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PDP convention: Courts give conflicting rulings

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Abuja judge: convention is hereby suspended

Port Harcourt judge: provide security for convention 

Uncertainty reigned yesterday over tomorrow’s Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) convention slated for Port Harcourt, the Rivers State capital.

PDP
PDP

Though, a Federal High Court in Port Harcourt ordered that security  be provided for the convention; another Federal High Court in Abuja suspended it.

Justice Ibrahim Watila of Port Harcourt ordered the convention to go on because there was nothing before him seeking otherwise, but Justice Okon Abang of Abuja suspended the convention because it was being planned in disobedience of his order.

Justice Watila ordered acting Inspector-General of Police (IGP) Ibrahim Idris, Commissioner of Police Francis Mobolaji Odesanya and Director-General of the Department of State Services (DSS) Lawal Musa Daura to ensure “adequate security at the meeting”.

He also directed the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) to  monitor the  convention.

PDP is expected to elect its national officers at the convention.

The party on May 21 held parallel conventions in Abuja and Port Harcourt. The events ended in crisis. Rather than the proposed election, the party settled for a caretaker committee led by Senator Ahmed Makarfi. But Makarfi has since been embroiled in a battle of supremacy with Acting National Chairman Senator Ali Modu-Sheriff.

Justice Watila’s orders followed a motion brought by Convention Planning Committee secretary Senator Ben Obi for an order to compel the Police, the DSS and INEC to do their jobs anytime the convention is to hold.

Ruling on the motion on notice, with number FHC/PH/585/2016, Justice Watila said: “The defendants are hereby mandated to provide security for 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 motion on notice or the originating summons as the honourable court may decide.

”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 motion on notice or the originating summons as the honourable court may decide.”

The defendants were not represented in court.

The judge ordered that the police, DSS and INEC be served by substituted means through their respective offices in Port Harcourt.

He said the July 4 judgment  of the Federal High Court in Port Harcourt that recognised the  May 21 national convention which produced the Makarfi-led caretaker committee has not been  appealed against  or set aside, hence it behoves  the court to protect that judgment.

Justice Watila held that there was no injunction stopping the convention brought to his notice during the hearing of Obi’s application.

He adjourned the case to today for hearing of the originating summons.

In Abuja, Justice Abang granted an interim order suspending plans for the convention, pending the hearing and determination of a motion on notice for injunction filed by the plaintiffs.

The case was filed by Ali Modu Sheriff and other members of PDP National Working Committee (NWC).

The substantive suit was filed before the court’s vacation and was assigned by the Chief Judge to Justice Abang.

The plaintiffs’ July 20 motion for injunction is seeking, among others, an order restraining INEC from monitoring the convention

The motion was slated for hearing on July 28 after the plaintiffs obtained the court’s leave for the motion on notice to be heard during its long vacation.

But it was not heard because of a motion for joinder filed by Senator Makarfi and six other members of his committee.

The motion was, again not heard yesterday because of the rulings on some applications, including the joinder application by Makarfi and others.

In one of the rulings, the judge granted the prayer by Makarfi and others and joined them as defendants in the suit.

The others are Senator Ben Obi, Odion Ugbesia, Abdul Ningi,  Kabiru Usman, Dayo Adeyeye and Alhaja Aisha Aliyu.

After his clients were joined in the suit, their lawyer, Yunus Usman (SAN), applied for adjournment to enable him study the plaintiffs’ motion for injunction, which was served on him in court yesterday by their lawyer, Adeniyi Akintola (SAN).

Akintola, who did not object to Usman’s application, prayed the court for an interim preservation order to restrain parties from taking steps to dissipate the res (substance of the case).

Akintola, who drew the court’s attention to an order ex-parte order obtained last week by Senator Obi from Port Harcourt, noted that the respondents have the habit of flouting court orders.

He said the order obtained by Obi from Port Hacourt was intended to frustrate proceedings before the Abuja court.

Akintola said the court would be rendered helpless if no positive order was made and the case adjourned.

Ruling, the judge said it was shocking that, despite being aware of the plaintiffs’ motion for injunction, and also being aware that a ruling was to be delivered in his application to be made a party in the case, Senator Obi, on August 9, obtained an ex-parte injunction from Port Harcourt, directing INEC to monitor the convention and security agencies to provide security.

“The action of Senator Ben Obi is unlawful and unfortunate. A court of coordinate jurisdiction cannot make an order that will neutralise the proceedings in another court of coordinate jurisdiction. The Port Harcourt division of this court cannot make an order to neutralise proceedings in this court.

“Any court of coordinate jurisdiction that takes delight in making ex-parte order in frustrating another court of coordinating jurisdiction’s proceedings is entirely on its own,” the judge said.

He said he would have adjourned proceedings on the plaintiffs’ motion for injunction without making any preservative order, as requested by lawyer to Makarfi and others, but for a compelling need for such order because of Senator Obi and the need to take care of the conflicting interests of parties before the court.

“Senator Ben Obi, with the greatest respect to him, is a senior and responsible citizen of this country. He cannot undermine the authority of this court. He ought to have waited for the court to deliver ruling in his application, which has now been delivered in his favour.

“Senator Ben Obi cannot slap the court in the face and expect the same  court to grant him an adjournment in this matter without making any interim preservatory order.

“Democracy is anchored on the rule of law, not on the rule of self help; not on the rule of might. Democracy is not anchored on the whims and caprices of any person, no matter his position in the society. If we are to sustain this democracy, no body should be above the law.

“Senator Ben Obi, with the greatest respect to him, cannot treat this court with disdain and levity. What is the need for rushing to another court for an order, when a court is already seised of your application? This is unfortunate and unfair,” the judge said.

Relying on the Supreme Court decision in the case of Lagos State v. Ojukwu1986 1 NWLR pt 18 at page 621, he noted that on no account must a party to a suit resort to self help.

He said where a party takes the laws into his/her hands, the court must invoke its disciplinary jurisdiction to curb the excesses of the recalcitrant party, in exercise of the court’s power for the maintenance of its dignity and integrity.

“In the light of this, lawyers and politicians must ensure that the hard earned democracy is protected to avoid anarchy. If there is a breakdown of law and order, it is the masses of this country that will suffer. The politicians and senior lawyers will quickly find their way out of the country. The court is here to ensure that there is no anarchy.

“Therefore, in the exercise of my disciplinary jurisdiction, where a party has taken the law into its hands, and in line with the Supreme Court’s decision in the case of Lagos State and Ojukwu, in the interest of justice and competing interests of parties, an order is hereby made in the interim, suspending PDP convention slated for the 17th of August 2016 in Port Harcourt, Rivers State, pending when the plaintiff’s motion on notice dated 20th July 2016 is heard and determined,” the judge said, and adjourned to noon today, hearing of the plaintiffs’ motion on notice for injunction.

Earlier, the judge dismissed a motion filed on behalf of PDP by Ferdinand Orbih (SAN), seeking an order for stay of proceedings, pending the determination of an appeal he filed against the court’s ruling.

The court had, in the ruling, held that Orbih, who appeared for PDP on the strength that he was briefed by the Makarfi leadership of the party, cannot appear in the case because the Makarfi group lacked the power to act on behalf of the party.

The judge allowed Olagoke Fakunle (SAN) who was briefed by the Sheriff’s faction to represent PDP in the case.

Ruling on Orbih’s application for stay of proceedings, Justice Abang held that the notice of appeal filed by Orbih was incompetent as he was not known by the court as PDP’s lawyer.

Justice Abang dismissed a motion filed by Sikirula Ogundele, seeking among others that the judge should disqualify himself from further hearing the case.

In the motion said to have been filed on his behalf by his lawyer, Yemi Oke, Ogundele, who is not a party to the suit, accused the judge of bias.

The judge felt slighted by the applicant’s decision to join him as a respondent in the appeal against the court’s July 28 decision by Ogundele.

A lawyer, Dolapo Kehinde, who initially held Oke’s  brief,  withdrew his appearance when he could not defend the motion.

Upholding Akintola’s and Fakunle’s request for the dismissal of the motion, Justice Abang described Ogundele “as a meddlesome interloper”, adding: “He is a busybody wandering about.”

He said Ogundele and his lawyers also flouted Section 188 of the Evidence Act which grants a judge judicial immunity against being sued over his decision in the line of duty.

The judge said but for the decision of Ogundele’s lawyer not to proceed with his application, he (the judge) would have cited him (Ogundele) for contempt for making contemptuous depositions in the affidavit supporting his application.

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