There was confusion yesterday as two judges of the Federal High Court yesterday gave conflicting judgements over the validity or otherwise of the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) National Convention scheduled to hold tomorrow in Port Harcourt.
While Justice Ibrahim Watila of the Port Harcourt Division of the court gave a nod for the convention to go ahead, Justice Okon Abang of the Abuja Division suspended the holding of the convention pending when the suit seeking to stop the convention is dispensed with. In his ruling, Justice Watila validated the PDP National Convention. The court directed the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) to monitor the party’s national convention.
The court also directed the Inspector-General of Police, the Rivers State Commissioner of Police, and the Director-General of the Department of State Services (DSS) to provide security for the national convention. Justice Watila also ordered that the police, DSS and INEC be served by substituted means through their respective offices in Port Harcourt.
Delivering a ruling in a motion on notice filed by Obi for himself and other members of the National Convention Planning Committee against the Inspector- General of Police, the Rivers State Commissioner of Police, the DSS and INEC, in suit number FHC/ PH/CS/585/2016, Justice Watila ordered INEC to ensure that it monitors the national convention. Justice Watila declared that the July 4 judgement of the Federal High Court in Port Harcourt recognised the May 21 National Convention, which produced the National Caretaker Committee, has not been appealed against or set aside, hence it behoves the court to protect that judgement.
The court added that there is no injunction against the holding of the August 17th national convention in Port Harcourt brought to the attention of the court during the hearing of the application by Senator Obi. Justice Watila ruled that: “The 1st, 2nd, 3rd and 4th defendants are hereby mandated to provide security for the national convention of the PDP scheduled to hold in Port Harcourt on Wednesday, August 17 or any other date and venue pending the hearing of the originating summons as the honourable court may decide.
“The 5th defendant (INEC) is mandated to monitor the National Convention of the PDP scheduled to hold in Port Harcourt on Wednesday August 17, 2016 or any other date and venue pending the hearing and determination of the originating summons as the honourable court may decide.” The court declared that it found the affidavit tendered by the plaintiff/applicant to be true, pointing out that it was at no point contested by the defendants, even though they were duly served. Justice Watila adjourned the suit till today for the hearing of the originating summons filed by Obi. But in what seems like a departure from the Justice Watila’s position, Justice Abang suspended the convention. The Abuja judge said he gave the interim order in the interest of justice to both parties in a suit pending before him.
Abang also said the order was issued to curb the excesses of some parties in the matter as well as to serve as a disciplinary action against those treating the court with levity.
He said this was with particular reference to Senator Obi, a member of the caretaker committee of the party. Justice Abang, whose attention was drawn to a copy of the ex-parte order obtained by Obi, said the action of Obi in filing the motion was in bad taste. Obi had been joined as a party in the suit before the judge. Abang held that Obi secretly went to Port Har court to obtain the said order when he knew that he was a party seeking to be joined in the suit filed by the Ali Modu Sheriff faction seeking to stop the convention. He also said a court of coordinate jurisdiction cannot make an order that will neutralise another court of coordinate jurisdiction.
“Obi cannot undermine the authority of this court; having become aware of the pendency of this matter, he ought to have waited for the outcome of this court. “He cannot slap the court in the face and expect the court to grant him any indulgence.
Democracy is not anchored on the whims and caprices of anybody; it is also not anchored on selfhelp; Obi cannot treat the court with levity. “It is unfortunate and unfair that he approached the Port Harcourt court for the ex-parte order which was granted to him. “To curb the excesses of the recalcitrant party and to prove that courts are not bull dogs that can bark but cannot bite, I am inclined to grant the request of Sheriff.
“I hereby make an order suspending the PDP convention of August 17 in exercise of my disciplinary jurisdiction to maintain the dignity and integrity of the court,” Abang ruled. Abang had joined Senators Ahmed Makarfi, Ben Obi, Odion Ugbesia, Abdul Ningi, Mr. Kabiru Usman, Mr. Dayo Adeyeye and Ha-jia Aisha Aliyu individually as parties to Sheriff’s suit as defendants.
The judge refused to grant the stay of execution of the ruling of July 28 in which he affirmed the leadership of the Sheriff-led faction of the PDP. Justice Abang had stressed that Makarfi and others were joined in their individual capacity and not as caretaker committee members of the PDP, as it was not in dispute that Sheriff is the authentic national chairman of the party.
After the ruling on joinder, counsel to Sheriff, Chief Adeniyi Akintola (SAN) had prayed the court to allow him to move the motion seeking to stop the convention, while counsel to Makarfi faction, Yunus Ustaz (SAN) opposed the application on ground that his clients were just joined in the matter and also just served with the amended summons.
Akintola informed the court that the Markafi faction had just gotten an order from the Port Harcourt division of the court, which ordered INEC to monitor the said election. Abang said that Mr. Ferdinand Orbih (SAN), who made the request for stay of execution on behalf of the Makarfi-led faction, lacked the locus standi to make the request because he was not a party to the suit that brought the ruling. The court described the lawyer as a “busy-body” and a “meddlesome interloper” and imposed N50,000 fine on him for attempting to thwart the proceedings of the court.
Abang frowned at the claim of Orbih that he had filed an appeal against the ruling, adding that the lawyer failed to put the notice of the appeal at the disposal of the court. He said his claim that he had transmitted the court’s record to the appellate court was an exercise in futility because he did not obtain the court’s permission before doing so.
The court also dismissed an application brought by one Mr. Sikiru Ogundele asking Abang to disqualify himself from the matter on account of bias. Abang said Ogundele was not a party to the suit, hence could not seek reliefs. Counsel to Obi, Barrister Wori Nyeche Wori said with the granting of the interlocutory injunction, the party has the legal backing to carry on with the National Convention.
Makarfi said the convention would still hold, as the Abuja Federal High Court is not superior to that of Port Harcourt, which had earlier given the party the go ahead with the convention. He, however, said the Court of Appeal will sort everything out.
Also, Governor of Rivers State, Nyesom Wike, who is the Chairman of the Convention Planning Committee, has restated that the convention will proceed on August 17. The governor, who spoke to journalists in Port Harcourt after the judgement, said everything is set for the convention, because it is backed by law. He said: “Let me assure you that as the chairman of the National Convention Planning Committee, we are backed by law and the court that the convention will go ahead.
“The court has recognised the May 21 National Convention before now in its July 4 judgement. Again, today (yesterday), the Federal High Court has re-confirmed that INEC should monitor the August 17 National Convention and that the security agencies should provide security as required.”
Reacting to the two conflicting judgements, an Abuja-based lawyer, Jubrin Shekari, stated that each party would have no choice than to parade the judgement it has to do whatever it wants to do.
“The two courts have co-ordinate jurisdiction, no one is higher than the other. As it is now, there is no solution as to the planned convention. The Makarfi group has Port Harcourt judgement, while Sheriff has Abuja ruling. No party is empty handed. I think, it is the judges that should be called to order by the National Judicial Council (NJC).
“The parties cannot be blamed here, each of them is looking for where it will get a favourable decision. So, for me, no solution in sight based on the two conflicting judgements,” he stated.
– New Telegraph