The Supreme Court, on Friday, dashed hopes of the All Progressives Congress, APC, to secure an order that would have compelled the Independent National Electoral Commission, INEC, to recognize all its candidates in the forthcoming elections in Rivers State.
The apex court, in a unanimous verdict by a five-man panel of Justices, declined to dislodge the high court's judgment that ab-initio barred the APC from conducting its Ward, Local Government and State congresses in Rivers State, pending the determination of a suit that was filed by 23 aggrieved chieftains of the party
The litigants, who are members of a faction of the party loyal to Senator Magnus Abe, had on May 11, 2018, secured an interim injunction from a High Court in Port Harcourt, which restrained the APC from going ahead with the indirect primaries that held on May 19, 20 and 21 respectively.
The APC, however, proceeded to conduct the primary elections, even as it got an order from the Court of Appeal in Port Harcourt, to stay the execution of the high court order.
Among beneficiaries of the primary elections included Prince Tonye Cole, whom the party had since presented as its governorship flag-bearer in Rivers State.
The APC had, through its lawyer, Prince Lateef Fagbemi, SAN, begged the Supreme Court to clear legal impediments against its list of candidates that contained Cole's name, a request the court rejected on Friday.
The apex court panel which was led by Justice Mohammed Dattijo, rather re-affirmed its previous ruling that validated the high court's order that barred APC from going ahead with the Rivers primaries.
The panel further invoked section 22 of the Supreme Court Act and dismissed the appeal the Ojukaye Flag-Amachree's led APC, filed before the Port Harcourt Division of the Court of Appeal, to challenge the high court order.
In the lead judgment that was delivered by Justice Side Bage, the apex court said it was satisfied that the matter which the APC filed before the appellate court deserved “a decent burial.”
It held that the appellate court ought to have terminated further hearing on the appeal marked CA/PH/198/2018, after it was withdrawn by a lawyer that was duly briefed by the Rivers State Legal Adviser of the APC, Chieme Chinweikpe.
“It is my considered opinion that this appeal must be given a decent burial. The appeal, having been withdrawn at the lower court by the respondent, is deemed distilled. This is what the lower court failed or evaded to do.
“Therefore, by virtue of section 22 of the Supreme Court Act 2004, the lower court having failed to exercise its powers provided under Order 11 Rule 5, this court is bound to do so.
“Thus, I will allow the appeal and set aside the ruling of the lower court dated October 31st 2018. I hereby dismiss Appeal No CA/PH/198/2018”, Justice Bage held.
Though the Supreme Court initially fixed March 8 for the judgment, it brought the date forward after APC contended that the matter would be caught up by the 60 days deadline the Electoral Act provided for the determination of pre-election cases.
The appeal marked SC/1070/2018, was lodged before the court by twenty-three chieftains of the party, led by one Abdulahi Umar.
The litigants had, among other things, urged the apex court to determine whether it was right for the Court of Appeal to proceed with hearing APC's appeal against the high court order, despite the notice of withdrawal dated September 13, 2018.
They further challenged the interlocutory decision of the appellate court in a ruling that was delivered on October 31, 2018, by a panel of Justices led by Justice Cordelia Ifeoma Jumbo-Ofo, which okayed stay of execution of the order of the high court that stopped the APC primaries.
Umar and his group argued that it was wrong for the appellate court to rely on its previous decision that was set aside by the Supreme Court on October 22, 2018, in another appeal marked SC/764/2018, which the APC lodged against them.
While adopting their brief of argument, the appellants, through their lawyer, Mr. Henry Bello, urged the Supreme Court to uphold its earlier judgement and nullify outcomes of the indirect primary elections that produced Cole and other candidates in the faction of the party loyal to the Minister of Transportation, Mr. Rotimi Amaechi.
The appellants equally urged the apex court to dismiss the appeal in Port Harcourt, having been withdrawn by the appropriate organ of the APC in Rivers State.
Meanwhile, shortly after the matter was adjourned for Judgment, the appellants re-approached the apex court, asking to withdraw the appeal.
They applied for the appeal to be struck out since it would have been overtaking by events by March when the 60 days period provided by the Electoral Act would have elapsed.
Bello told the apex court panel that the lower court had delivered a consent judgment in the matter, following the withdrawal of the appeal.
However, APC, through its team of lawyers led by Prince Fagbemi, SAN, prayed the Supreme Court to dismiss the case and uphold the list of candidates that were okayed by leadership of the party.
Fagbemi, SAN, maintained that whereas the Court of Appeal struck out one of the appeals that involved the consent judgement of the high court, he said the instant appeal at the Supreme Court was different.
Fagbemi further argued that the appeal was not a pre-election matter since what was being challenged was the election of officers to the Wards, Local Government and State Congresses of the APC.
His contention was however discarded by the Supreme Court, which said it was satisfied that the proceedings at the appellate court ought to have been terminated immediately the case was withdrawn.
It will 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 expressesly 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 Rivers State High Court had in a ruling on May 30, nullified the Ward, Local Government and State congresses of the APC held on May 19, 20 and 21 respectively.
Justice Nwogu maintained that the process that led to the emergence of Ojukaye Flag-Amachree as Rivers Chairman of APC, was fraudulent.
He ordered the party to return to the status quo of May 11, pending the determination of the substantive suit.
Subsequently, the court, on October 10, voided the nomination of Mr Cole as the gubernatorial flag-bearer of the APC in the state.
Justice Nwogu declared that Ward congresses of APC in Rivers State were illegal, sayin they were not conducted in line with the Party's guidelines and constitution.
INEC had since declined to include candidates of the APC in its list of candidates that will participate in the 2019 elections in Rivers State.
Meanwhile, The Senator representing Rivers South-East Senatorial District in the National Assembly, Magnus Ngei Abe has described the ruling of the Supreme Court in favour of Ibrahim Umar and other APC chieftains, who were aggrieved by their exclusion during the Party Congresses in Rivers State as a stunning victory for Democracy, Justice and the rule of law in Nigeria.
Abe, in a statement issued by his spokesperson, Parry Saroh Benson, reiterated that the issue in Rivers APC has always been about inclusion, justice, respect for party members and adherence to due process.
"Today, the Supreme Court again made the point that no one is above the law consequently, it is time for us to put the interest of Rivers APC above every other interest.
"The victory at the Supreme Court this morning is a stunning victory for Democracy and Justice. The God of justice has spoken and every other voice must now be silent”.
"We had always maintained that only one valid and lawful primary election was conducted by the APC in Rivers State, because the indirect primaries did not exist in law.
"With this latest pronouncement by the Supreme Court, it is now clear that the voided congresses in Rivers State, as well as the indirect primaries that it gave birth to, has been knocked down not just by the State High Court, but that position has now been upheld by two separate panels of the Court of Appeal Port Harcourt Division and two panels of the Supreme Court of Nigeria”.
He said it is time for the APC to face reality and put an end to all the frivolous appeals been filed in its name, and do the right thing.
Recalled that the Supreme Court had on Friday again upheld the order of the High Court, and made an order dismissing an appeal filed before the Court of Appeal in Port Harcourt Division against the High Court judgment.
A five-man panel of Justices of the Supreme Court unanimously refused to tamper with the High Court judgment that before now barred the APC from conducting its Ward, Local Government and State Congresses in Rivers State, pending the determination of a suit that was filed by 22 aggrieved chieftains of the party.
The request was rejected by the panel of the apex court led by Justice Mohammad Dattijo, which rather re-affirmed its previous ruling that validated the High Court order.
The Supreme Court invoked section 22 of its Act which allows it to take over a matter and give final judgment to decide on the appeal.
In a lead judgment delivered by Justice Sidi Barge, the Apex Court held that by virtue of section 11 rule 5 of the Appeal Court rules, the appeal against the High Court ruling having been withdrawn on the orders of the authentic State Legal Adviser of the APC, Mr. Chiweikpe Chieme, ought to have been dismissed by the Court of Appeal.
Justice Barge said that since the Court of Appeal failed or refused to make the dismissal pronouncement for the said appeal, the Apex Court has no choice than to invoke section 22 of the Supreme Court act to assume jurisdiction over the case and decide on it.
According to him "it is my considered opinion that this appeal must be given a decent burial. The appeal having been withdrawn at the lower court by the respondent is deemed dismissed”.
“This is what the lower court failed or evaded to do. "Therefore by virtue of section 22 of the Supreme Court Act 2004, the lower court having failed to exercise its powers provided under order 11 rule 5, this court is bound to do so”.
Nigerians will recall that Justice Chiwendu Worgu of the High Court of Rivers State had granted an order restraining the APC from proceeding with its Ward and Local Government Congresses, which the party refused to obey, the court subsequently voided the entire congresses and its products from the indirect primary.