How interminable litigations unfurl new shocks for APGA
Njoku’s challenge rebounds
It was a week of serial reverses for the embattled All Progressives Grand Alliance (APGA). For the first time in its 16 years’ reign in Anambra State, APGA is going into the November 6, gubernatorial poll in the state with similar faltering steps that led main opposition Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) to its first electoral defeat in 2015.
Each passing day, the likelihood of a high-wired conspiracy to dent APGA’s profile in the Anambra State gubernatorial becomes apparent. Last week, two pronouncements from the courts raised further red flags against the governing party and its capacity to invest the power of incumbency profitably on the election.
The party’s standard bearer, Prof. Chukwuma Soludo, had prior to his emergence from the contentious governorship primary, declared that there was a gang up both from within and outside the party to ensure that he does not feature on the ballot on November 6.
That assertion came back to mind, when last Friday a string court rulings put a cloud of doubt on APGA’s desire to retain the only state on its corner. First, the Court of Appeal threw out the appeal filed by the Ozonkpu Victor Oye’s faction challenging the decision of Justice Abubakar Sadiq Umar to defer APGA’s application for the party’s name to be expunged from the case filed by Chief Edozie Njoku, Hamman Buba Ghide, Adamu Danjuma Musa, against the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC).
The judicial salvo dazed the party leaders, even as the rulings dampened the morale of its governorship campaign council. Intriguingly, the appellate court’s decision to refer the parties back to the High Court for Justice Umar to deliver his arrested judgement due to the interlocutory appeal revived the leadership disputation between Njoku and Oye.
Reviving convention hiccups
ON a similar note, the Court of Appeal, before their Lordships, Justices Abubakar Sadiq Umar, Ibrahim Wakili Jauro and Sybil O. Nwaka Gbagi, APGA received another sad turn.
In the suit No CA/ABJ/CV/06/2021, an interlocutory appeal filed by Bode Olanipekun (SAN), Akintola Makinde and Opeyemi Murtala, the Oye faction of APGA prayed the court to rule on its application for the party’s name to be removed from the matter brought by Njoku and three others against INEC.
In the originating suit, the petitioners, Njoku and co, through an ex parte application, prayed the Federal High Court, Bauchi Division, to grant them leave to seek and an order of mandamus compelling INEC (4th Respondent) to issue a letter to the applicants, recognise the 1st applicant (Njoku) as the elected national chairman of APGA.
Further, Njoku and co prayed the Bauchi Federal High Court for the order of mandamus to compel INEC to recognise also the 2nd and 3rd applicants and all other National Executive Officers of APGA elected at the national convention held in Owerri, Imo State on May 31, 2019, based on the congresses conducted in wards, local government and state levels on May 2, 3 and 6, 2019 in all the 36 states of the Federation including the FCT and to accord them all constitutional and statutory privileges and perquisites to teir offices as such elected national officers of APGA.
But, while the application for an order of mandamus against INEC was proceeding at the High Court, the Oye faction approached the court through an application dated September 28, 2020 contending that since it never authorised the substantive action in its name, the name of APGA should be stuck out as the 4th applicant in the matter.
The High Court heard the motion to strike out the name of APGA (4th applicant) on November 24, 2020 and reserved ruling for December 10, 2020. However, on December 10, when ordinarily the High Court would have delivered its ruling, the court held that “taking a position on the application will invariably amount to taking decisions touching on the substance of the suit at an interlocutory stage.”
The court therefore stayed the ruling on the application, purposing that it would be taken during the hearing and determination of the substantive suit. But, riled by that turn of event, the Oye faction rushed to the Court of Appeal with a notice of appeal filed on December 16, 2020.
The appellants (Oye faction of APGA) formulated five grounds of their appeal including, the contention that the trial Judge erred in law and arrived a wrong decision by refusing/failing to give a ruling on their application dated September 28, 2020 in which they sought for the removal of APGA’s name.
The Oye’s faction also contended that the trial Judge came to a perverse decision by deferring its ruling until the time of delivering final judgment in the action on the basis that doing so would pre-empt the substantive suit before the court.
They further argued that the trial Judge erred in law and acted without jurisdiction by deferring ruling on their application till the time of final judgment, just as they contended that the court erred in law and came to a perverse decision via its failure to deliver ruling on the application on the premise that the ruling would prejudge the substantive action.
Finally, the Oye’s faction maintained that the trial Judge erred in law and arrived at a perverse decision by deferring its ruling on the grounds that delivery would pre-empt the substantive suit, “without having considerations to the main relief(s) being sought by the 1st to the 3rd respondents in the originating process.”
After reviewing the backgrounds of the matter and evaluating the submissions of the counsel to the two parties in the appeal, Justice Umar dispensed with the issue of preliminary objection proffered by counsel to the 1st to the 3rd respondents (the Njoku faction).
Justice Umar declared: “Without dissipating much energy on the preliminary objection, I find no merit in it and same is hereby dismissed in its entirety. Having dismissed the notice of preliminary objection for lacking in merit, I shall proceed with the consideration of the appeal on the merit.”
After citing many legal authorities and positions by the Supreme Court, Justice Umar stated that one narrow issue in the appeal is, “whether the trial court was on a right footing when it deferred its ruling on the Appelants application filed on September 30, 2020 and to order that same shall be taken during the hearing and determination of the substantive suit?”
Justice Umar stated: “I have taken a careful consideration of the facts and circumstances of this case. It is beyond peradventure that the substantive action in itself, is an application for an order of mandamus compelling the 4th Respondent (INEC) to issue a letter to the 1st to 3rd respondents, recognising them and others as the National Executive Officers of APGA, elected at the national convention held in Owerri…” He recalled that the Appellants (Oye faction) in an application filed by one Sylvester Ezeokenwa, contended that it has not authorised such suit in APGA’s name and sought that the party’s name be struck out as the 4th Applicant in the said action.
Justice Umar declared that having examined the reliefs sought in the substantive suit…I am of the opinion that the issue as to whether the Appellant authorised the suit or whether the 1st -3rd Respondents’ (Njoku’s faction) counsel that any decision on the application at the interlocutory stage would have a bearing on the substantive matter…
“The decision of the trial court in this regard, is in line with the legion of judicial authorities of this court and that of the Apex Court that a court hearing the merits of a substantive case at an interlocutory stage is not permitted under our legal system…
“On the whole, I find no merit in this appeal and same is hereby dismissed. The ruling of the trial court delivered by A.R Mohammed J on December 10, 2020, whereby it deferred its ruling on the said application till the final determination of the substantive suit is hereby affirmed.
“Consequently, the learned trial judge is hereby ordered to give the suit before him an accelerated hearing. Parties are to bear their costs.”
The other Justices on the panel concurred with the lead judgment. But, as Justice Abubakar Sadiq Umar sounded the gavel, the weight of the ruling resonated on the faces of counsel to the Oye and Njoku factions.
While there were glints of triumphant relief in the expression of Chief C. N. Nwagbo, counsel to the 1st to the 3rd Respondents, Olanipekun SAN and co (representing Oye’s faction) appeared puzzled.
However, the greatest puzzle going forward is how APGA would extricate itself from mushrooms of various litigations sprouting at different courts across the country.
There is no doubt that the favourable court rulings from Bauchi, Ibadan and Delta State constitute a serious structural incubus for APGA, especially for Governor Willie Obiano, whose determination to implant a former CBN governor, Prof. Soludo as his predecessor has been receiving a lot of bashings.
Why did the party and its leader, Obiano fail to forge a political solution to the lingering problems created by the fractured 2019 national convention or even rumbling outcome of the governorship primary? Will Prince Nicholas Ukachukwu of the Njoku faction be the ultimate beneficiary of the legal rumble, or will Obiano steer all gladiators to line up behind Soludo for a good showing in the forthcoming governorship poll? Only time, as they say, will tell.