The barring of All Progressives Congress (APC) candidates in Rivers State has left the party in dire situation a week to the start of the general elections.
The stay of execution ruling of an Appeal Court in Port Harcourt which gave Rivers State Chapter of All Progressives Congress (APC) a new lease of life was again dashed on Friday when the Supreme Court upheld the Federal High Court judgement.
The Apex court upheld the judgement of a High Court in Port Harcourt nullifying the primaries of the APC in Rivers State.
A five-man panel of justices, presided by Justice Mohammed Dattijo dismissed the interlocutory injunction of the Court of Appeal on June 21, 2018 which recognised the local government congresses of May 12, 2018.
The Supreme Court held that the 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.
In the lead judgement, Justice Sidi Bage further held that it was inappropriate for the Court of Appeal to rely on its injunction against the decision of the High Court when the Apex court had set it aside on October 22, 2018.
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Act, Laws of the Federation of Nigeria, 2004, to overrule the appellate court for admitting the appeal, which had been withdrawn by the APC when it ought to have dismissed same.
The latest Supreme Court verdict followed a suit filed at the Rivers State High Court in Port Harcourt by Ibrahim Umah and 22 others against the APC, wherein Justice Chinwendu Nwogu restrained the congresses.
Despite the court’s order, two parallel primaries were held in Rivers State with Magnus Abe and Tonye Cole emerging from both direct and indirect primaries.
The Cole faction, through their lawyers Tuduru Ede and Lateef Fagbemi (SAN), had approached the Court of Appeal asking it to vacate the High Court order and recognise the list of candidates loyal to the party leadership.
Speaking after the judgement, counsel to Umah and 22 others, Barrister Henry Bello said the implication of the decision was that only candidates of the Magnus Abe faction would be recognised by the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC).
He further stated that all eyes will now be on the Court of Appeal decision next week in the ruling of Justice Kolawole Omotosho of the Federal High Court in Port Harcourt over the APC primaries.
The Rivers State Chapter of APC in a press statement by its Publicity Secretary, Chris Finebone, said that the Supreme Court ruling would not imperiled the candidacy of Tonye Cole, others in the state.
Monday last week’s Appeal Court judgement, presided over by Justice Ali Gumel, which granted the stay of execution application by the APC, was greeted with jubilation among party supporters.
Justice James Kolawale Omotosho of the Federal High Court in Port Harcourt, on January 7, 2019, nullified the APC from participating in the 2019 general elections following the disobedience of a state High Court order stopping them from holding the ward, local government area and state congresses as well as the state party primary elections to nominate candidates for various positions in 2019 general elections.
The court ordered INEC to remove the name of the party and its candidates from all its materials in relation to the polls.
The court also directed law enforcement agents to stop APC candidates especially the governorship, national and state legislative candidates from parading themselves as APC flag-bearers. They were also barred from holding any campaign in the state in respect of the polls.
Not satisfied with the outcome of the ruling, a faction of the party loyal to the Minister of Transportation, Chibuike Amaechi, approached the Appeal Court and prayed the court to grant it stay of execution to INEC and others involved, pending the decision of the appeal in respect of the Federal High Court judgement.
The Appeal Court in a judgement read by Justice Muhammed Mustapha granted the stay of execution application and urged all the parties to maintain the status quo pending hearing on the appeal.
The court had ruled that it has carefully gone through the applications along with the accompanied affidavits and exhibits, as well as the counter affidavits as submitted by counsel of all sides, leading it to the conclusion that the question as to whether the act sought to be stayed has already been concluded or not for the court or in fact for any court to speculate on.
It said “This is so, notwithstanding the fact that INEC who is a party to the application chose not to challenge their position in the affidavit in support of their pleading served on us in good time.
“It is important to note that there are four appeals in this court against the same judgement, FHC/PH/CA/124 to oppose the case. There are CA/PH/37/2019 between Senator Magnus Abe and 41 others and INEC, CA/PH/38/2019 between APC vs INEC and another, CA/PH/39/2019 between APC and Magnus Abe and 14 others and CA/PH/40/2019 between Tonye Patrick Cole and 48 others and Magnus Abe and 43 others.
“Parties in these appeals are appellants in one and respondents in another except INEC who remained respondent in all the appeals. This is a clear indication of dissatisfaction of all the parties in the same judgement for one reason or the other,” Justice Mustapha noted.
Counsel to Magnus Abe, Kanewnii Luke said INEC has already taken action by removing the names of the APC candidates from the final list published and that there was nothing again to be saved by the appeal ruling.
Soon after the Appeal Court verdict the Aba/Port Harcourt road State Secretariat of APC were agog with jubilation as the party leaders and supporters rolled out drums to celebrate.
The APC governorship candidate in the state, Tonye Cole, said in a press statement that he was satisfied with the Appeal Court decision. He said the court in its wisdom stayed the execution of the judgment of the Federal High Court which he said had stood between the APC and its right to participate in the forthcoming general elections in the state.
Cole had said the Appeal Court judgement has removed all legal hindrances that were hindering the progress of the APC in Rivers State.
Friday’s Supreme Court verdict appeared to have dampened the hope of the APC.
But Cole seems to be very optimistic that APC will be triumphant at the end of the day. In a press statement by his spokesman, Ogbonna Nwuke shortly after the Apex court judgement, he said “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 are that the only issue determined today, 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 what really transpired in the Apex Court,” the statement noted.
The APC National Publicity Secretary, Malam Lanre Issa-Onilu, who fielded questions from journalists, in Abuja said the never expected the Supreme Court ruling which barred it from fielding candidates in Rivers State and said its legal team were looking at the judgement.