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22 Oct 2018

Supreme Court condemns APC, Appeal Court handling of Rivers congresses

The Supreme Court came down hard on Monday on the All Progressives Congress (APC) and the Court of Appeal in Port Harcourt Division over their handling of the processes leading to the party’s congresses held in Rivers State in May this year.

A panel of five justices of the court held, in a judgment, that the APC acted in “condemnable, egregious and preposterous” manner by proceeding to conduct its ward, local government and state congresses of May 19, 20 and 21, 2018, respectively, in Rivers State, in disregard of a pending court order restraining it from so acting.

The panel headed by the Chief Justice of Nigeria (CJN) said the Appeal Court, Port-Harcourt engaged “a sacrilegious exercise of discretion” by ignoring the doctrine of stare decisis ‎in its June 21, 2018 judgment, given in favour of the APC, despite the party’s decision to conduct its congresses in Rivers State in breach of subsisting orders of the High Court of the state.

The judgment was on an appeal by 23 APC members, including Ibrahim Umar, David Ndah, Prince Morris, Kudem Bale, and Otokim Jack, who were aggrieved by the outcome of APC’s congresses.
Justice Centus Nweze, who read the lead judgment, upheld the appeal and proceeded to set aside the June 21, 2018 order of the Court of Appeal, with which it stayed the execution of the May 11 and May 30 orders made by the High Court of Rivers State stopping the conduct of the congresses.

Justice. Nweze, after reviewing the handling of the case by the Part-Harcourt division of the Appeal Court, said: “Regrettably, the lower court condoned the condemnations, egregious and preposterous approach of the respondent herein (APC).”

He said the Supreme Court will not support such unruly conduct as exhibited by the APC in Rivers State.

Jusice Nweze added: “Well, this court (Supreme Court) has a duty to resist this attempt to achieve forensic victory through jiggery-pokery. True to its constitutional mandate, this court cannot lend its weight to this unhealthy approach.

“Therefore, I have a duty to allow this appeal. Accordingly, I hereby enter an order setting aside the ruling of the lower court delivered on June 21, 2018.”

Justice Nweze upheld the contention by the appellants that the Appeal Court ought not to have granted the order of stay of execution in favour of APC while the party was still in disobedience of the order of the High Court.

Justice Nweze noted that on May 11, 2018, “not minding the invasion of the court by hoodlums, an invasion that was charaterised by the destruction of items of the court, the court was still able to deliver its ruling and issued an interlocutory injunctive orders restraining the respondents from conducting its congresses….

“As if that was not enough, on May 19 and May 20, and May 21, respectively, in notwithstanding the pendency of the injunctive orders, the respondent (APC) went ahead to conduct the ward, local government and state congresses.

“This defiance has prompted the high court’s order of mandatory injunction of May 30. The restraining order cancels state congresses of May 12, 19, 20 and 21.

“Despite the subsisting orders of the court, orders of May 11 and 30, the respondent in the most impudent manner, the besieged the  Court of Appeal, Port Harcourt Division for an entreaty to favour it with an order of stay of proceedings and order of stay of execution.

“The lower court sitting on both, favoured the respondent, that is, the applicant before it, with an order staying the execution of the ‘order of injunction made by the High Court of Rivers State, Port H in the ruling delivered by Nwogu J, on Friday, May 11, 2018.’

“The simple truth therefore, is that, when the respondent applied for stay of execution before the lower court, it was in gross disobedience of the positive order of the trial court.

“From all indications, notwithstanding this unfortunate development, the lower court still found it legitimate to favour the respondent with a positive of order of stay of execution. This was wrong,” Justice Nweze said.

He faulted the Appeal Court’s failure to abide by the doctrine of “stares decisis” and refusal to subject itself to the Supreme Court’s decision in the case – the Military Governor of Lagos State Vs Ojukwu. He said the Appeal Court, by its conduct, “embarked on a journey of self-immolation and the Japanese ‘harakiri,” a journey, Justice Nweze described as a sacrilegious judicial exercise of discretion.

He said:  “Indeed, nothing could be a more sacrilegious judicial exercise of discretion than the lower court’s ill-advised embarkation on this ill-fated journey of self-immolation, or what the Japanese call the harakiri, that means suicide, all in an attempt to in an attempt to circumvent the authority of this court.”

Justice Nweze described the decision of the Appeal Court to disregard the established precedent of the Supreme Court as gross insurbordination.

He said, “This court (the Supreme Court) is the highest court in Nigeria; its decisions bind every court, authority or person in Nigeria.

“By the doctrine of stares decisis, the courts below are bound to follow the decision of the Supreme Court. The doctrine is a sine qua non for certainty in the practice and the application of law.

“The refusal therefore, by a judge of the court below to refuse to be bound by this court’s decision is gross insubordination.”

Justice Nweze described the attempt by APC’s lawyer, Hakeem Afolabi (SAN) to distinguish the case from the Supreme Court’s decisions in  Military Governor of Lagos State vs. Ojukwu, and Odogu vs. Odogu, as superficially attractive, but feeble.

He frowned at what he described as APC’s lawyer’s “advocacy style” in the case, and said lawyers must draw a distinction between their role and status as a lawyer, and their political interests.

Lawyer to the appellants, who are loyal to the Senator Magnus Abe camp of the party, Henry Bello said the imperative of the Supreme Court’s judgment was “a warning to politicians to always be obedient to court orders ahead of 2019 elections.”

Alleging exclusion, Ibrahim Umar, David Ndah, Prince Morris, Kudem Bale, Otokim Jack and others had, in May 2018 sued the APC and sought to stop the conduct of congresses of the party in the state.

Upon the plaintiffs’ application, Justice Chiwendu Nwogu of the Port Harcourt Division of the High Court of Rivers State, on May 10, 2011, granted an interlocutory injunction restraining the APC from conducting the congresses.

The party went ahead to conduct the congresses on May 19, 20 and 21.

This prompted Justice Nwogu to nullify the congresses in his ruling of May 30.

Dissatisfied with the May 30 ruling of the High Court, the APC proceeded to the Port Harcourt Division of the Court of Appeal, praying for an order of stay of execution of both the May 11 and May 30 orders of the High Court and an order of stay of proceedings before the said High Court.

The Court of Appeal on June 21, 2018, granted the APC’s request, a development which prompted the plaintiffs in the High Court to appeal to Supreme Court to challenge the order of stay of execution granted by the appeal court.

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