As the feuding parties in the All Progressives Grand Alliance return to court today over the lingering leadership tussle in the party, Davidson Iriekpen highlights the issues in contention
Can a lower court disregard a binding and subsisting order of the Court of Appeal? This is one major issue that the National Chairman of the All Progressives Grand Alliance (APGA), Chief Victor Umeh, and his counsel, Chief Wole Olanipekun (SAN) are taking to the Appeal Court in Abuja today as the court seeks to finally resolve the leadership crisis rocking the party.
Justice Abdul Kafarati had while delivering judgment in the suit filed by a factional chairman of the party, Chief Maxi Okwu, on January 15 this year, sacked Umeh and the National Secretary of the party, Alhaji Sani Shinkafi, from office. The judge declared that their tenure have constitutionally expired and ordered the executive dissolved forthwith. Okwu had sued Umeh and Shinkafi for over-staying their tenure.
The judge made a declaration that Umeh, who had been in office for over 10 years, could not validly continue in office 10 years after he was first elected. He cited Article 18(2) of the constitution of the party, which provides that any official of the party can only stay in office for a maximum of two terms of four years.
He further held that Umeh and Shinkafi having been voted into office by voice votes rather than secret ballots as stipulated by Article 18(3) of the Constitution of APGA, were not validly elected. In the circumstance, the judge ordered both men to vacate their respective offices.
The judgment which came after the Enugu Division of the Court of Appeal had reinstated Umeh and Shinkafi, surprised political observers.
The judgment, which had elicited a lot of reactions from analysts, has been faulted. First, they argued that Umeh had not spent up to 10 years in office as claimed by the judge. They added that he was first elected the National Chairman of APGA on December 2, 2006 and wondered how the judge arrived at 10 years from 2006 to the time he delivered judgment in the suit.
The analysts claimed that since the issues in the case were based on what a higher court, the Court of Appeal in Enugu, had decided, it was supposed to be a no-go area for the judge.
Therefore, the issues Umeh and counsel, Chief Wole Olanikpekun (SAN), want the Court of Appeal to decide today are: Can a Federal High Court disregard a binding and subsisting order of the Court of Appeal on APGA leadership? If there was no vacancy in the leadership of APGA as at April 8, 2013, what vacancy was Okwu filling in that convention? Can a High Court of Anambra State validate a convention which was purported to have been conducted in breach of a subsisting order of the Court of Appeal? Didn’t Justice Kafarati know that APGA was not made a party in the same action which also robbed him of jurisdiction? Can Okwu who exhibited an APGA membership card signed by Umeh as National Chairman and Shinkafi as National Secretary and claimed that he rejoined the party in February 2013, challenge an APGA convention conducted in 2011 when he was not a member of the party? Assuming that the membership card entitles him to be a member of the party, can he turn around in 2013 to challenge a convention conducted in 2011 when he was not a member of the party?
For many observers, there is no doubt that Justice Kafarati did not consider the ruling of the Court of Appeal delivered on April 8 and the subsisting judgment of the Enugu Division of the Court of Appeal, delivered on July 15, 2013 on the APGA leadership tussle before he arrived at his conclusion.
The case started when the party had a convention on February 10, 2011 at the Women Development Centre Awka, where the Umeh leadership was elected for another four years which would expire on February 10, 2015.
In July 2012, a former member of the party in Enugu State, Jude Okuli, sued him (Umeh) at the Enugu State High Court contending that his tenure had expired. The Chief Judge of the state who heard the matter, delivered judgment on February 8, 2013 voiding the convention conducted and ordered that a fresh convention should be conducted to elect new officers of the party.
Umeh subsequently went to the Court of Appeal in Enugu where he raised the issue of jurisdiction on the matter. He also raised the issue that APGA was not a party in the suit and challenged all the decisions in the judgment.
While the APGA National Chairman filed the appeal, he also filed for a stay of execution of the judgment, and on March 25, 2013, the Appeal Court heard his motion for stay of execution of the Enugu State High Court judgment and reserved ruling on his motion for April 8, 2013.
On that date, the appellate court granted the stay of execution and made an order staying the execution of the orders made by the Enugu State High Court and also granted an order for the maintenance of the status quo ante bellium pending the determination of the appeal. By that order, the appellate court had restored the leadership of APGA to the position it was before the judgment of the Enugu State High Court.
On the same date, against the order of the Court of Appeal for parties to maintain the status quo ante bellium pending the determination of the appeal, Okwu and his group held a convention where he was elected the National Chairman along with some people. Not satisfied, Okwu on the first week of May 2013 surreptitiously took the convention he had in breach of the subsisting orders of the Court of Appeal to the Awka High Court for validation. The Awka High Court held that the convention was valid and that he was now the National Chairman of the party.
On July 15, 2013, the Court of Appeal delivered judgment on Umeh’s appeal and nullified the judgment of the Enugu State High Court presided over by Justice Innocent Umezurike. The appellate court in a unanimous judgment delivered by Justice Tom Yakubu and concurred by two other justices in the appeal panel, Justices Paul Galinje (Chairman) and Modupe Kwasami, the appellate court granted all the four reliefs sought by Umeh and resolved all the issues set out for determination in his favour. The court also set aside all the orders contained in the judgment of the Enugu State High Court which included that APGA should conduct another convention.
The justices equally relied on several authorities that the courts should not interfere with the internal affairs of the political parties except on issue of wrongful substitution as contained in Section 87 (9) of the Electoral Act 1999 as amended.
It was therefore reasoned that with the judgment of the Court of Appeal delivered on July 15, 2013, the originating judgment that gave rise to all the actions taken by Okwu and his cohorts were flushed out. The judgment of Umezurike was completely set aside and all the orders he made completely set aside. Since there was no appeal against the judgment of the Court of Appeal at the Supreme Court till date, there is no doubt that the judgment still subsists till date.
Not satisfied, Okwu on August 19, 2013, sued Umeh again and all the people elected with him at the convention of 2011 at the Federal High Court in Abuja, claiming that he was the National Chairman. He relied on the decision of the Anambra State High Court, Awka which validated his convention as the authentic Chairman of APGA. On January 15, 2014, Justice Kafarati agreed with him that based on the Awka State High Court judgment delivered on May 27, 2013 which was in flagrant breach of the subsisting order made by the Court of Appeal on April 8th, 2013, that they are now the authentic leaders of APGA.
Beside all these, THISDAY investigation revealed that Okwu was expelled from APGA in 2005 alongside Chekwas Okorie. They took their expulsion to the FCT High Court and lost after three years of trial. They later went to the Court of Appeal and lost. Not satisfied, they proceeded to the Supreme Court and lost. So at what point did he become a member of APGA? While Chekwas had long taken his expulsion and gone to form another party, the UPP, Okwu is bent on chairing the party.
While THISDAY could not reach Okwu or any of his lawyers for their comments at the time of filing this report, Umeh said the judgment of Justice Kafarati was an assault on the supremacy and authority of the Appeal Court over the High Courts.
“The ruling of the court was an assault to the supremacy of the authority of the Court of Appeal over High Court in Nigeria. Justice Kafarati confirmed Okwu base on the convention held last year and based on the judgment of the Enugu High Court which recognised the convention. But all the orders of the Enugu High Court were set aside by the Appeal Court, including the said convention of 2013.
“So clearly the purported convention that produced Okwu which Justice Kafarati relied on cannot stand since it was nullified by the Appeal Court sitting in Enugu. The same Enugu High court ruling was nullified by the Appeal Court.
“The purported convention of 2013 that produced Okwu which the High court relied on has been nullified by an Appeal Court last year. It is regrettable that A High Court Judge can make an order that will override the order made by the court of Appeal. The Judgment of today is a mockery of the Nigerian judiciary. We have immediately filed a notice of Appeal against the judgment and also stay of execution on the judgment.
“We have no doubt that the Court of Appeal will restate its authority over the lower courts. The ruling of the lower court cannot be sustained on appeal.