In Rivers State, the political atmosphere still remains rife with tension, as All Progressives Congress (APC) continues its judicial adventure at the Supreme Court in a bid to upturn her exclusion from the 2019 general elections in the state. Anxious that APC’s seeming desperation might have far-reaching ramification, the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) has raised the red flag, alleging that some prominent APC stalwarts are pressurizing the Supreme Court to reverse herself on previous judgments that affirmed the exclusion of the party from the 2019 polls.
PDP National Publicity Secretary, Kola Ologbondiyan, had on Sunday raised the alarm of a fresh scheme by APC leaders working with the Minister of Justice and Attorney-General of the Federation (AGF), Mr. Abubakar Malami, as well as the Minister of Transportation, Mr. Chibuike Amaechi, to cause constitutional crisis in Rivers State.
“The PDP has been informed of how these desperate APC figures and their agents have been mounting pressure on the Acting Chief Justice of Nigeria (CJN), Justice Tanko Mohammed, to reverse the February 12, 2019 final judgment of the Supreme Court, which upheld the verdict of the trial court that lawfully excluded APC from participating in the National Assembly, Governorship and State Assembly Elections in Rivers State, having nullified the party’s flawed primaries in the state.”
Ologbondiyan has therefore implored the Acting CJN not to allow his office to be used by desperate power mongers in APC to cause anarchy and perpetrate more violence in Rivers State. According to him, the people of Rivers State have experienced so much crisis, bloodletting, harassment and intimidation from APC in its desperation to forcefully take over the state.
He said, “The people have spoken loudly on their choice of PDP and all its candidates. They should be allowed to move ahead with their leaders and no institution of government should lend itself as an instrument in the hands of oppressive forces seeking to undermine our democracy and subjugate our citizenry.”
But the Attorney-General of the Federation has denied PDP’s allegation, describing it as ridiculous. The Guardian gathered from a top PDP member in Rivers State who pleaded anonymity that chieftains of APC, having failed to use the army and FSARS operatives to subvert the wishes of the people during the March 9 governorship election all in an effort to foist African Action Congress candidate, Biokpomabo Awara, on the state, they have devised a plot to pressurise the Supreme Court to reverse itself on earlier judgments on APC crisis in the state.
The top shot said, “Anyone who had keenly followed Rivers State’s politics should have anticipated that after the Supreme Court ruling on 12 February, reaffirming the exclusion of the APC from the 2019 elections due to their own fault, but that is not the case. Rather than restrategise for 2023, the party has resorted to threats and all manner of political subterfuge and subterraneous activities to undermine the state. The decision of the two factions of APC to proceed once again to the apex court to pressurize it to reverse itself smacks of unprecedented desperation in our polity. I am concerned that this gives little hope for return to peace in Rivers State. Rivers faces fresh challenges in the coming months.”
Justice Chiwendu Worgu of the High Court of Rivers State had granted an order restraining APC from proceeding with its ward and local government congresses, which the party refused to obey, the court subsequently voided the entire congresses and its primaries.The crisis that culminated in the exclusion of APC from the 2019 general elections started when its 23 aggrieved members filed a suit in court to seek a declaration that they were entitled to partake in APC ward congress having paid the requisite nomination fees. The appellants Ibrahim Umar and 22 others urged the court to declare that their exclusion from participating in the ward congress was unconstitutional, null and void.
They further prayed the court to issue a perpetual order restraining APC from conducting any local government area congress or any other congress based on the ward congress election purportedly conducted on May, 2018. Counsel to APC had in an affidavit said he was not opposed to the reliefs sort by Ibrahim Umar and 22 others.When the matter came up for hearing on 11 May, political hirelings said to be members of another faction of APC invaded Rivers State judiciary complex under the cover of security operatives, destroyed property and laid siege in an attempt to prevent Justice Chiwendu Worgu from sitting and possibly granting the perpetual injunction sort by Ibrahim Umar and others. Amid this barricade of the court, the late Attorney General of the State, Emmanuel Aguma, accompanied by hundreds of Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) members, were able to dislodge the miscreants. Afterwards, Justice Worgu later sat and issued an interlocutory injunctive order restraining APC from conducting congresses.
Not minding the pendency of the subsisting court injunction, APC faction loyal to the Minister of Transportation, Chibuike Amaechi, conducted the ward, local government and state congresses in defiance within three days spanning from 19 to 21 May, 2018.By May 30, Justice Chiwendu Nwogu, who considered the defiant acts of APC as an affront on the judiciary, was compelled to issue an order of mandatory injunction by cancelling the said congresses of May12, 19-21 May 2018 during which Ojukaye Flag-Amachree state executive emerged.
While Justice Nwogu’s orders were still subsisting, the minister’s faction in order to attend the APC national convention, approached the Court of Appeal in Port Harcourt to seek a stay of proceedings on the matter before the lower court and a stay of execution of the order of injunction contained in the ruling of the lower court pending the hearing and determination of appeal. While the appellate court granted the stay of executive, it declined to grant APC’s request for stay of proceeding.
Worried by the appellate court’s decision to stay execution of the orders of justice Nwogu, even when it was obvious that the APC was in grave disobedience of two court orders, Ibrahim Umar and others decided to approach the Supreme Court, which described the decision of the appellate court as sacrilegious judicial exercise of discretion. It observed that while APC was in incontrovertible grave disobedience of two orders of the State High Court, it approached the appellate court for its discretionary orders to stay proceedings and stay of execution.
In his ruling, Justice Chima Centus Nweze, said it was regrettable that the Appeal Court could condone the contumacious, egregious and censorious approach of APC. He asserted that the Supreme Court has the responsibility to resist this attempt to achieve forensic victory through jiggery-pokery, thus he overruled the decision of the appellate court.Justice Nweze who said the Supreme Court cannot lend its weight to ungainly approach, advised politicians to learn to draw a line between the modus operandi of politicians and the attitude of courts of law to issues verging on trickery.
“If politicians gain electoral victory by false pretences, a court of law, nay more, the court of equity, must be spared the contempt of being employed as an instrument of advancing electoral fraud,” he said.Barely 10 days after APC primaries in which Tonye Cole emerged the governorship candidate, Justice Nwogu, while delievering judgment on the substantive suit filed by Ibrahim Umar and others, invalidated Rivers State APC’s congresses, governorship, senatorial, House of Representatives and House of Assembly primaries. The court declared that all action taken while the suit was pending as illegal and unconstitutional.
The court stated that Ibrahim Umar and others who purchased nomination forms for the ward congresses were entitled to contest the ward congresses of May 19, but were unjustly excluded by the party.He said: “The rule by might must be checked by the rule of law. We must restore the hope of the common man in the justice system.”
Following this verdict, Cole and over 40 others approached the Court of Appeal to set aside the decision of Rivers State High Court. Amid all these, Senator Magnus Abe and others, whose faction of APC conducted parallel primaries, also approached a Federal High Court in Port Harcourt, presided over by Justice Kolawole Omotosho, seeking to be declared authentic candidates of the APC. Similarly, PDP in the state had also approached the same court seeking a declarative order that Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) should obey the ruling of Justice Nwogu.
While the Federal High Court granted PDP’s relief, it struck out Abe and others’ suit on the ground that the National Working Committee of APC did not supervise their direct primaries. Abe and others as well as Cole and others respectively approached the appellate court.
The Appeal Court, Port Harcourt Division, upheld the Federal High Court judgment, maintaining that APC in Rivers State does not have candidates for elections in the State. In a unanimous judgment, the three-man appeal panel led by Justice Ibrahim Gummel struck out two appeals filed by Rivers State’s APC challenging the judgment of Justice Omotosho of the Federal High Court. The appellate court said the appeal was merely an exercise in futility and lacked merit as the Supreme Court had earlier decided on the issue by upholding the decision of the trial court on three different judgments.
A five-man panel of justices, presided over by Justice Mohammed Dattijo had on February dismissed the interlocutory injunction of the Court of Appeal on June 21, 2018, which recognised Amaechi’s faction of APC congresses which held last May.
The apex court had held that APC, having on September 13, 2018 through its legal adviser and counsel, Chieme Chinweikpe and Felix Nwafor, filed a valid notice of withdrawal of appeal challenging the order of the High Court against the congresses based on Order 11 Rule 1 of the Court of Appeal Rules 2016, the appeal remains dismissed. The Supreme Court invoked Section 22 of the Supreme Court Act, Laws of the Federation of Nigeria, 2004, to overrule the appellate court for admitting the appeal, which had been withdrawn by APC when it ought to have dismissed the same.
Mr. Cole had likened the various verdicts of the courts against the APC as judicial lynching that has long since baffled legal luminaries on how Justices Nworgu, Omotosho and Abubakar Daati Yayaha of the Appeal Court’s judgments came about. Cole, Abe and others’ hope that INEC would include their names on the ballot for the governorship election was dashed a few days to the governorship when the Court of Appeal dismissed their substantive suit based on February 12 judgment of the Supreme Court which reaffirmed the invalidation of APC’s congresses and primaries by Justice Nwogu.
Following the dismissal of their appeals, Cole, Abe and others had once more approached the Supreme Court for a definitive declaration on the status of the APC as far as the 2019 general elections was concerned.However, Mr Cole’s vociferous clamour for the annulment of Rivers State governorship, election which he described as totally and completely compromised from head to toe, has fueled speculation that APC was still bent on scuttling the electoral process.
But Abe has called on Amaechi who is the acclaimed leader of APC in the state to swallow his pride and take responsibility for his actions that plunged the party in the state in the present logjam.According to him, “It is unfortunate that the Honourable Minister of Transportation, Rotimi Amaechi, rather than acknowledge his actions which have dragged All Progressives Congress (APC) in Rivers State to the edge, he has continued to stage an unnecessary personal battle against everybody and he has simply refused to look in the mirror and acknowledge that it is his own actions as a leader that have dragged the party to where it is.”
But a pro-Cole supporter, John River, has accused Governor Wike of sponsoring campaign of calumny against the Supreme Court and the Acting Chief Justice of Nigeria as it concerns pending APC cases at the Supreme Court.“The renewed character assassination of the Attorney-General of the Federation and the CJN through paid TV and newspaper programmes is part of the plot to deny the opposition in Rivers State justice,” River said. “We are not ignorant of the devices of the desperate governor whose stock in trade is to fritter away the resources of Rivers State on bribing of institutions and compromise persons of no integrity in a bid to twist and turn facts in his favour. The sad reality is that even when he had his way through this means in 2015, he failed woefully in governance.”