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Politics of interpretation of Supreme Court Judgements

90

NIGERIA SUPREME COURT

On January 29, 2016, the Supreme Court of Nigeria delivered her judgment on appeal brought to her by Ejike Oguebego and Hon Chuks Okoye (Chairman P.D.P Anambra State and Legal Adviser PDP Anambra State Chapter respectively, suing for themselves and on behalf of the other members of the State Executive Committee of the PDP Anambra State) as Appellants against the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP), Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) and Chukwudi Okasia as Respondents .  John Inyang Okoro JSC in delivering the judgment made it expressly clear what the issue was. His Lordship on page 32 of the Judgement stated,

“Let me say from the outset that the facts leading to this appeal are a product of the struggle for the soul of the Peoples Democratic Party, Anambra State Chapter. As a result, many suits were filed by various contenders seeking the control of the executive committee of the State Chapter of the party. This appeal is an off-shoot of one of those suits…”

To further emphasize that the judgment was about the leadership of the State Executive Committee of the PDP in Anambra State, his Lordship made it clear that the issue concerning elections was still pending in the Court of Appeal on another suit as at January 29, 2016 the  judgment of the court was delivered. The Justice of the Supreme Court stated that;

“There is no doubt that the Federal High Court is Suit No FHC/PH/213/2013, now Suit No. FCH/AWK/CS/247/2013, on 12 September, 2013 made an interlocutory order to the effect that the PDP and INEC should recognize and deal with the Ejike Oguebego led State Executive Committee of the PDP, Anambra State Chapter in all election matters in Anambra State. Dissatisfied, the PDP(1st Respondent) herein filed an appeal against the said order in appeal NO CA/PH/764/2013. THAT APPEAL, THE RECORDS SHOW IS STILL PENDING…” (Underlined for emphasis)

 

Ironically, at the Supreme Court of Nigeria, the learned Senior Counsel to the Appellants (Oguebego and ors) Chief Chris Uche SAN formulated five issues for the Supreme Court to determine and none of the issues was on the validity of the PDP primaries for the National Assembly elections conducted by the National Executive of the PDP. As a matter of fact, the appeal was on the validity of the Caretake Committee set up by the PDP to oversee the affairs of the PDP in Anambra State. At no point whatsoever did Oguebego allege that the PDP Primaries for National Assembly elections were conducted by the Caretaker Committee which he was challenging the legality.

 

As a matter of fact when the Counsel for the Respondent, Chief Arthur Obi Okafor, SAN tried to suggest to the Supreme Court that the appeal was about the primaries of the PDP National Assembly candidates,  it was swiftly denied by the Counsel to Ogubego and co and the Supreme Court agreed with him and on page 37 of the Judgement said:

“ I agree entirely with the learned senior counsel for the appellants that the suit was neither a claim brought…to complain about conduct of a primary election nor a dispute over which organ of the political party ie the PDP that has the authority and competence to conduct a primary election…”

Probably, in anticipation of the current misinterpretation of her judgment, the Supreme Court per John Inyang Okoro JSC on page 47 of the judgment made it clear that the Court of Appeal was in error to have delved into the PDP primaries for the National Assembly elections. His Lordship made it clear that:

“I hold the view that the Court below misconceived the real issue in controversy at the trial court which gave birth to the appeal before it. There was no controversy as to which organ of the 1st respondent (PDP) has power to conduct primaries. I can say it for the umpteenth time that the main issue was that stated by the learned trail judge. That is, whether the 1st respondent can ignore the subsisting order of court and set up a caretaker committee for Anambra State PDP in brazen contempt of the Court. Period. Therefore, the Court below having left the main issue in controversy and be persuade to dwell on the issue as o which organ of PDP has power to conduct primary went on a frolic and cannot be allowed to stand”.

Its obvious from the entire case that neither the candidates from the Oguebego primaries were parties to the suit nor the candidates that emerged from the primaries conducted by the National Executive of the PDP who are presently the sitting members of the Party in the National Assembly. Surprisingly, the only person that made efforts to be joined as a party who claimed that he would be affected by the outcome of the case was Chief Charles Odedo who allegedly emerged winner in the primaries conducted by Oguebego led Anambra State PDP Executive Committee. When Chief Odedo’s application to be joined was rejected, he appealed all the way to the Supreme Court. 

In the Supreme Court, Chief Odedo (as reported on Odedo Vs Oguebego, Part 1476, 13 N.W.L.R. pages 229-440) claimed in the ‘affidavit evidence in support  of the motion for joinder at page 1060 of the 3rd Volume of the record of appeal…paragraphs 8 and 13’ that;

“8. That I took part and won the PDP primary election which was conducted under the Chairmanship of Ejike Oguebego, in line with the  guidelines set by PDP for its primaries and INEC regulations.

13. That my name was forwarded by PDP to INEC. That my name was also published by INEC as the Candidate who won the primaries under the Chairmanship of Ejike Oguebego”.

Ogunbiyi JSC delivering judgment on the claims of Chief Odedo said on page 266 to 267 of the report;

“Suffice it to say that it is the National Executive Committee of the PDP that is imbued with the responsibility for the conduct of the Party’s National Assembly Primaries. Any purported attempt to conduct such primary by the State Chapter of the PDP cannot be validly characterized as competent. The act is totally illegal and will confer no right as it is a nullity and also constituting an abuse of court process.. In other words, the primary upon which the appellant anchors his ship did not confer any right on him as it is a complete nullity. An act which is a nullity has no legal consequence”.

As a matter of fact, the Supreme Court expressed her displeasure over Chief Odedo for approaching the Court on the basis of the primaries conducted by the State Executive Committee of the PDP despite several judgments of the Supreme on the issue. Fabiyi J.S.C on page 269-270 of the judgment said:

“It is imperative for me to make some remarks…It is an aggrieved aspirant who physically participated in a primary election conducted by the National Executive Committee of his party that is imbued with the requisite locus standi to raise a finger of complaint…With the above position of the Law, the appellant who placed his application on the outcome of the primary conducted by the State Executive Committee of the PDP had no remote chance of success. He should have been advised by his counsel that his attempt to be joined to a pending appeal as respondent in the circumstance was to no avail…”

Kekere-Ekun J.S.C in the same case was of the opinion that Chief Charles Odedo ought not have gone to court on this issue which Supreme Court had severally decided on as, according to His Lordship on page 271, amounted to “seek to perpetuate a position that has already been pronounce upon. This is one of the causes of congestion in our courts and must be discouraged”.

It instructive to observe that the decision of the Supreme Court on Chief Odedo’s case was delivered on Friday June 5th,2015. So, could the same Supreme Court come back on January 29, 2016 to deliver a judgment that would imply in whichever way you look at it that Chief Odedo should be given Certificate of Return and be sworn in as Member representing Idemili North/South Federal Constituency in the House of Representatives on the basis of the same primaries conducted by Ejike Oguebego led PDP Anambra State Executive Committee which the same Supreme Court had declared illegal?

 The answer is an emphatic NO! Any attempt to suggest that should be considered a deliberate attempt to ridicule the Judiciary for selfish reasons. The Judiciary is the last hope of the common man and we all have the responsibility to resist any attempt by the politicians to ridicule the sacred institution for their selfish political gains.

I have tried to figure out the basis for the publicity for a none existing judgment until I stumbled upon a letter titled, “…Petition against ill motivated legal advice” signed by Senators Andy Ubah, Stella Oduah and the PDP House of Representatives members from AnambraState  dated February 1, 2016. In the petition, the lawmakers accused the INEC Director of Legal, I.K.Bawa(SAN) and two others of unprofessional conduct. INEC has the responsibility of investigating the allegation of partisanship against her Legal team. The relevant government agencies are obliged to look into the allegations to avoid anything that could discredit INEC as an independent and neutral agency.

On the other hand, the PDP as a political party has a “self-assessment” to do especially as regards the conduct of the Party’s members in Anambra State. Strict compliance to the Party’s guidelines should be enforced irrespective of who is involved. This view was echoed by Ogunbiyi J.S.C in the case of OdedoVsOguebego(supra) at page 267 wherein His Lordship said;

“It is interesting; I must say that the case under consideration like Emeka and Okadigbo originates also from the same Anambra State. This is worrisome as it gives a clear indication that the State Executive Committee of the Party appears not to know their limit and hence the continued persistence in usurping of power not due to them. This is in spite of the pronouncements made by this court and its orders. The practice is a flagrance abuse of power and the National body will do well and draw the attention of the erring State Committee thereto. Judgments of Court are to be obeyed and serve as guide for now and the future.”

Nigerians expect the National Executive Committee of the PDP to take the necessary steps to avoid this show of shame especially when not a few public commentators believe that the crisis was as a result of the seed planted by the Party through some elements in this present crisis. It has been alleged that the Party’s National Executive used some dramatic personae in the present crisis to stop the former governor of the state, Dr. Chinwoke Mbadinuju from flying the flag of the party despite winning the primaries of the Party conducted about three times. 

Dr. Mbadinuju was frustrated out of the Part and he left with some key members of the then State Executive Committee to the then Alliance for Democracy (AD). Since then, the Party has not recovered from that as multiple candidates have always emerged after every primaries of the Party. The vacuum created by the Mbadinuju departure allegedly led to the loss of the State’s gubernatorial election to the All Progressive Grand Alliance (APGA). Urgent steps should be taken by the Party to avoid this regular show of shame. 

Fortunately, INEC has so far refused to be cajoled into issuing Certificates of Return. The parties are already before the Federal High Court, Abuja. Hopefully, the Federal High Court would assist us with the interpretation of the judgment. Let’s keep our fingers crossed.

Ohaegbu, an Abuja base Legal Practitioner wrote from oohaegbu@gmail.com


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