By Bassey Inyang in Calabar
The All Progressives Congress (APC) in Cross River State and 15 others have filed a contempt application in the state High Court sitting in Calabar against the state Attorney General and Commissioner for Justice demanding that he should be committed to prison, if he fails to obey a judgment of the court which directed the conduct of local government elections instead of the appointment of caretaker committees for the 18 local government councils of the state.
The application followed moves by Governor Ben Ayade to constitute caretaker committees for the councils by directing the caucuses of the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) in all the local government areas to nominate those to be appointed into the committees.
A copy of Form 48, obtained from the court by counsel to the claimants, Chief Utum Eteng, which was sighted by THISDAY read as follows: “Notice of consequences of disobedience to court Judgment/Order of 15th March, 2016. Barr. Joseph Ushie Abang, Cross River State Attorney General and Commissioner for Justice, Ministry of Justice, Calabar. Do, please take notice that unless you obey the directive contained in this Judgment, of Late Hon. Justice Okoi Itam, annexed hear to you will be guilty of contempt of court and will be liable to be committed to the Federal Prisons Afokang, Calabar.”
Speaking on the issue, Eteng said the state Attorney General of evaded service of the Form 48 on Monday, October 19, when the court bailiff went to his office to effect service.
“The court bailiff Ekpe Willie Ekpe has gone to return the unserved Form 48. The Attorney General of the state should not be a party to the breach of the rule of law in a case he is a party to. We are bent on citing him for contempt of court,” Eteng said.
He said it amounted to disobedience of court order for the governor, who was party to the suit, to ignore the court judgment and commence the process of constituting caretaker committees, instead of ensuring the conduct of local government elections for the election of democratic functionaries for the councils.
Eteng said it was incumbent on the governor and agents of the state to maintain the status quo as contained in the court judgment instead of imposing caretaker committee chairmen on the councils.
In a judgment delivered in the substantive suit by the former Chief Judge of the state, Justice Okoi Ikpi Itam (now deceased), in suit No. HC/7/2017, with Governor, Cross River State; Cross River State Government; and the State Independent Electoral Commission (CROSIEC), as 1st to 3rd defendants respectively, the court granted reliefs no. 1, 2 , 5 in the terms sought on the face of originating summons, but declined granting reliefs no. 3, 4, 6, 7, and 8.
In granting the three reliefs sought by the claimants, the court relying on section 7(1) of the 1999 constitution as amended, and section 2 of the Cross River State Local Government Law No.22 (2007) as amended decalred that it was illegal for the governor or the state government to appoint caretaker committees for the running of the local government councils.
The court also declared that though it is illegal to appoint Head of Local Government Administration (HOLGA) to take charge of the councils, the court declined issuing a perpetual injunction to restrain the HOLGA from running the affairs of the respective councils in order to avoid a vacuum.
The court had directed that they would hold fort until the conduct of elections for the emergence of democratically elected council chairmen and functionaries.