Bassey Inyang in Calabar
A three-member panel of the Court of Appeal in Calabar, Cross River State, yesterday recused themselves from the cases before it on the leadership of the State Executive Committee (SEC) of the All Progressives Congress (APC), the issue of who is the party governorship candidate as well as candidates for other elective positions pursuant to the 2019 general election.
The cases before the panel of judges were suits No CA/C/62/2019 and No CA/C/70/2019.
At the last hearing of the cases on February 26, the panel headed by Justice A M. Owoade, had granted a formal ‘Stay of Execution Order’ which reaffirms the candidacies of Senators John Owan-Enoh, Ndoma-Egba and others of the APC in the state earlier published by the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC).
The Appeal Court had frowned at what it described as INEC misinterpretation and misinformation of the public on its earlier order of February 20 which directed that parties in the matter should maintain ‘Status Quo Ante’ pending the determination of the substantive case.
A judgment of the Federal High Court in Calabar delivered by Justice Simon A. Amobeda on February 11 in the case filed by Etim John and two others challenging the legitimacy of the current State Executive Committee of the APC in the state led by late Sir Mathew Achigbe who is now being represented in acting capacity by his deputy, Sir John Ochala, declared that Etim John and other members of his factional executive committee of the APC in the state be taken as the legitimate state exco of the party.
The judge also went further to pronounce that other candidates from the list submitted by Etim John should be recognised by INEC. The Federal High Court judgment prompted the appeal for which the stay of execution has been granted.
At the last hearing of the matter before the appellate court, the panel had reminded the parties to the suit that the matters before it would be granted accelerated hearing, and therefore directed the counsel to parties in suit No CA/C/62/2019 to summit their addresses not later than March 1 before adjourning the matter for March 4.
However, at the resumed hearing, the judges recused themselves from the case, but did not temper with the stay of execution order they granted on February 27 which recognised Owan-Enoh as the governorship candidate of the APC as well as Ndoma-Egba and others whose names were published by INEC as candidate for the National Assembly and state assembly elections.
On the resumption of the hearing yesterday, Justice Owoade had announced to the court that upon arriving in his chambers in the morning, he was served with two petitions written by Etim John.
Thereafter, he distributed copies of the petitions to counsel to the parties and demanded their reactions.
Both petitions addressed separately to the President of the Court of Appeal and the National Judicial Commission, and alleged that he has lost confidence in the Justice Owoade-led panel because of allegation of N250million graft making the rounds about the court.
However, the petition did not mention who paid the N250million graft and to who in particular it was paid.
Counsel to Senator Owan-Enoh, Awa Kalu SAN, and counsel to the APC, Mba Ukweni SAN, advised the panel to ignore the petitions because they were not dated and not properly routed by the petitioner.
The counsel to the applicants further told the court that even the petition written to National Judicial Commission was a nullity because there was no entity as such in Nigeria. “It is a clear ploy to delay the case which had taken briefs of counsel and scheduled for hearing,” one of the appellant counsel said.
But counsel to Etim John, Ayei Okpa, in his responds, feigned ignorance of the petition from his client, and asked the court to give him time to consult with his client on the development.
After listening to the counsel, the panel rose for ten minutes, and upon resumption, the Judges, in their wisdom, unanimously recused themselves from the matter by withdrawing from further hearing of the applications before them.
Speaking to journalists at the end of the court session, a member of the team of lawyers representing Owan-Enoh, Bernard Afu Esq, said that a new panel of judges would be appointed by the President of the Court of Appeal, and that they would all return to court for the case to continue.
Afu said the implication of the day proceedings indicated that Owan-Enoh remains the governorship candidate of the APC.
“But as it stands, Senator Enoh remains the governorship candidate of APC, and other candidates along with him who had their names published by INEC, remain validly nominated candidates of the party as the Stay of Execution Order of court in favour of that subsists,” he stated.
Counsel to Etim John did not speak to journalists as he entered into his car and drove off.