Alex Enumah in Abuja
Justice Stephen Pam of the Abuja division of the Federal High Court on Wednesday reinforced his order on the Inspector General of Police to arrest and produce Chairman of the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC), Prof. Mahmoud Yakubu, in court on August 14 to explain to the court why he should not be committed to prison over alleged disobedience to order of the court.
Justice Pam had on August 1, issued a bench warrant against the INEC chief, following his failure to appear before the court on three occasions to defend himself in the contempt charge brought against him by a factional leader of the Anambra State PDP.
However, when the matter came up Wednesday, the INEC chairman was not in court to show cause why he should not be committed to prison over contempt of court.
His counsel, Chief Adegboyega Awomolo SAN, told the court that he did not know the whereabouts of his client, adding that it is the police that is saddled with the responsibility of producing Yakubu in court.
But in a short ruling, Justice Pam said, “This matter was adjourned to today for continuation. Unfortunately counsel to the defendant informed the court that he did not know the whereabouts of the defendant even though at the last adjourned date he had told the court that the defendant travelled and would be back yesterday.
“In the circumstances, the bench warrant issued on the defendant to be brought to court by the police is subsisting. Police is further ordered to bring the defendant to court on 14 August”.
Earlier, INEC’s lawyer, drew the court’s attention to a motion he filed on June 27, 2017, challenging the competence and jurisdiction of the court to hear the contempt charge.
He said though he adopted the motion in the proceedings of June 24, 2018 but the court did not rule on the motion, adding that, until the court determines that motion one way or the order, there cannot be a valid contempt charge before the court.
Awomolo further argued that an alleged contemnor cannot be compelled to appear before the court until the issue of competence and jurisdiction is settled. ” Until the application is taken and determined, he cannot be compelled to appear in court”, Awomolo submitted.
The defendant therefore urged the court to stay proceedings on the matter based on this, in addition to Yakubu’s appeal against the court’s order of his arrest.
But, the court insisted it cannot stay proceedings since the matter is a quasi-criminal case, adding that section 306 of the Administration of Criminal Justice Act, ACJA 2015 does not provide for stay of proceedings in a criminal matter.
Awomolo, in addition drew the attention of a letter dated August 1 to the Chief Judge of the Federal High Court, Justice Abdul Kafarati, seeking the disqualification of Justice Pam from the case and have it transferred to another Judge on the account of alleged bias.
According to Awomolo, the judge in his ruling of August 1 referred to the defendant as a contemnor instead of alleged contemnor when there is no charge of contempt of prove of evidence before the court.
Responding, counsel to the plaintiff, Chief Gordy Uche (SAN), opposed the move for the matter to be adjourned on the ground that there was no basis for that.
Uche, argued that the defendant’s request for adjournment was an abuse of court process, aimed at turning the court to a toothless dog.
He said there was a subsisting order to the effect that the INEC chief appear in court to show cause why he should not be committed to prison for contempt charge.
Uche, argued that since the order had not been vacated, Yakubu must appear in court, adding that the court cannot sit as an appeal court on that order, “the contemnor must be compelled to appear in court”.l.
While recalling that the court is a special court with fiat from the Chief Judge to try the matter, Uche submitted that the court cannot hands off the trial until there is a corresponding order of the CJ, adding that the defendants have not applied for the withdrawal of the fiat given to the court.
He further urged the court to discountenanced the letter written to the CJ on the grounds that the judge was not copied for him to defend himself or prepare for the day’s proceedings.
He therefore prayed the court to continue with the business of the day, which is the continuation of trial, adding that, “Until an order is stayed or set aside the order must be obeyed.
The court after granting the prayers of the plaintiff adjourned till August 14, when it is hoped that the police would produce Yakubu in court to show cause why he should not be committed to prison over alleged disobedience of court.
Ejike Oguebego and Chuks Okoye, Chairman and Legal Adviser of the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP), Anambra State respectively, had filed the contempt charge against Yakubu in 2014.
Following the service of Form 49 on Prof Mahmood, the court summoned him to show cause why he should not be committed to prison for having disobeyed the order of the court made on December 5, 2014, restraining him from accepting or receiving or according recognition to any list of nominated candidates for elective posts for the Senate, House of Representatives and House of Assembly of Anambra state in the 2015 general elections except those that emanated from the plaintiffs, which order was affirmed by the Supreme Court on January 29, 2016.