By Kenneth Atavti
The Supreme Court, yesterday, slated March 8 to determine the legality or otherwise of primary elections the All Progressives Congress, APC, conducted in Rivers State for the purpose of nominating its candidates for the 2019 polls.
A five-man panel of Justices of the Apex Court led by Justice Musa Dattijjo, adjourned the matter for judgement on a day that APC begged the court to dismiss the appeal challenging the process that led to the emergence of Mr Tonye Cole as its gubernatorial flag-bearer in Rivers State.
The appeal marked SC/1070/2018, was lodged before the court by twenty-two chieftains of the party led by one Abdulahi Umar.
While adopting their brief of argument, the appellants, through their lawyer, Mr. 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 Cole and other candidates in the faction of the party that is loyal to the Minister of Transportation, Mr. Rotimi Amaechi.
The appellants equally urged the apex court to dismiss a pending appeal marked CA/PH/198/2015, which the said faction lodged before the Port Harcourt Division of the Court of Appeal.
However, APC’s lawyer, Dr. Kayode Olatoke, SAN, prayed the Supreme Court to dismiss the case and uphold the list of candidates that were okayed by leadership of the party.
It will be recalled that the apex court had on October 22, nullified an interim order of the Court of Appeal in Port Harcourt, which gave APC the nod to conduct its Ward, Local Government and State Congresses in Rivers State.
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.
It noted that the high court had on the basis of the said suit, issued injunctive reliefs that expressesly forbade the APC from conducting congress in the state.
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 impundent 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 that 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 told the apex court 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 to 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 insurbodination”, 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 any one 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 center of the dispute was in gross contempt of court”, Justice Nweze held.
Stressing that the Respondent acted “in the most impundent manner”, the Supreme Court held: “The simple truth therefore is that when the Respondent applied for stay of execution, it was in gross abuse of a court order”.
The Rivers State High Court had in a ruling on May 30, nullified the Ward, Local Government and State congresses of the APC held on May 19, 20 and 21 respectively.
Justice Chiwendu Nwogu maintained that the process that led to the emergence of Ojukaye Flag-Amachree as Rivers Chairman of APC, was fraudulent.
He ordered the party to return to the status quo of May 11, pending the determination of the substantive suit.
Subsequently, the court, on October 10, voided the nomination of Mr Cole as the gubernatorial flag-bearer of the APC in the state.
Justice Nwogu declared that Ward congresses of APC in Rivers State were illegal, sayin they were not conducted in line with the Party’s guidelines and constitution.