The Supreme Court will today decide whether or not the All Progressives Congress (APC) in Rivers State will field candidates in the forthcoming general elections.
The apex Court on Monday adjourned to rule on the competence of an appeal filed by a faction of the APC in the state loyal to factional gubernatorial aspirant of the party, Senator Magnus Abe.
Supreme Court panel of justices led by Justice Mohammed Dattijo, had in December 2018 fixed March 8 to deliver judgement in the matter, but reconvened, on Monday, following a motion which prayed the apex court to fast track the proceeding so as to meet the 60 days time-frame as stipulated by the Electoral Act.
The Court is to determine the legality or otherwise of primary elections the APC conducted in Rivers State for the purpose of nominating its candidates for the 2019 polls.
The appeal marked SC/1070/2018, was lodged before the court by 22 chieftains of the party led by one Abdullahi Umar.
The appellants, through their Counsel, Henry Bello, urged the Supreme Court to re-affirm the ruling it delivered on October 22, and nullify outcomes of the primary election that produced Tonye Cole and other candidates in the faction of the party that is loyal to the Minister of Transportation, Rotimi Amaechi.
The appellants also urged the apex court to dismiss a pending appeal marked CA/PH/198/2015, which the Amaechi’s faction filed before the Port Harcourt Division of the Court of Appeal.
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 Umar and the 22 others.
The Court of Appeal sitting in Port Harcourt had on 12th December dismissed all appeals by the Rivers State chapter of the party challenging the nullification of its primaries.
Factional governorship aspirant, Mr. Tonye Cole, state chairman Ojukaye Flag-Amachree and others had filed the appeals challenging the October 10, 2018 judgement of the state High Court, which nullified the party’s congresses and primaries.
The chairman of the appeal panel, Justice Abubakar Datti Yahaya, asserted that the appeals by Cole and others lacked competence and therefore struck them out. The court also held that being a pre-election matter, the suits were filed out of time and were statute-barred.
An application by Cole and 48 other candidates of the APC that emerged through the indirect primaries was dismissed on the ground that they could not appeal a matter they were not party to, especially when those persons were already in serial contempt of court.
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 apex court said it was baffled that the APC, “in the most impudent manner”, ran to the Court of Appeal to apply for stay of proceeding and execution of the high court order with respect to the suit marked PHC/78/2018.
It further observed that though the appellate court declined to stay proceedings of the High Court, it however stayed the execution of the May 11 order by Justice Nwogu.
Dissatisfied with the decision, Umar and his group dragged APC to court over their alleged exclusion from the primaries, filed an appeal at the Supreme Court.
They argued that the appellate court engaged in judicial rascality by refusing to abide by Supreme Court decisions on the issue of stay of execution of valid court orders.
The appellants argued that the appellate court violated the principle of stare-decisis (judicial precedents) and accorded favourable ruling to the APC, even when it was “in grave disobedience to two orders of the lower court”.
While acceding to the appellants’ prayer, the Supreme Court held that the appellate court should not have vacated the injunctive order the Rivers State high court issued against the APC on the conduct of its congresses.
Justice Nweze held that the action of the appellate court amounted to “sacrilegious exercise of judicial discretion,” saying it committed “gross insubordination,” by refusing to abide by precedents already set by the Supreme Court.
He said the appellate court was wrong when it judicially indulged the APC, even in the face of abundant evidence that the party was in contempt of subsisting court orders.
“It is a very serious matter for anyone to flout a positive order of a court and still approach the court for remedy. It is unfortunate and wrongful for the Court of Appeal to have entertained a party in contempt of a valid court order to the extent of granting judicial favour by way of staying of execution of an injunctive order when the party at the centre of the dispute was in gross contempt of court”, Justice Nweze held.
Stressing that the respondent acted “in the most impudent manner,” the Supreme Court held that, “The simple truth, therefore, is that when the respondent applied for stay of execution, it was in gross abuse of a court order.”