The Supreme Court, on Thursday, foreclosed any chance by the All Progressives Congress, APC, to challenge the outcome of the 2019 general election in Rivers State.
The apex court, in a unanimous ruling by a seven-man panel of Justices led by the Acting Chief Justice of Nigeria, CJN, Justice Tanko Muhammad, dismissed remainder of appeals the APC lodged to reverse court judgements that led to the exclusion of its candidates from vying for any elective position in the state.
The APC had through its lawyer, Mr. Jubrin Okutekpa, SAN, approached the apex court, praying it to set-aside its previous decisions that validated lower court judgements that barred it from participating in the Rivers State elections. The ruling party urged the Supreme Court to invoke its original jurisdiction under section 22 of its Act, and review all the circumstances that resulted to the exclusion of all its candidates. It prayed the apex court to set-aside the judgement of the Rivers State High Court which held that it did not conduct valid primary elections to nominate candidates for various positions in the state.
The APC further asked the Supreme Court to reverse its previous position that its appeal against the verdict of the Port Harcourt Division of the Court of Appeal, was merely academic. Delivering ruling on the matter, the apex court panel said it was satisfied that the appeal by APC was grossly incompetent and deserved to be dismissed in its entirety. The Acting CJN who gave the ruling, upheld argument by counsel to the Peoples Democratic Party, Chief Emmanuel Ukala, SAN, that the appeal was incurably defective. In its preliminary objection, PDP, noted that the APC had in its notice of appeal, erroneously directed its prayers to the Court of Appeal instead of the Supreme Court. Consequently, Ukala, SAN, argued that the APC had no valid appeal before the the apex court, a submission that was affirmed by the CJN-led panel.
Similarly, the apex court dismissed two other separate appeals relating to Rivers State Governorship elections. Whereas in the second appeal, Prince Tonye Cole sought to be declared the authentic governorship candidate of the APC in Rivers State, the third appeal was lodged against Senator Magnus Abe by the APC. The apex court terminated all the appeals on the premise that they were not only incompetent, but also legally defective.
The Supreme Court had last Monday, struck out an appeal the Senator Abe’s faction of the APC in Rivers State filed for their own candidates to be recognised as duly nominated to participate in the 2019 polls. They had urged the apex court to among other things, determine whether it was their faction or the group loyal to the Minister of Transport, Mr. Rotimi Amaechi, that conducted valid primaries for the purpose of the 2019 general elections. However, the appeal was also struck out for being defective. The apex court panel held that notice of appeal was filed in gross violation of section 285 of the 1999 Constitution.
It will be recalled that the Supreme Court had in separate judgments it delivered on February 8 and 12, declined to compel the Independent National Electoral Commission, INEC, to recognise candidates of the APC in Rivers State. The court took the action after 23 aggrieved members of the APC who secured the judgement that voided the outcome of primaries the party held in the state, challenged the competence of the appeal. The group, through their lawyer, Mr. Henry Bello, contended that the appeal had turned academic in view of previous judgments of the Supreme Court on the matter. Bello argued that under section 285(14) of the 1999 Constitution, as amended, and past decisions of the Supreme Court, 60 days time-frame for hearing of pre-election matters, had elapsed. He noted that the judgment the APC asked the apex court to set aside was delivered by the Port Harcourt Division of the Court of Appeal, on December 12, 2018.
The apex court had rejected an application to set-aside the initial order that restrained APC from conducting its Ward, Local Government and State congresses in Rivers State, pending the determination of the suit by its aggrieved members. The litigants, who are members of a faction of the APC loyal to Senator 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. Among beneficiaries of the primary election included Mr. Cole, who the party had urged INEC to recognize as its governorship flag-bearer in Rivers State.
The APC failed to persuade the apex court to clear legal impediments against its list of candidates that contained Cole’s name. Rather, another panel of the apex court headed by Justice Mohammed Dattijo, re-affirmed a previous ruling that validated the high court order that barred APC from going ahead with the Rivers primaries. The panel further invoked section 22 of the Supreme Court Act and dismissed an appeal the Ojukaye Flag-Amachree’s led APC filed before the Port Harcourt Division of the Court of Appeal to challenge the said high court order. In the lead judgment that was delivered by Justice Side Bage, the apex court said it was satisfied that the matter 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 duly withdrawn by a lawyer that was duly briefed by the Rivers State Legal Adviser of the APC, Chieme Chinweikpe.
It will also be recalled that the apex court had also on October 22, 2018, 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 the aggrieved members. 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, 2018, 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. Based on the judgments, INEC, refused to allow candidates of the APC to contest for any elective position in Rivers State.
Source: Vanguard Nigeria