responsible for the problems in the election.
Nzekwe averred that the judge went further to say that he had read through the provisions of the Electoral Act, 2010 (as amended) and found nothing therein that robs him of the jurisdiction to hear the suit.
“This pronouncement shocked all the counsel who were present in court and even members of the public and the Press who were in the gallery.
“This is because the second and third defendants (INEC and Onyeriri) have Notices of Preliminary Objection challenging the jurisdiction of the court to hear this matter,” he averred.
On his part, Izunaso asked for an order transferring the suit to the Chief Judge of the Federal High Court for reassignment to any other judge of the court.
The motion, which was filed by his counsel, Mr. Orji Nwafor-Orizu, also sought an order of the court disqualifying itself from further hearing the suit.
He premised his motion on the grounds that there was a likelihood of bias on the part of the court to continue to hear the suit, as the presiding judge had expressed an opinion favourable to Okorocha, even without hearing the substantive suit.
“The said utterances were made on April 5 and they clearly pre-judged the substantive issues that will be resolved in this matter.
“It clearly shows that the presiding judge has taken sides with the plaintiff,” he said.