A few days ago, INEC categorically and publicly said that it will not change its decision to exclude Rivers State chapter of APC from participation in the 2019 general elections for the offices of Governor, National and Assembly membership. From the state of existing Court judgments, INEC was on firm ground.
A good point to start would be the first of the legal fireworks initiated by relevant parties.
1. Suit No: BHC/78/2018
Ibrahim Umahvs APC&Ords.
This suit was commenced at the Rivers State High Court, Port Harcourt. The Plaintiffs therein sought several reliefs. They include that Magnus Abe’s group were entitled to participate in the APC primaries, a declaration setting aside the purported primaries by the Ameachigroup, injunction restraining APC from conducting any Local Government Congress based on the ward congress election purportedly conducted on May 5, 2018, declaration that the purported ward and Local Government and State congress conducted by APC in Rivers State on May 12th, 19th, 20th and 21st 2018 respectively and anything done there under are entitled to be set aside etc.
While this case was pending, the Plaintiffs secured an interlocutory/interim order to restrain APC from proceeding with the scheduled congresses pending the determination of the matter. Inspite of this order the APC went ahead with the primaries but appealed against the said interlocutory order in Appeal No: CA/PH/198/2018 to the Court of Appeal. In the cause of prosecuting this Appeal, APC applied through one of its Counsel to withdraw the Appeal by filing a Notice of withdrawal. Another Counsel of APC approached the Court of Appeal to continue with the Appeal. The Counsel to the Magnus Abe group opposed this strongly and argued that the Appeal ought to be dismissed. The Court of Appeal in Port Harcourt allowed and overruled the Abe group and continued with the Appeal. Abe’s group then appealed to the Supreme Court in Appeal No. SC. 1070/2018.
CONTINUATION OF RIVERS STATE HIGH COURT TRIAL
While this appeal was pending in the Supreme Court, the Rivers State High Court presided over by Hon. Nwogudelivered judgment on 10th October, 2018 in suit No: BHC/78/2018; Ibrahim Uma &Ords v. APC. The Court decided in favour of Ibrahim Uma &Ordsrestrained APC from conducting any primaries upon the ward congress which the Court found to have been conducted in contravention of extant laws and party Guidelines. The Court nullified all the nominations for election to the offices of Governor, National and State Assemblies on the ground that they were conducted in breach of extant court order restraining the conduct of same
It would appear that the only appeal lodged against the Rivers State High Court judgment is the one against the order of interlocutory injunction made by that Court. No appeal was lodged against the substantive judgment itself. For all intents and purposes the Rivers State High Court judgment remains valid and unchallenged.
SUPREME COURT JUDGMENT IN SC. 1070/2018
On 8th February, 2019, the Supreme Court delivered its judgment in the Appeal filed by the Abe group against the failure of the Court of Appeal to dismiss the Appeal filed by the Ameachi group, same having been withdrawn by the filing of Notice of withdrawal at the Registry of the Appeal Court. The Supreme Court held as follows at page 19 of its judgment
It is my considered opinion that this appeal must be given a decent burial. The appeal having been withdrawn is deemed to have been dismissed. This is what the lower Court failed or evaded for reasons stated above.
The Supreme Court’s judgment therefore strongly protected the interlocutory orders of the Rivers State High Court restraining the conduct of primaries by APC on the basis of a flawed ward congress. In any case, the said High Court gave its final judgment which eventually nullified any purported primaries for contravening valid court orders.
2. SUIT NO: FHC/PH/CS/149/2018
PDP V. INEC & APC
Once PDP found out that the Rivers State High Courts had given judgment nullifying any purported primaries, by APC and further restraining the party from conducting any upon the flawed ward congress, PDP quickly approached the Federal High Court and sought several reliefs. They include; a declaration that all primaries conducted in Rivers State by APC, having been set aside by a competent Court, APC was not entitled to nominate or sponsor any candidate for 2019 General Elections. They sought injunction against INEC from according any recognition to purported APC candidates.
The Federal High Court, in a judgment delivered by Justice J.K Omotosho, found for PDP and granted the reliefs sought. The Court pointed out that it was important to obey Court orders and that the defect of non-compliance was fatal.
3. APPEAL NO: CA/PII/38/2019
PDP V. INEC & APC
APC filed an appeal against the said judgment of the Federal High Court in the Court of Appeal. It also filed an application for stay of execution of the judgment of the Federal High Court. The said application is still pending but has been fixed for hearing same in February, 2019.
4. SUIT NO: FHC/PH/CS/144/2018
Magnus Abe &Ords v. APC&Ords
Magnus Abe and Ords instituted the above suit against APC and Ords seeking amongst others an order of Court that they have been duly nominated to contest the various elections in 2019 general election. They also sought an order to nullify the nomination of the candidates of Ameachi’s group and an order for INEC to recognize them as the nominated candidates. In the end, the Federal High Court declared that Magnus Abe’s group were not validly nominated by APC, having failed to prove that the primaries that produced them were validly conducted. The Court held that the primaries that produced them were conducted during the pendency of Suit No BHC/78/2018, betweenIbrahim Umah&Ords v. APC. The Court also held that the Magnus Abe’s group failed to show that their primaries were conducted by the national body of APC.
The Federal High Court went further to restrain INEC from recognizing any candidate of APC contesting for the various offices in the 2019 general elections. The Court nullified the nomination of any candidate by APC for election into the said offices as earlier nullified by Nwogu .J, on 10thOctobetr, 2018 in Suit No: BHC/78/2018, Ibrahim Umah&Ords v. APC.
5. APPEAL NO: CA/PH/39/2019
APC V. SEN. MAGNUS ABE & ORDS
APC appealed against the said Federal High Court judgment in Suit No: FHC/PH/CS/144/2018. It also filed an application for stay of execution against the judgment of the Federal High Court delivered on 7th January, 2019.
TWIST IN THE APPLICATION
In what appears to be a costly mix-up, APC’s counsel in their prayers for stay of execution filed on 5th February, 2019, directed their relief against the judgment of the Federal High Court in Suit No: FHC/PH/149/2018; PDP v. INEC & APC which was not the subject of this appeal. The subject of this appeal was Suit NO: FHC/PH/CS/144/2018, Sen. Magnus Abe &Orda v. APC &Ords. Inspte of this costly mix-up which should have led to the strikingout of such application, the Court of Appeal granted the application for “Stay of Execution as Prayed”. What the Court of Appeal granted in reality were prayers in connection with another appeal between APC and PDP.
REACTION TO COURT OF APPEAL’S MIXED-UP ORDERS
In reaction the mixed up order of the Court of Appeal, PDP filed an application before the Court of Appeal in Appeal NO: CA/PH/38/2019; APC V. PDP & INEC praying that the Hon. Justices should recuse themselves from further hearing the appeal or participate in the hearing and determination of the said Appeal on the basis of the mixed-up order of stay of execution and a previous application made to the president of the Court of Appeal on 30th January, 2019 for the re-constitution of a fresh panel of Appeal. The said application filed on 6th February, 2019 is pending before the Court.
In conclusion the judgment in suit No: BHC/78/2018; Ibrahim Umah & Ords v. APC delivered on 10th October, 2018 by the High Court of Rivers State nullifying the nominations by APC for 2019 elections remains valid and unchanged. The judgment of the Federal High Court in Suit No: FHC/CS/149/2018, PDP V. INEC & APC deliveredon 7th January, 2019 restraining INEC from recognizing any APC candidate and also nullifying all APC nominations remain valid as it has not been set aside on appeal. In addition, no valid stay of execution has been granted to warrant INEC to act on it. The judgment in Suit No: FHC/PH/CS/144/2018; Sen. Magnus Abe &Ords vs. APC &Ordswhich restrained INEC from recognizing any candidate of APC for 2019 elections remains valid. No valid order for stay of execution has been made against it. In any case, for INEC to validly recognize APC candidates for all positions in 2019 elections, all existing judgments must be set aside on Appeal or validly stayed.
So far, this has not been so. It appears that nothing can be done about the Rivers State High Court judgment in Suit No: BHC/78/2018 Ibrahim Umah&Ords v. APCwhich has no appeal against it and there cannot be one anymore having regards to the period allowed by law to appeal against same. It can therefore be safely concluded that the iron curtain has been closed on APC with respect to fielding candidates for 2019 general elections with respect to Rivers State.
My humbly opinion.
Dr. Ehiogie WEST-Idahosa