OPINION: Rivers APC legal tussle: Is Appeal Court trying to overrule the Supreme Court?

OPINION: Rivers APC legal tussle: Is Appeal Court trying to overrule the Supreme Court?

Editor's note: Chibuike Ephraim Briggs, a political advocate based in Port Harcourt, writes on the legal tussle currently being witnessed in the Rivers state chapter of the All Progressives Congress (APC) with a focus on the recent pronouncements by the Appeal Court.

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The leadership crisis in the All Progressives Congress (APC) Rivers state chapter and the consequent litigations trailing it have reached a crescendo. What started as an open letter by Rt. Hon. Igo Aguma the current acting/caretaker committee chairman of APC in Rivers state, published on Tuesday, December 3, 2019, on The Nation Newspaper, titled APC CRISIS IN RIVERS STATE: SAVE OUR SOULS!! seeking for an internal resolution of the deputations via intervention by the national leadership of the party,  later found vent in the court rooms.

This resulted in judgments and appeals up to the Supreme Court aside from the curious overnight movement of appeal case files from the Port Harcourt Division of the Court of Appeal to Abuja allegedly influenced by a top government official through the president of the Court of Appeal which concerns were a hotspot subject of media war and petitions to the National Judicial Council (NJC).

The history of the crisis dates back to 2018 when the transportation minister, Chibuike Amaechi undeniably and reportedly vowed to destroy the APC in Rivers state should Senator Magnus Abe run for the governorship seat haven warned him in the presence of his (Abe) wife never to dare it because he (the minister) had a favourite candidate against the wishes of stakeholders and the party constitution. This resulted in the crisis that characterised the congresses and primaries which believed was censored by the minister. 

OPINION: Rivers APC legal tussle: Is Appeal Court trying to overrule the Supreme Court?
The APC national caretaker committee chairman has a lot to do to restore peace in the Rivers APC. Photo credit: @OfficialAPCNg
Source: Facebook

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In a bid to rescue the party from its death-end, Igo Aguma came to do the yeoman's job of seeking cohesion and conciliation in line with the party's constitution since the national leadership seemed to be avoiding anything "Amaechi" to avoid maybe offending him. A list of caretaker committee members was surreptitiously and singlehandedly donated to the national leadership of the APC for inauguration as a caretaker for Rivers state chapter of the party without consultation with stakeholders.

This led to the course of action cum litigation where Igo Aguma a statutory member of the party approached the court as of right and prayed that he be declared the bonafide caretaker committee chairman of APC Rivers state given that the constitution of the APC does not allow for the dissolution of statutory members of the party even if the tenure of the state working committee elapses or the formation or the composition of a caretaker committee for the state chapter without first the inclusion of Statutory members of the party in line with the party constitution.

He also sought the dissolution of the illegal and now-defunct caretaker committee led by Isaac Ogbobula who is not a statutory member of the party. The court in its wisdom granted almost the prayers by Igo Aguma and declared Rt. Hon. Igo Aguma as caretaker committee chairman of APC Rivers state and dissolved the Isaac Ogbobula led illegal structure loyal to Rotimi Amaechi Amaechi with a further directive to work towards reconciliation.  The substantive judgment in Suit No: PHC/4355/2019 which is still in force is also a subject of appeals up to the Supreme Court and the judgment was both declaratory and executory fully enforced and consummated. 

In what is absolutely in law dead on arrival, the Court of Appeal in Abuja led by His Lordship Justice Stephen Adah on 17th July  2020, ordered a stay of execution of the fully enforced judgement in what can be linked to looking for the child in the womb when it had already been aborted. The court was verily put on notice that the matter before it was now a subject of a pending appeal before the Supreme Court following some rulings it gave. The desperation exhibited by the appeal panel was so much that even the laymen in the court room were murmuring and raising eyebrows over the strange order.

First is that upon being put on notice, the Appeal Court immediately announced that it was disqualified from the matter, pending the determination by the Supreme Court. Yet, it still went on after doing the needful to make a pronouncement of a purported stay of execution on the matter before the Supreme Court knowing that firstly it had lost and so lacked powers to make further orders on the matter for want of jurisdiction which it ab initio admitted as the matter was now before the Supreme Court. Secondly,  the stay was dead on arrival and of no consequence because the judgement which was both declaratory and executory had been fully enforced and the court knows better that in law, a declaratory and executory judgement already executed cannot be stayed. Little wonder the organisation that petitioned the NJC and the president of the Court of Appeal alleged that the panel was already compromised to favour a political end at all costs.

What then is the deal? During a hearing of the matter sometimes in October 2020, the Appeal Court emphasised that it did not restrain Rt. Hon. Igo Aguma from functioning as caretaker committee chairman of APC Rivers state. 

However, the Supreme Court in Ibrahim Umar's case made it abundantly clear in its judgement that those who paid for forms to contest for congresses in River state APC in 2019 can not be excluded and that it was "self-immolation" for the party to disobey judgement or seek to exclude them at all. In Dele Moses, the Supreme Court reinforced its earlier position that only those who paid for forms will contest at the APC congresses in Rivers state.

Surprisingly, the Court of Appeal may have resolved to overrule and set aside the judgement of the Supreme Court to favour the Transportation Minister using another wand. In APC v. Igo Aguma, Isaac Ogbobula v. Igo Aguma respectively all touching on the judgement of the Court which is a subject of Appeal before the Supreme Court,  the Appeal Court has undermined, disregarded jettisoned the needful to stay proceedings on these subjects which hearing at the Supreme Court is slated for January 16, 2020. The Court of Appeal is still going ahead to preempt as well as circumvent curiously the Supreme Court in a bid to seat on appeal over the Supreme Court and give judgement on December 29, 2020, so hurriedly, to Rotimi Amaechi whose bidding they appear to be doing.

What could if at all be the interest of the learned justices of the Court of Appeal or the judiciary in not adjudicating within the law and known rules of court in this or these matters of political concerns? At what point did the courts begin to pretend about following precedents in allowing superior courts to determine appeals before giving judgement on substantive suits if not for purposes of compromising the cases?

This concern is legitimate because it brings fundamental questions on the sanctity of the bench albeit substantially with a measure of vested interest with the boldness that nothing will happen!

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