2019 RIVERS GUBER: Tonye Cole loses at Supreme Court
The end of the road for the All Progressives Congress (APC) in the 2019 general elections in Rivers State came yesterday as the Supreme Court dismissed the three separate appeals filed by the party and Tonye Cole, its factional governorship candidate in the state.
Both Cole and the APC had approached the apex court through their notices of appeal, praying it to make them participate in the 2019 general election.
The court however dismissed the separate appeals on the ground that the notices were incompetent in law.
The counsel to APC, Chief Jibrin Okutekpa, at the resumed sitting, prayed the seven-man panel of the court to overrule its own decision, which had earlier upheld the refraining order that barred APC from participating in the poll. He argued that the refraining order from the High Court of Rivers State was fraudulently obtained.
But the counsel to the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP), Chief Emmanuel Okala, quickly drew the court’s attention to the notice of appeal filed by APC, wherein the party erroneously prayed the Court of Appeal instead of the Supreme Court to grant its reliefs. In other words, APC had mistakenly addressed its notice of appeal to the Court of Appeal instead of the Supreme Court.
Okala cited several authorities to buttress the fact that APC had not asked for anything from the Supreme Court and as such, the notice of appeal was incompetent in law. He therefore urged the apex court not only to strike it out but also dismiss it outright.
In the court’s ruling delivered by acting Chief Justice of Nigeria (CJN) Ibrahim Tanko Muhammad, the court agreed with PDP’s counsel that the notice of appeal filed by APC was incurably defective and grossly incompetent. And as sought by Okala, he struck out the notice and dismissed the appeal accordingly.
In the second appeal filed by Tonye Cole, through Tuduru Eteh, the notice of appeal was again wrongly addressed to the Court of Appeal in the reliefs seeking the Supreme Court to officially declare him as APC governorship candidate for the state.
Aware of the error, counsel to Cole promptly moved to withdraw the incompetent notice. Unfortunately, there was no other option but for the acting CJN to strike it out.
In the third appeal, which was between APC and Senator Magnus Abe, the court struck out the notice of appeal on the same ground that it was incompetent, having been addressed to the Court of Appeal instead of Supreme Court.
With the latest decisions of the Supreme Court, all court actions concerning Rivers State APC in relation to the 2019 general election have finally been laid to rest.
The apex court had early in the week struck out an appeal filed by Abe, praying the court to make pronouncement on the proprietary of the direct and indirect primary elections conducted by the APC in the state for the nomination of its candidate for the elections.
The apex court struck out the appeal on the ground that the notice of appeal filed by the senator was defective and failed to comply with the order of the court.
Muhammad, who delivered the unanimous decision of the seven-man panel of justices, held that the notice of appeal was defective because it did not contain the names and titles of parties in the matter.
He also held that the notice of appeal offended Section 285 of the 1999 Constitution because amendment could not be done to the notice in view of the fact that the 14 days required by law to file the appeal have expired.
Abe had approached the court, asking it to make clarification on which of the two primary elections was authentic in the eyes of the law.
But Okutekpa objected to the hearing of the appeal on the ground that names of appropriate persons affected by the suit were not listed on the notice of appeal, thereby making the appeal incompetent and incurably defective.
Meanwhile, reacting to the development, Rivers State Governor Nyesom Wike said he was holding out an olive branch to his predecessor, Minister of Transportation Rotimi Chibuike Amaechi to end politics of acrimony and bitterness in the state.
In a broadcast after the ruling, he said: “I appeal to the APC and the Minister of Transportation to join hands with us to move our dear state forward. We cannot, as leaders, continue to remain divided and expect government to deliver on its responsibilities to our people. Let us from henceforth seek the common ground instead of allowing our differences to be exploited to retard our march to progress.
“I appeal to our people to eschew all acts of acrimony, criminality, unrest, and violence throughout the state. I wish to recommit myself to continue to do all that is humanly possible to ensure the unity and peaceful co-existence of all our people irrespective of political affiliation.”
The long legal tussle that bedeviled Rivers State APC started shortly after Abe, who represents Rivers South-East Senatorial District, declared his intention last April to seek the party’s nomination for the governorship ticket. Minister of Transportation Chibuike Amaechi however vehemently opposed the move.
As part of the scheme to thwart Abe’s aspiration, hundreds of his supporters who paid for nomination forms to participate in APC ward congress in the state last May were denied forms and shut out of the process.
Indignant at their exclusion, aggrieved pro-Abe supporters, Ibrahim Umar and 22 others, filed a suit No BHC/78/2018 at High Court of Rivers State, Bori Divison. The suit was later transferred to another court in Port Harcourt presided over by Justice Chiwendu Worgu.
The appellants prayed the court to declare that they were entitled to participate in the congress, having paid the requisite nomination fees, and that their exclusion was unconstitutional, null and void.
They further urged the court to issue a perpetual order restraining APC from conducting any local government area congress or any other congress contrary to the one purportedly conducted on May 2018.
The counsel to the APC in the matter had in an affidavit said he was not opposed to the reliefs sought by Umar and the others. The court granted their reliefs.
Despite the pendency of the order restraining the APC from conducting the ward congress, the Amaechi faction went on with the poll on May 5, amid violence and vandalisation of the party’s secretariat at Old GRA, Port Harcourt.
As early as 7:00 a.m. on May 11, when the matter was due for hearing, hundreds of APC thugs armed with dangerous weapons invaded the Rivers State judiciary complex and sealed it, to prevent Justice Worgu from sitting. But Worgu sat after the hoodlums were repelled and issued an interlocutory injunctive order restraining APC from conducting further congresses.
Following this, the APC national leadership purportedly issued a letter ordering the annulment of the contentious local government congresses held on May 5 and 12 and scheduled fresh ward, local government and state congresses for May 18, 19, 20.
In defiance of subsisting court injunctions, the Amaechi faction went ahead with the congresses. When the case came up on May 30, Worgu, who was vexed by the flagrant disobedience of his two previous orders, issued an order of mandatory injunction by cancelling the congresses, which produced the Ojukaye Flag-Amachree state executive.
Ahead of the APC national convention, the Amaechi faction quickly filed a suit at the Court of Appeal in Port Harcourt for a stay of proceedings in the suit filed by pro-Abe supporters, as well a stay of execution of the order of injunction issued by Justice Worgu, pending the hearing and determination of appeal. Though the Appeal Court granted the stay of execution, it refused to stall the proceedings at the lower court.
Not pleased with the stay of execution granted by the Court of Appeal to the APC, which was already in disobedience of two court orders, Umar and the 22 others filed a suit No SC.764/2018 at the Supreme Court.
But before Justice Worgu and the Supreme Court could deliver judgment in the suits filed by Umar and 22 others, Cole and Abe on September 30, 2018 emerged as parallel governorship candidates of the APC. While Cole who was Amaechi’s preferred candidate emerged through indirect primaries, Abe claimed he won in direct primaries held the same day.
On October 10, Worgu, while delivering judgment on the substantive suit filed by Umar and the 22 others, declared as null and void the nomination of Cole as the governorship candidate of the APC in Rivers State. He also nullified the senatorial, House of Representatives and House of Assembly primaries organised by the Amaechi faction on the ground that they were illegal.
He said the congresses that produced the Ojukaye Flag-Amachree-led executive were not conducted in line with the party’s guideline and constitution. According to him, everyone who purchased nomination forms for the ward congress was entitled to contest. Hence, it was unlawful and unjust for anyone to have excluded them.
“The rule by might must be checked by the rule of law. We must restore the hope of the common man in the justice system,” he said.
On October 22, Justice Chima Centus Nweze of the Supreme Court, while ruling on the suit by Umar and the others, declared that the stay of execution of the injunction by the Court of Appeal was sacrilegious because the APC was in incontrovertible grave disobedience to two orders of the State High Court.
He said: “If politicians gain electoral victory by false pretenses, a court of law, nay more, the court of equity, must be spared the contempt of being employed as an instrument of advancing electoral fraud.”
Thereafter, Cole and 48 others whose names had been submitted to the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) as candidates of the APC filed a suit at the Court of Appeal to quash his disqualification by Worgu.
On December 12, Justice Abubakar Daati Yayaha of the Court of Appeal dismissed the suit by Cole and the others on the ground that it lacked competence in its entirety. He said the matter, being a pre-election case, was filed out of time and was statute barred.
The court also dismissed a similar application filed by Flag-Amachree and the others representing the party executives at all levels in the state.
Yahaya observed that Worgu’s judgment was a consent judgment and pointed out that Cole, Flag-Amachree and the others failed to seek leave of court before appealing against the judgment.
In an attempt to ensure that INEC obeyed the High Court judgment that nullified the APC congresses and primaries, the PDP in the state filed a suit at a Federal High Court in Port Harcourt presided over by Justice Kolawole Omotosho.
Abe and over 43 others also filed a suit in the same court, seeking to be declared the authentic candidates of the APC in Rivers State, since Worgu had recognised the state executive of the party that supervised their primaries.
On January 7, 2019, Omotosho, while citing the judgment of the Rivers State High Court, which nullified the processes that the led to the emergence of Cole and others, granted a mandatory injunction barring INEC from including APC in the ballot for elections in the state. He also dismissed the suit by Abe and others on the ground that the APC National Working Committee did not monitor their primaries.
Based on the Federal High Court verdict, both Cole and Abe’s teams approached the Court of Appeal for a stay of execution order, which the court graciously granted.
On February 12, 2019, the Supreme Court struck out the appeal filed by the Amaechi faction of APC against the verdict of the Rivers State High Court, which nullified the congresses and primaries.
In a judgment, Justice Aliyu Sanusi said there was substance in the preliminary objection raised by the counsel to Umar and the 22 that the appeal filed by the APC was a mere academic exercise. The apex court went on to uphold Worgu’s verdict.
Based on the February 12 Supreme Court judgment, Justice Betrus Sanga of the Court of Appeal in Port Harcourt on February 21 struck out the suit filed by Abe and others challenging the Federal High Court judgment, which declared they were not duly nominated.
In the same vein, a three-man appeal panel led by Justice Ibrahim Gummel of the Court of Appeal struck out two appeals filed by the Amaechi faction challenging the judgment of Omotosho. According to the judge, the appeal was merely an exercise in futility and lacked merit, as the Supreme Court had earlier decided on the issue, upholding the decision of the trial court on three different judgments .
Abe, Cole and others proceeded to the Supreme Court. On Tuesday, the Supreme Court struck out Abe’s appeal, in which he prayed the court to make a pronouncement on the propriety of the direct primary elections conducted by the APC in Rivers State for the nomination of its candidates for the general elections.