Ernest Chinwo in Port Harcourt
The Court of Appeal sitting in Port Harcourt Wednesday compounded the woes of the All Progressives Congress (APC) in Rivers State as it dismissed three appeals by a faction of the party against the October 10 judgment of the State High Court, which declared the congresses of the party void.
But the faction, led by Minister of Transportation, Mr. Rotimi Amaechi, has headed to the Supreme Court to challenge the judgments, which has put the likelihood of APC fielding any candidate in the state in the 2019 elections on the balance.
The Supreme Court has, however, fixed March 8, 2019 for its judgment on the appeal.
The Ojukaye Flag-Amachree’s faction loyal to Amaechi had gone to the Court of Appeal to challenge the judgment of the state High Court, which in the matter brought before it by Ibrahim Umar and 22 other aggrieved members of APC loyal to Senator Magnus Abe, had declared the party congresses as null and void.
President of the Court of Appeal had set up a special three-man panel, led by Justice Abubakar Yahaya, to hear the appeal registered as Number CA/PH/198. The appeal court also struck out two joinder applications filed by Flag-Amachree, the governorship candidate of APC in Rivers, Mr. Tonye Cole, and other elected candidates of same faction.
Delivering his judgment yesterday after few hours break, Justice Yahaya said the appeal against the Justice Chinwendu Nwogu High Court judgment lacks merit, adding that the application for joinder failed to observe the 14 days rules of appeal.
While delivering judgment on the substantive appeal that bordered on Justice Nwogu’s judgment, the panel ruled that the Flag-Amachree’s faction failed to seek leave of court before appealing against the judgment.
The appeal court also ruled that the judgment delivered at the lower court was a consent judgment, adding that Flag-Amachree’s faction should have done the needful legally before approaching the court.
Addressing journalists shortly after the judgment, counsel for the 23 aggrieved respondents, Mr. Patrick Luke, explained that the special appeal panel struck out three different matters.
He narrated, “The first was an appeal against the judgment of October 10, 2018 delivered by the High Court of Rivers State. After listening to our argument, the court dismissed that appeal because they filed their appeal outside the terms provided by the Constitution and they ought to file that appeal within 14 days upon delivery of judgment by the lower court.
“But they filed the appeal 25 days later, thus it was status barred and it was accordingly dismissed by the Court of Appeal today.“The other two matters were based on application for joinder. Also the two applications were also struck out for lack of merit.
“The implication is that the judgment delivered by High Court of Rivers State on October 10, 2018 is valid, subsisting, sacred and inviolable.”
Also in his reaction, counsel to Flag-Amachree, Mr. Emenike Ebete, noted that the judgment was delivered based on the wisdom of the court after hearing their argument.
The Rivers State High Court presided over by Justice Chinwendu had on October 10 declared the Ward, Local Government and the State Congresses of the State Chapter of the APC held on the May 19, 20 and 21 respectively null and void.
S’Court Fixes March 8 for Judgment
The Supreme Court yesterday slated March 8 to determine the legality or otherwise of primary elections the APC conducted in Rivers State for the purpose of nominating its candidates for the 2019 polls.
A five-man panel of justices of the apex court led by Justice Musa Dattijjo, adjourned the matter for judgment on a day that APC begged the court to dismiss the appeal challenging the process that led to the emergence of Cole as its gubernatorial flag-bearer in Rivers State.
The appeal marked SC/1070/2018, was lodged before the court by 22 chieftains of the party led by one Abdullahi Umar.
While adopting their brief of argument, the appellants, through their lawyer, Mr. Henry Bello, urged the Supreme Court to re-affirm the ruling it delivered on October 22, and nullify outcomes of the primary election that produced Cole and other candidates in the faction of the party that is loyal to Amaechi.
The appellants equally urged the apex court to dismiss a pending appeal marked CA/PH/198/2015, which the said faction lodged before the Port Harcourt Division of the Court of Appeal.
However, APC’s lawyer, Dr. Kayode Olatoke (SAN), prayed the Supreme Court to dismiss the case and uphold the list of candidates that were okayed by leadership of the party.
It would be recalled that the apex court had on October 22, nullified an interim order of the Court of Appeal in Port Harcourt, which gave APC the nod to conduct its ward, local government and state congresses in Rivers State.
In a ruling that was delivered by Justice Centus Nweze, the Supreme Court, faulted the appellate court for halting the execution of a Rivers State High Court order that barred APC from going ahead with its planned congress, pending the determination of a suit that was entered by Umar and the 22 others.
It noted that the high court had on the basis of the said suit, issued injunctive reliefs that expressly forbade the APC from conducting congress in the state.
According to the Supreme Court, Justice Chiwendu Nwogu of the High Court gave the interim order of injunction on May 11, the same day that some hoodlums loyal to a faction of the party, besieged the high court premises in Port Harcourt.
It observed that despite the attack and the restraining order from the high court, which was further reaffirmed on May 13, the APC which was a respondent in the matter, went ahead and conducted its ward, local government and state congresses on May 19, 20 and 21.
The apex court said it was baffled that the APC, “in the most impudent manner”, ran to the Court of Appeal to apply for stay of proceeding and execution of the high court order with respect to the suit marked PHC/78/2018.
It further observed that though the appellate court declined to stay proceedings of the high court, it however stayed the execution of the May 11 order by Justice Nwogu.
Dissatisfied with the decision, Umar and his group that dragged APC to court over their alleged exclusion from the primaries, filed an appeal at the Supreme Court.
They argued that the appellate court engaged in judicial rascality by refusing to abide by Supreme Court decisions on the issue of stay of execution of valid court orders.
The appellants told the apex court that the appellate court violated the principle of stare-decisis (judicial precedents) and accorded favourable ruling to the APC, even when it was “in grave disobedience to two orders of the lower court”.
While acceding to the appellants’ prayer, the Supreme Court held that the appellate court should not have vacated the injunctive order the Rivers state high court issued against the APC on the conduct of its congresses.
Justice Nweze held that the action of the appellate court amounted to “sacrilegious exercise of judicial discretion,” saying it committed “gross insubordination,” by refusing to abide by precedents already set by the Supreme Court.
He said the appellate court was wrong when it judicially indulged the APC, even in the face of abundant evidence that the Party was in contempt of subsisting court orders.
“It is a very serious matter for anyone to flout a positive order of a court and still approach the court for remedy.
“It is unfortunate and wrongful for the Court of Appeal to have entertained a party in contempt of a valid court order to the extent of granting judicial favour by way of staying of execution of an injunctive order when the party at the center of the dispute was in gross contempt of court”, Justice Nweze held.
Stressing that the respondent acted “in the most impudent manner,” the Supreme Court held, “The simple truth, therefore, is that when the respondent applied for stay of execution, it was in gross abuse of a court order.”