A Supreme Court ruling yesterday dashed the hopes of candidates seeking to participate in the general election on the platform of All Progressives Congress (APC) in Rivers State.
In its verdict, the apex court upheld the decision of the Federal High Court sitting in Port Harcourt which restrained the APC from conducting primary election pending the determination of a suit brought before it by a team of 22 aggrieved members of the party loyal to factional leader and governorship aspirant, Senator Magnus Abe.
LEADERSHIP Weekend reports that the decision of the court in effect nullified the governorship primaries conducted by a faction of the Rivers State chapter of the APC which produced Tonye Cole as the party’s governorship candidate.
Although the Port Harcourt division of the Court of Appeal had on Monday stayed the execution of the lower court’s judgement, giving hope to the APC candidates in the state, Justice Dauda Sidi Bage, who read the lead judgement yesterday, dismissed the APC’s objection to the appeal filed by Ibrahim Umah and 22 others against the APC.
A five-man panel of the Supreme Court led by Justice Muhammed Dattijo, in a unanimous judgement yesterday, also set aside the ruling of the Court of Appeal in Port Harcourt which upturned the interlocutory order of the high court.
It would be recalled that the the plaintiffs led by Ibrahim Umar had on May 11, 2018, secured an interim injunction from a High Court in Port Harcourt restraining the APC from going ahead with the indirect primaries that held on May 19, 20 and 21 respectively.
The indirect primaries produced Tonye Cole as governorship candidate and other candidates to represent the party in the 2019 general elections.
The APC had through its counsel, Prince Lateef Fagbemi (SAN), prayed the Supreme Court to clear the legal impediments against the faction loyal to the minister of transportation, Rotimi Amaechi.
The apex court had observed that the state legal adviser, Chinweikpe Chieme, and not Fagbemi should represent the APC in any matter having to do with members of Rivers APC. It also noted that a letter from any national officer of the party, no matter how highly placed, cannot abrogate the party’s constitution.
Fagbemi’s request was, however, rejected by the panel of justices; they rather re-affirmed a previous ruling which validated the high court ruling that barred APC from conducting primaries in the state.
The Supreme Court invoked Section 22 of its Act, which allows it to take over a matter and give final judgement, to decide on the appeal.
It held that by virtue of Section 11 rule 5 of the Appeal Court rules, the appeal against the high court ruling, having been withdrawn by the APC, was tantamount to outright dismissal.
The Supreme Court held that since the Court of Appeal failed or evaded to make dismissal pronouncement for the said appeal, the apex court had no choice but to invoke section 22 of the Supreme Court Act to assume jurisdiction over the case.
According to Bage, “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’ll allow the appeal and set aside the ruling of the lower court dated October 31, 2018. I hereby dismiss Appeal No CA/PH/198/2018, same having been validly withdrawn.”
LEADERSHIP Weekend recalls that the Ojukaye Amachree faction of the APC had appealed the ruling of Justice Chiwendu Nwogu which nullified the APC state congresses and the nomination of Tonye Cole as the party’s governorship flag bearer in the forthcoming general elections.
Justice Nwogu of a Federal High Court sitting in Port Harcourt in Rivers State had granted an interlocutory order on May 11, 2018 restraining the APC from conducting any local government congresses in the state.
The appeal was however withdrawn on the order of the national secretariat of the APC at the Court of Appeal but the court refused to dismiss it as required by law.
In the appeal to the Supreme Court filed by Ibrahim Umar on behalf of the faction, the Apex Court agreed with appellants that the appeal of the APC at the Court of Appeal, having been withdrawn, was liable for dismissal and not struck out.
Monday’s suit will be decisive – Rivers APC
Meanwhile, the APC in Rivers State has said that despite the Supreme Court ruling, the party was still confident that Monday’s ruling by the apex court would validate its candidates’ participation in the elections.
The party pointed out that the Supreme Court only ruled on the matter of legal representation, and that the substantive matter will be decided on Monday by the court.
The party urged Rivers people and other lovers of democracy to ignore reactions in some quarters for misrepresentation of facts on Friday’s Supreme Court ruling, insisting that the candidacy of Pastor Tonye Cole and others in the APC was not harmed.
Cole, a pastor of the Redeemed Christian Church of God (RCCG), who is a co-founder of Sahara Group, expressed optimism that he and other candidates of APC in Rivers would be on the ballot for this year’s elections and that they would emerge victorious.
Rivers APC, through its publicity secretary, Chris Finebone, yesterday said: “The attention of Rivers State chapter of APC has been drawn to a myriad of reports doing the rounds on the social media, giving conflicting, and in some cases outright mischievous narratives, misinterpreting and misrepresenting the pronouncement of the Supreme Court of Friday, February 8, 2019, on the matter between Ibrahim Umar and 22 others versus Rivers APC.
“Whereas the Rivers APC is reluctant to take issues with anyone when it concerns matters before the court, however, we believe that members of the public deserve to be protected from calculated mischief and misinformation, especially those dispensed through the social media and rumours. Therefore, it has become highly necessary to re-state what transpired at the Supreme Court.
“The apex court ruled that, in line with provisions of the Constitution of the APC, the chapter’s legal adviser at the time the matter commenced, Mr. Chieme Chinweikpe, rightly represented the party directly or through legal appointees of his, instead of Mr. Lateef Fagbemi, SAN, who was seconded by the Legal Department of national headquarters of APC. This means that the judgment given by Justice Chinwendu Nwogu was a consent judgment following thereto.
“Irrespective of how we feel about the pronouncement, the Rivers State chapter of APC has to accept that decision, having come from the highest court of the land.
“We make haste to, however, state that the decision on legal representation was the only matter the Supreme Court made pronouncement on Friday. We expect the apex court to rule on the all-important issue of jurisdiction of whether the Rivers State High Court of Justice Chinwendu Nwogu was right to delve into what we believe was an internal affair of the APC, with regards to primaries.
“We urge the mainstream media and innocent members of the public to resist the lure of mischievous individuals, who are inundating the social media and entire cyberspace with jaundiced versions of the Supreme Court ruling or churning out outright fake news, with a view to deceiving the public, deluding themselves with short-lived comfort and feathering their nests from their paymasters.
“We are convinced that no harm has been done to the candidacy of our governorship candidate, Pastor Tonye Cole, and the others. We believe that, by the grace of God, we shall triumph and ultimately be on the ballot for the 2019 elections.”
The main opposition APC also called on the teeming supporters of the party in Rivers to remain calm, assuring them that candidates of APC in the state would surely be on the ballot and would go ahead to win on February 16 and March 2, 2019.
… We are studying the judgement – APC
In its reaction, the national secretariat of the APC has stated that its legal department was looking into the judgement towards finding other legal means to press its case.
The party, in a statement signed by the national publicity secretary, Mallam Lanre Issa-Onilu, also affirmed the candidacy of its Enugu State governorship candidate, Senator Ayogu Eze who was also stripped of his candidature by a court judgement.
The statement said in part: “Our legal department is looking into the
judgement of the Supreme Court. It is not the kind of judgement we looked forward to based on the facts that we are aware of. The only option before us now is to review this judgement and see what other means that is legal. We think we deserve to field candidates in Rivers
State. We know we did the right thing. We had our primaries even though there are issues around it. I don’t know why it appears the APC is the only party that is being subjected to this kind of scrutiny from the electoral body. It is the same APC that PDP has continued to raise flags as being the party that wants to rig election and is supposed to be working in cahoots with INEC.
“If this is the way to work in cahoots with INEC, we need to ask further questions. We know what we did in Rivers compared to what PDP did in many of the thirty-six states. PDP shouldn’t field candidates in many states if the same parameters applied by the electoral body are applied to the PDP. Our legal department will review the outcome of this, as unpalatable as it is, and we will be able to say categorically the next step we might be taking and come out with it in due course.
On the Enugu State APC governorship candidate, the APC said: “In Enugu State, we are aware of the judgement that says our candidate; Senator Ayogu Eze is not the rightful candidate. We would say that we have acknowledged the judgement of the court but we do know the party followed the procedure and the processes that led to the emergence of Senator Ayogu Eze is what this party believes in.
‘We believe that the Appeal Court will do the right thing and upturn it. Senator Ayogu Eze remains in the eyes of the party the governorship candidate for Enugu State. The person that has been so declared by a court is unknown to this party because he did not even participate in the primaries that we organised. So there is no way he could have emerged as our candidate.
“Again, as I speak to you we have appealed the judgement and secured a stay of execution. So even legally as at today, Senator Ayogu Eze is the candidate of APC in Enugu State. We are very confident he is going to deliver.”
…Our faith in judiciary remains unshaken – Cole
On his part, Tonye Cole has declared that members and supporters of the party in the state have unshaken faith in the country’s judiciary.
Cole, in a statement issued in Port Harcourt yesterday, was reacting to the recent ruling of the Supreme Court which declared the judgment of the Rivers State High Court on Ibrahim Umar and 22 others versus the APC.
The statement, which was signed by the spokesman of Cole/Giadom Campaign Organisation, Hon. Ogbonna Nwuke, said the only issue ruled on yesterday by the apex court was on legal representation.
It reads in part: “Our attention has been drawn to reports which suggest that Ibrahim Umar & 22 others have secured a final determination at the Supreme Court.
“The facts available to us is that the only issue determined on Friday, 8th February, 2019 was that of legal representation, which had been in contention.
“Based on the various conflicting headlines being carried, it is critical to state that there are other pending matters, including the substantive appeal, which is yet to be determined by the Supreme Court. Our faith in the judiciary remains unshaken.
“We wish to urge our numerous supporters not to panic, following the deliberate misrepresentation of facts on the social media and elsewhere regarding the outcome of today’s judgement. We shall surely be triumphant in the end.”
…PDP hails Supreme Court ruling
The Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) yesterday expressed joy at the judgment of the Supreme Court that purportedly nullified APC primaries in Rivers State, describing it as victory for democracy and the rule of law.
The party commended the apex court for its courage in delivering the landmark judgment, which has saved the nation from a serious constitutional crisis that could have marred the 2019 general elections and detracted from the overall electoral system.
PDP national publicity secretary, Kola Ologbondiyan, in a statement said the judgment of the Supreme Court serves as a huge lesson to politicians and political parties to eschew impunity and always conduct their affairs in a manner that is in tandem with the provision of the law.
“The courage displayed by the Supreme Court in delivering the judgment at this critical time in our national life has also restored the confidence of Nigerians in the institution of the Judiciary and our democratic order.”
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