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Misinterpreting the Supreme Court judgment in Oguebego v. PDP

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In my previous opinion on this topic published in the SUN of 2nd February, 2016 and elsewhere, I hinged my guarded analysis on the limited information available when this judgment broke on January 29, 2016. After publication of my opinion, public misinterpretations, both lay and learned, of the reach of the judgment have continued and persisted. It’s reported that party-opponents are now even before INEC with letters and counter-letters, advancing their adversarial positions. 

Having now obtained the entire 53-page judgment, I will proceed below to enunciate my further (and fuller) thoughts on its canons. I do so as a non-stakeholder; and I am not holding brief for any of the adverse parties.

First, let me begin with a verbatim quote of the kernel ‘non-issue’ framed by learned silk to the appellants (Oguebego) and which he placed outside the consideration of the Supreme Court. At Pages 23 – 24 of the judgment, the court, referring to appellants’ counsel’s submissions, stated that “It is his contention that the suit was not a claim brought under Section 87(9) of the Electoral Act, 2010 (as amended) to complain about conduct of primary election, nor was it a dispute over which organ of the political party that has the authority and competence to conduct primary election”.

Zeroing on the above non-issue, the Supreme Court then isolated the ‘main issue’ for its consideration, and which is that the “Senior counsel for the appellants submitted that the action instituted by the appellants … was to challenge the constitutionality and legality of the appointment of a Caretaker Committee by the 1st Respondent to take over the duties of the appellants”. To be sure, what we are seeing here is a situation where the appellants (Oguebego and Co) narrowly framed both the non-issue and the main issue that ultimately marooned the Supreme Court in its consideration. So, even as the appellants prevailed in the appeal, the essence or limitations of the judgment put the appellants (and the stakeholders-in-concert) in a catch-22 situation.

Standing on the threshold of the non-issue rehashed above, the Supreme Court (per Justice Okoro) then ruled (at Page 37) that “I agree entirely with the learned senior counsel for the appellants that the suit was neither a claim brought under Section 87(9) of the Electoral Act, 2010 (as amended) to complain about the conduct of a primary election nor a dispute over which organ of the political party I.e. the PDP that has the authority and competence to conduct a primary election, questions 4 and 5 in the Originating summons notwithstanding”. If this very ruling did not make some people wince, I don’t know what would.

Now, in order to understand the true limits of this ruling, we need to do a time travel back to the appellants’ originating summons and re-visit the details of what the Supreme Court excluded by reference from the ambit of this judgment. To be sure, appellants’ originating Questions 4 and 5 dealt specifically with the issue of “nominated candidates that may emanate from the congresses and primaries conducted by the plaintiff in this case”. It’s all there at Pages 7 -9 of the judgment; and either copiously repeated or referenced in other pages. If the appellants excluded this issue and the Supreme gave them what they wanted, why do they believe they can now, willy-nilly,  get it from INEC or the court of public opinion? I wonder.

To be clear, it is the appellants themselves who expressly precluded this issue from being considered in the instant judgment; and even when respondents strained to pin it on them, they shied away from it. I am therefore surprised that they now claim that the judgment is about this non-issue; and are even standing on it to attempt ‘administrative’ unseating of an entire generation of Anambra PDP federal legislators.

Further, in nailing its points home, and for avoidance of any doubt, the Supreme Court went on to state, at Page 47, that “There was no controversy as to which organ of the 1st Respondent (PDP) that has power to conduct primaries. I can say it for the umpteenth time that the main issue was that stated by the learned trial judge. That is, whether the 1st Respondent can ignore the subsisting order and set up a caretaker committee for Anambra State PDP in brazen contempt of the court. Period”.

Having thus made this much clearer, Justice Okoro then ruled unequivocally that “Accordingly, I hold that there was no feature in the case submitted by the appellants that warranted the court below to apply the cases of Okadigbo V. Emeka & Ors (supra) and Emenike V. PDP (supra). The two authorities decide on which organ of a political party has power to conduct primaries. This is not the issue in this case. Thus, this issue is yet again resolved in favor of the appellants”. In other words, the appellants won the battle (against the caretaker committee) but not the war (about who conducts PDP NASS primaries).

Anybody familiar with the ratio in Okadigbo V. Emeka will understand why the appellants strained to avoid it, even as we can now see that such move backfired. The ruling in Okadigbo, which is still good law, stated clearly (in the words of the same Supreme Court) that “It is the National Executive Committee of the PDP that is responsible for the conduct of the party’s Na­tional Assembly primaries. There can only be one valid pri­mary and that is the primaries conducted by the National Ex­ecutive Committee. A primary conducted by the State Chapter of the PDP is not a primary. It is an illegal contraption that carries with it no rights. It is a complete nullity”. 

Okadiigbo v. Emeka is as clear as it can get, and should therefore be instructive enough to all the current Anambra PDP NASS members and to those, who by some flawed interpretation of the instant Oguebego judgment, now consider themselves NASS members-in-waiting. The truth is this: as a NASS member or a member-in-waiting, you are either protected by the Okadiigbo v. Emeka judgment or felled by it; but not, and never by the instant one in Oguebego v. PDP.

Permit me, at this juncture of this treatise, to digress to an American dry humor deemed pertinent here. It goes like this: “Be careful about what you ask for, because you might get it”. Appellant Oguebego and his PDP State Exco did NOT ask the Supreme Court to validate ‘candidates emanating from the primaries conducted by the PDP State Exco’ and they (sadly) got exactly what they wanted. The only consolation is that they have, upon the gavel of the Supreme Court, finally ousted the caretaker committee that has bullied them since 2014.

The only logical reason Oguebego never asked the Supreme Court to validate NASS candidates emanating from his State Exco-conducted primaries was because he knew that such request would be summarily denied under the ratio set out in Okadigbo v. Emeka. So, by a stretch, one can even argue that, by referring to those two cases, the Supreme Court has, in this very instance, indirectly reaffirmed the standing precedent that it’s the NEC of PDP, not the State Exco that conducts NASS primaries.

Thus, those that should be standing taller than everyone else are those Anambra PDP NASS contestants that emanated from any NEC-conducted primary in late 2014 but were denied the ticket. They still got a chance or their payday in court. The only nuanced one is Anambra Central senatorial zone where the jury is still out because of the vacancy occasioned by Ekwunife’s fall. But if you are from NEC line-up and you are already in office, you should be sitting pretty; you have absolutely nothing to worry about. And this: if you are from any caretaker committee-conducted or State Exco-conducted NASS primary, you are toast; or better still – wait it out till 2019.

 


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