Justice Taiwo Taiwo of the Abuja Division of the Federal High Court has withdrawn from a suit filed by the outgoing Imo State Governor, Rochas Okorocha, seeking an order to compel the Independent National Electoral Commission, INEC, to issue to him a certificate of return as the senator-elect for the Imo West Senatorial District.
The judge on Wednesday said his decision was necessitated by allegations of bias against him by parties to the suit.
Recall that INEC had refused to issue Okorocha the certificate of return in line with its police that any candidate declared winner by its officials under duress would not be given CoR because doing so would amount to rewarding bad behaviour.
Recall also that the Returning Officer for the February 23 presidential and national assembly elections in Imo State, Prof Francis Ibeawuchi, had said he declared Okorocha winner of the senatorial election under duress.
Not happy with INEC’s decision, the outgoing governor headed to the court to challenge it.
However, on Wednesday, Justice Taiwo, announced his withdrawal from presiding over the case and ordered that the case file be returned to the Chief Judge of the Federal High Court, Justice Adamu Abdul-Kafarati, for re-assignment to another judge.
He said there have been allegations of bias against him by Okorocha’s opponents in the election – Jones Onyeriri of the Peoples Democratic Party, PDP, and Senator Osita Izunaso of the All Progressives Grand Alliance, APGA.
PDP’s Onyeriri in a petition dated April 8, 2019, and sent to the Chief Judge of the Federal High Court, demanded that the case file be retrieved from Taiwo and re-assigned to another judge of the court.
In the affidavit in support of his petition deposed to on his behalf by a lawyer, Chijioke Nzekwe, he stated that Justice Taiwo on April 5, 2019, had made a biased comment in favour of the plaintiff, Okorocha, when the judge allegedly told INEC’s lawyer, Wendy Kuku, that the commission was responsible for the problems arising from the election.
He said the judge had pre-judged the notices of preliminary objection filed by the 2nd and 3rd defendants (INEC and Onyeriri) respectively when he allegedly said he had read through the provisions of the Electoral Act, 2010 (as amended) and found nothing therein that robbed him of the jurisdiction to hear his suit.
In his own application also dated April 8, 2019, filed before the trial judge, Izunaso asked him to disqualify himself from further handling the matter and return it to the Chief Judge for re-assignment to another judge.
In the application filed on his behalf by his lawyer, Orji Nwafor- Orizu, he stated that there was a likelihood of bias on the part of the 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.”
He claimed that Taiwo expressed the said opinion on April 5, 2019 allegedly showing that the judge had “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.”