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Whether court can interfere in a dispute over a ward congress of a political party

The 17, 909th – 17, 911th Respondents set up a seven-man Ward Congress Committee (WCC) to conduct the Ward Congress in Kano State. The WCC conducted the election on July 31, 2021

FILE PHOTO: The judge’s gavel is seen in courtroom PHOTO: REUTERS/Chip East/File Photo<br />

Akinremi & Anor v. Suleiman & ORS
CITATION: (2022) LPELR-56903(CA)

In the Court of Appeal
In the Abuja Judicial Division
Holden at Abuja

ON THURSDAY, FEBRUARY 17, 2022
Suit No: CA/ABJ/CV/1020/2021

Before Their Lordships:

HARUNA SIMON TSAMMANI Justice, Court of Appeal
BIOBELE ABRAHAM GEORGEWILL Justice, Court of Appeal
BATURE ISAH GAFAI
Justice, Court of Appeal

Between

1. HON. OLAYIDE ADEWALE AKINREMI
2. SENATOR ABBA ALI
(The 2nd – 5th Appellants for themselves & on behalf
of the APC Caretaker/Extraordinary Convention
Planning Committee)
– Appellants(s)

And

MUTTAKA BALA SULEIMAN – 17, 908 ORS
17909. ALL PROGRESSIVES CONGRESS
17910. H.E. MAI MALA BUNI
17911. SENATOR JOHN JAMES AKPANUDOEDEHE
17912. DR. TONY MACFOY
17913. BARR. AUWALU ABDULLAHI
17914. USMAN MUSA KAITA
17915. ADEBAYO IYANIWURA
17916. INDEPENDENT NATIONAL ELECTORAL COMMISSION – Respondent(s)

LEADING JUDGMENT DELIVERED BY BIOBELE ABRAHAM GEORGEWILL, J.C.A.

FACTS
The 17, 909th – 17, 911th Respondents set up a seven-man Ward Congress Committee (WCC) to conduct the Ward Congress in Kano State. The WCC conducted the election on July 31, 2021 and the 1st – 17, 908th respondents won the said election. Consequently, they wrote a Report as in Exhibit F on the election and submitted the Results as in Exhibits J Series along with the report.

The appellants and the 17, 909 – 17, 911th respondents acknowledged and accepted the report by stamping it. However, contrary to the Electoral Act 2010, the All Progressive Congress (APC) Constitution and the Guidelines, the appellants and the 17, 909th – 17, 916th respondents had on July 26, 2021 issued a press statement as in Exhibit H1 where the ‘Stakeholders’ agreed that the election will not be conducted and as a result a false report was written as in Exhibit G with seven names, including fresh three names of persons who are not part of the seven man WCC listed in Exhibit B.

The case of the appellants and the 17, 909th – 17, 915th respondents however was that on July 29, 2021, the APC and the 17, 909th respondent, approved the appointment of a seven man WCC vide its’ letter as in Exhibit B dated July 29, 2021 and signed by Senator John James Akpanudoedehe, Ph. D, the 17, 911th respondent, amongst others as members, to superintend the APC Ward Congress to be held in 484 Wards in Kano State. The Ward Congresses was successfully conducted by the WCC and supervised by INEC.

The 17, 914th and 17, 915th respondents who were merely members of the WCC, but who did not travel to Kano State for the assignment had surreptitiously and falsely signed Exhibit F, relied upon by the 1st – 17, 908th respondents purportedly as Chairman and Secretary without the authority of the 17, 912th and 17, 913th respondents, who are the undisputed Chairman and Secretary of the WCC. The APC, the 17, 909th respondent, duly received and accepted the report as in Exhibit G, whilst it outrightly rejected the report in Exhibits F and J – Series as falsely authored by the impostors, the 17, 914 and 17, 915th respondents.

The 1st – 17, 908th respondents thus sued, seeking recognition by the appellants and the 17, 909 – 17916th as those duly elected from the Ward Congress Election of July 27, 2021 for Kano State APC. They filed and exchanged affidavits in the originating summons. Several preliminary objections were also filed.

The trial Court heard all the preliminary objections and originating summons together and delivered its judgment, in which it dismissed all the preliminary objections and granted the claims of the 1st – 17, 908th respondents as claimants against the appellants as 4th & 5th defendants and the 17909th – 17916th respondents as 1st – 3rd and 6th – 10th defendants. The appellants thus instituted this appeal.

ISSUES FOR DETERMINATION
The Court of Appeal determined the appeal on the following issues;
1. Whether the Court below was not wrong in assuming jurisdiction by holding that the 1st – 17, 908th respondents’ Suit was a Pre-election matter within the ambit of Section 285 (14) (a) – (c) of the Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria, 1999 (as amended) and Section 87 (9) of the Electoral Act, 2010 (as amended)

2. Whether the Court below was not wrong in determining the 1st – 17, 908th respondents’ Suit bordering on internal processes of a political party which is non-justiciable

3. Whether the Court below was not wrong in determining the 1st – 17, 908th respondents’ Suit when it has no requisite territorial jurisdiction to determine the matter.

4. Whether the Court below was not wrong when it held that the 1st – 17, 908th respondents had locus standi to institute the action.

5. Whether the Court below was not wrong when it overruled the objection of the appellants on grounds of non – joinder of necessary and affected parties.

6. Whether the Court below not wrong in holding that the plenary trial was not required to resolve the copious affidavit and documentary evidence adduced by parties before it.

APPELLANTS’ SUBMISSION
Appellants’ counsel submitted that pre-election matter excludes Ward Congress of a political party as in the instant case and urged the Court to hold that Ward Congress is an internal affair of a political party over which Courts of law have no vires to determine; Section 285 (14)(a)–(c) of the Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria, 1999 (as amended); Section 87 (9) of the Electoral Act 2010 (as amended) and APC V. Moses (2021) All MWLR (Pt. 12) p. 495

Appellants’ counsel submitted that from the affidavits and exhibits of the parties, the cause of action arose in Kano State outside the territorial jurisdiction of the trial Court sitting in Abuja and that the action of the 1st – 17, 908th respondents thus amounted to forum shopping which rendered their Suit an abuse of Court process and robbed the trial Court of any jurisdiction to adjudicate over.

Appellants’ counsel submitted that the 1st -17, 908th respondents did not provide any verifiable evidence showing that they had the locus standi to institute the action. He contended that the only membership card they attached to their originating summons was that of the 1st respondent with No. KN/KMC/21/29025 in Sharada Ward but which Ward was shown to be none existent. He submitted that the 1st – 17, 908th respondents cannot by mere unsigned nomination forms as in Exhibit K – Series alone show any locus standi since an unsigned document is in law worthless; Olabode V. Kila (2010) 13 WRN 73 @ pp. 128 – 129.

Appellants’ counsel submitted that in law, originating summons are usually applied where facts are not in substantial disputes and not, as in this case, where there are glaring disputes.

1st – 17908th RESPONDENTS’ SUBMISSIONS
Respondents’ counsel submitted that it is the claim of the claimant that determines the jurisdiction of the Court. He contended that the Respondents were challenging the acts of the appellants and the 17, 908 – 17, 915th respondents that constituted a violation of the APC Constitution and such a claim, amounting to an infraction of the APC Constitution, is in law justiciable; Sojitz Corp. V. Subaru Motors Nig. Ltd (2017) LPELR- 50747 (CA). He further submitted that the holding of Congresses by a political party to elect its leaders in the process or preparation of election is a pre – election matter and thus justiciable.

Respondents’ counsel submitted that although the Courts would generally not interfere in the internal affairs of a political party, where, as in the instant case, the claim of the 1st – 17908th Respondents borders on violation of the 19, 909th Respondent’s APC Constitution and Guidelines, it is justiciable; Umeh V. Ejike (2013) LPELR – 23506 (CA).

Respondents’ counsel further submitted that the central relief of the 1st – 17, 908th respondents was the appellants’ rejection of the report and results already submitted to the APC Headquarter in Abuja, and as such the proper venue for the commencement of the Suit was Abuja.

Respondents’ counsel submitted that in the absence of any challenge to their membership of the APC, the Court below was right when it held that the 1st – 17, 908th Respondents had the locus standi.

RESOLUTION OF ISSUES
The Court held that jurisdiction is the authority a Court has to entertain an action. Further, it is the claim of the claimant that ordinarily determines the jurisdiction of the Court. See Madukolu V Nkemdilim (1962) 1 All NLR 58 @ p. 595.

The Court held that the issue of non – joinder of necessary party is a threshold issue of jurisdiction and can be raised at any stage of the proceedings, including even for the first time on appeal. Also, non – joinder of parties does not render a Suit incompetent. See Green V. Green (1987) LPELR – 1338 (SC).

The Court looked at Exhibit K – Series (the nomination forms of the 1st – 17908th respondents), and held that even though unsinged, they were sufficient to and indeed clothed them with the requisite locus standi. The 1st – 17, 908th respondents, whose membership of APC Kano State and or participation in the Ward Congress of APC Kano on July 31, 2021 was never challenged, have the locus standi to institute the Suit. The Court further held that if the deposition of a party shows that a document given to him or handed over by him was unsigned, then such an unsigned document is admissible in proof of what is alleged by the party.

The Court also found that the facts in APC V. Moses (Supra) are not only apposite to the facts in the instant case, it was also a more recent decision of the Apex Court (2021). Thus, it is bound by it.

The Court held that issues arising from the conduct of Ward Congress of a political party, unlike primaries of a political party for the election and or nomination of candidate of the political party for an election, is purely an internal affair of a political party and is completely subject to the will of the majority, as in majority rule, and thus not justiciable in law. See Onuoha V. Okafor (1983) 14 NSCC 494.

The Court also held that the Ward Congress of the APC in the 484 Wards of Kano State that held on July 31, 2021 and its outcome took place or arose in Kano State, which is outside the territorial jurisdiction of the trial Court. See Section 255(1) of the Constitution of Federal Republic of Nigeria, 1999 (as amended). The Court held that the 1st – 17908th Respondents were knowingly engaging in forum shopping – a specie of abuse of Court process. See Dingyadi V. INEC (2011) 44 NSCQR 301 @ p. 340.

The Court held that it would be improper to commence civil proceedings by means of originating summons where the facts are likely to be in disputes. Although not every conflict arising from affidavit evidence would warrant the calling of oral evidence, where the issues of facts are so contentious and borders amongst others on allegations of falsification of document, it would be suitable for proceedings to commence by means of a writ of summons. See Johnson & Ors V. Mobil Producing Nigeria Unlimited & Ors. (2009) LPELR – 8280 (CA).

HELD
The Court allowed the appeal and set aside the decision of the trial Court.

APPEARANCES
Chief M. N. Duru, with him, Ibrahim Aliyu Nassarawa, Esq.
and Adekunle Taiye Falola, Esq. – For Appellant(s)

Nureini Jimoh, SAN and Ibrahim Idris, SAN,
with Osita Anene, Esq. and Abdulhafees D. Khalid, Esq.

– For 1st – 17,908th Respondents

Abdul Adamu, Esq., with him, Suleiman Gezawa, Esq.

– For 17,909th – 17,911th Respondents

Sir Steve Adehi, SAN and Prof Josephine Agbonika, SAN,
with Wale Babalola, Esq. and Martins F. Ekpah, Esq.

– For 17,912th – 17,915th Respondents

Bashir M. Abubakar, Esq.,
with him, S. M. Danbaba, Esq.
– For 17,916th Respondent

Compiled by LawPavilion

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