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Exercise to elect leaders of political parties can be regarded as pre-election matter

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Scale of justice

ALL PROGRESSIVE CONGRESS v. IBRAHIM UMAR & ORS
CITATION: (2019) LPELR-47296 (SC)

In the Supreme Court of Nigeria

ON FRIDAY, MARCH 8, 2019
Suit No: SC.1333/2018

Before Their Lordships:

OLABODE RHODES-VIVOUR, JSC
OLUKAYODE ARIWOOLA, JSC
AMIRU SANUSI, JSC
AMINA ADAMU AUGIE, JSC
SIDI DAUDA BAGE, JSC

Between

ALL PROGRESSIVE CONGRESS -Appellant(s)

And

IBRAHIM UMAR & 22 ORS -Respondent(s)

LEAD JUDGMENT DELIVERED BY AMIRU SANUSI, J.S.C.

FACTS OF THE CASE
This appeal is against the ruling of the Court of Appeal, Port Harcourt division, delivered on the 12th day of December 2018. The facts of the case are that the present respondents as plaintiffs filed Originating Summons before the trial Court in Suit No.BHC/78/2018, against the appellant as defendant. The appellant/defendant did not respond to the Originating Summons by filing a counter affidavit in reply to the averments contained in the affidavit supporting the Originating Summons.

In addition, the respondents also filed before the same trial Court an application for interlocutory injunction against the appellant’s/defendant’s decision to proceed with its arrangement to conduct its congresses in spite of the pendency of the suit before the trial Court, which it was fully aware of. The apparent reason for the application for interlocutory injunction filed by the respondents against the defendant/appellant was apparently because the plaintiffs/respondents, being registered members of the defendant/appellant were eligible to take part in the affairs of the appellant and are also entitled to vie for elective offices as member of the executives of the appellant (party) or as delegates of the party as well as for elections into government electives position in Rivers State or in Nigeria in general.

It is also the grouse of the respondents/plaintiffs, that as per the Originating Summons, they paid for nomination forms to participate in the ward congresses of the appellant (party) but they were stopped by the party officials from part taking in the exercise, leading to their being disenfranchised and that it was sequel to that, that they approached the trial Court for redress.

The Learned trial judge took arguments on the interlocutory injunction/application and delivered its ruling in favour of the plaintiffs/respondents granting all the reliefs sought in the interlocutory injunction application. The trial Court later granted the mandatory injunction subsequently applied for by the respondents when the appellant/defendant failed to file any counter affidavit in opposition to the application for mandatory injunction before the trial Court, nullifying the Ward, Local Government and State Congresses conducted by the appellant on 12th, 19th, 20th and 21st of May, 2018.

Aggrieved by the judgment of the trial Court, the appellant appealed to the Court of Appeal, Port Harcourt division vide a Notice of Appeal without seeking and obtaining leave of either the trial Court or the Court of Appeal being a consent judgment. The Court of Appeal upon noticing that struck out the appellant’s application on 12th December 2018.

The appellant, further dissatisfied, appealed to the Supreme Court.

ISSUES FOR DETERMINATION
The Court determined the appeal on the Respondent’s Preliminary Objection, which challenged the competence of the appeal and by extension, the want of jurisdiction on the part of the Court to consider and determine the appeal.

APPELLANT’S COUNSEL SUBMISSIONS
The Appellant’s submission against the Preliminary Objection is that the case that resulted to this appeal is not a pre-election matter because the matter only relates to the intra-party activity and which borders on election of the members of the executives of the appellant (APC). He contended further, that political party can elect its leaders at any time when the tenure of such holders of the offices expires, notwithstanding whether there is general election or not. He argued that it is by sheer coincidence that the election of the members of the executive of the appellant fell into or coincided with electioneering period. He submitted that an exercise to elect the leaders of a political party cannot, by any stretch of imagination, be regarded as a pre-election matter.

He referred to Section 285 (14) of the1999 Constitution (as amended) that if the reliefs sought by the respondent before the trial Court are considered, vis a vis, the said provisions of Section 285 (14) of the1999 Constitution, it will be clear that the subject matter of the appeal is not a pre-election matter. He argued that the trial Court is wrong on the issue of the exclusion from party’s congress. He submitted also that the jurisdiction of the Court within the ambit of Section 87 (9) of the Electoral Act 2010 does not avail the Court to dabble into issues of election intra-party executive offices and that the subject matter cannot come within the category of a pre-election matter.

RESPONDENT’S COUNSEL SUBMISSIONS
The respondents submitted urging the Court to uphold the Preliminary Objection on the basis that the appeal is academic in the sense that the relief sought for the remittance of the case to the appeal to the Court below cannot be granted or enforced since the jurisdiction of the lower Court had expired since on 22nd December, 2018, adding that the appeal as from the 22nd December, 2018 had become statute-barred in view of the effluxion of the sixty days stipulated time of hearing and determination of the appeal since the appeal relates to pre-election matter.

In further response by way of further reply, the respondents submitted further, that the procedure for electing party executives is tied to the issue of primary election of the party. He submitted that the elected members of the party or the party executives usually turn out to be delegates that will vote or elect party’s representatives or candidates in the general election. He therefore submitted that being the case, it will be correct to say or hold that the instant appeal is a pre-election matter hence the appeal against the judgment of the trial Court ought to have been filed within 14 days after the judgment of the trial Court was delivered on 10/10/18. He stated that the notices of appeal were filed on 5/11/2018 when the period of 14days had expired.

RESOLUTION OF ISSUES
The Court in resolving the first ground of the Preliminary Objection, held that by the provisions of Section 285 (12) of the Constitution of Federal Republic of Nigeria 1999 as amended, pre-election appeals from the High Court to the Court of Appeal must be heard and determined within sixty days from the date of filing such appeal. Now, that since the appeal No.CA/PH/461/2018 was filed at the Court of Appeal on 23rd October 2018, same ought to, have been determined latest by 22nd December, 2018, appeal. The appeal No.CA/PH/461/2018, which culminated into this appeal No.SC.1333/2019 therefore became statute-barred and the Court of Appeal therefore became bereft of jurisdiction due to effluxion of time.

That the relief sought by the appellant for the remittance of the appeal CA/PH/461/2018 to the Court of Appeal for determination will be a futile exercise since that Court no longer has jurisdiction to adjudicate on the matter anymore. It has therefore become academic to grant the reliefs sought by the appellant in the present appeal. According to the Court, jurisdiction of Courts is donated by the statute and by not the Court itself, as such, no Court has the power to extend or expand the time assigned or stipulated by the constitution or the law.

Relating this to the instant case, the Court held that it cannot accede to the appellant’s relief to remit the case to the Court of Appeal, since it will amount to sheer academic exercise and will be a waste of the precious time of that Court. In conclusion, the Court held that it agrees entirely with the learned respondents’ counsel’s submission that in view of the provisions of Section 285(11), (12) and (14) of the1999 Constitution (as amended), this present appeal has become academic since it is hinged on appeal No.CA/PH/461/2018 which as stated earlier, had become statute-barred due to effluxion of time. The Court upheld the first ground of the Preliminary Objection.

In resolving the second ground of the objection ‘whether the appeal before the Court of Appeal (Appeal No. CA/PH/461/2018) is a pre-election matter as would have come under the provisions of Section 285 of the 1999 Constitution as amended’, the Court held in agreement with the submission of the Respondents that the exercise involved in the congresses covers or includes activities which are or should be done preparatory to an election, be it for the selection of officers to be members of the executive of the party, or as processes to elect or to prepare and qualify those elected at the congresses to ultimately vie for elective offices to represent the party in the legislature at either local government, State or at federal level. According to the Court, such exercises are therefore pre-election exercises or matters to which the provisions of Section 285 (14) squarely apply. The Court held the second ground of the preliminary objection also as having substance and upheld it.

HELD
On the whole, the Court found the Preliminary Objection meritorious and struck out the appeal.

Appearances:
L. O. Fagbemi, SAN with him, P. A. Abah, Omosanya Popoola, B. A. Oyun and O. T. Olujide-Poko -For Appellant(s)
H. A. Bello with him, M. E. Nwojuegbe, R. U. Oyiwona, K. P. Luke and Amina Marafa – For Respondent(s)

Compiled by LawPavilion


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