Ernest Chinwo in Port Harcourt
A Rivers State High Court sitting in Port Harcourt has declared the ward, local government and the state congresses of the Rivers State chapter of the All Progressives Congress (APC) held on the May 19, 20 and 21 respectively null and void.
Some aggrieved members of the APC loyal to Senator Magnus Abe had approached the court for succour on the allegation that they were shut out of the ward congress of the party in the state on May 5 and sought an injunction restraining the party from going on with the congresses until their grievances were addressed.
On the resumed sitting of the court on May 11 when the court was to rule on the issue of injunction, youths suspected to be members of the party, with the assistance of the police, invaded and sealed the gates of the state High Court Complex in a bid to stop the court from sitting.
However, when the court was re-opened later that day, the presiding judge, Justice Chiwendu Nwogu, issued an interlocutory injunction stopping the party from using the outcome of the congress on May 5 to hold the local government congress of the party on the May 12 and adjourned till May 29th.
But the party went on with the local government congresses on May 12, insisting that it has not received any court order stopping it from going on with the exercise and that no injunction could stop the congresses as it was a process that had long begun.
However, the national leadership of the APC on May 18, announced the cancellation of the ward and local government congresses conducted in the state on the earlier dates.
In a memo signed by the national chairman of the party, John Odigie-Oyegun, the party directed that the ward, local government and state congresses of the party in the state should hold on May 19, 20 and 21 respectively.
Following the directive of the national leadership of the party, the state APC held the congresses in which Hon. Ojukaye Flag-Amachree was elected through consensus as the new chairman of the party in the state.
Members of the party loyal to Senator Abe boycotted all the congresses.
At the resumed sitting of the court Wednesday, counsel for the aggrieved members of APC, Henry Bello, told the court that he had been duly served the motion on notice, adding that there was nothing to show that the person who served him was not counsel for the party.
But, Tuduru Edeh, who told the court that he has the mandate of the APC to represent them in court, insisted that Chieme Chiweikpe, who has been standing for the political party, had no authority to represent the party, having been suspended from office as legal adviser of the party since last year.
Edeh also told the court that the defence had not been served and that an appeal has been entered on the matter, urging the court to step down the matter till the appeal is heard.
After listening to the arguments, the presiding judge, Justice Chiwendu Nwogu, said there was no evidence to prove that appeal has been entered, adding that even the court registrar could not also confirm the development.
Nwogu in his ruling, stated that the cancellation of the result of the APC congress held in the state on May 5 and 12, and rescheduling the same congresses for May 19, 20 and was to make the matter academic.
He ruled that it was wrong for the APC to go against the order of the court, noting that the political party had earlier attempted to lock the gate of the court in order to stifle justice.
He stated that the attitude of the APC holding the same congresses barred by the court on a later date was contempt, stressing that it was targeted at arm-twisting the judiciary.
Nwogu described the congresses of the APC in the state in the face of the order as an act of disobedience, noting that the conducts of Tuduru Edeh, who had come to take over the matter, was unprofessional.
He said he was satisfied with the reports of the court which shows that all the parties in the matter had been duly served, noting that no record could prove that the matter has been entered for appeal.
Nwogu also said the order of the court meant that the parties should maintain the status quo and not to renew dates or events, adding that the attitude of APC amounts to contempt.
“The order was made to maintain status quo and not to renew dates or the events. The attempt of cancelling the earlier congress and holding same on later date is to frustrate this suit and make the matter an academic exercise.
“It is a way to declare the judiciary moribund. I hereby annul the congresses of the APC held on the 19th, 20th and 21st. I declare it as null and void and also stop them from holding any other congress in the state pending the outcome of the suit,” Nwogu held.
He stated that the ruling was to restore the status quo of the parties in the suit and adjourned till June 26 for hearing of the originating summons.
But in its reaction, the state chapter of the APC insisted that the congresses that produced the new executive of the party was not before any court.
The newly-elected chairman, Flag-Amachree, in a statement issued in Port Harcourt Wednesday, insisted that the APC ward, local government and state congresses that took place May 19, 20 and 21 respectively which saw to his emergence as the state chairman were not a subject of any court action.
â€œThe reported annulment must be connected to the matter relating to the disputed May 5 and 12 Ward and local government APC congresses of which our lawyers have actively been pursuing. As far as we are concerned, we were not served any fresh cause of action against the May 19, 20 and 21 congresses. It is unthinkable and unimaginable because no such linkage exists,â€ he stated.
He said it was absurd for anyone to talk about the new set of congresses even when the partyâ€™s counsel had filed a notice of preliminary objection against the jurisdiction of the court and the notice of appeal to that effect brought to the notice of the court over the May 5 and 12 congresses that the national leadership of APC eventually cancelled.
â€œWe believe that the court knows that it is its duty to determine the matter of preliminary objections and other motions filed by APC counsel before it can question subsequent congresses or actions of the party. At this moment, there is no court action and/or order on the state Exco or all those that emerged at different levels of the party on May 19, 20 and 21 congresses,â€ he said.