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Two Federal High Courts – one in Abuja and the other in Port Harcourt – stuck to their conflicting rulings on the convention.
Justice Ibrahim Watila of the Port Harcourt court gave the greenlight for the convention, but his Abuja counterpart, Justice Okon Abang stopped the convention. The police drafted to seal off the venue of the convention also released tear gas on passerby.
The judges were ruling on separate suits brought by the PDP caretaker committee led by Senator Ahmed Makarfi and the National Executive Committee (NEC) chaired by Senator Ali Modu Sheriff.
Justice Watila refused the request of the Sheriff camp to joined in the suit filed by the Convention Planning Committee secretary Senator Ben Obi against the police, Department of State Services (DSS) and the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC).
In the suit, Obi prayed the court to direct the police and DSS to provide security for the convention while INEC should monitor the exercise.
There was drama in court as Sheriff’s lawyers fought for him to be joined in the case. Justice Watila declined their request as he rebuffed all efforts by Yemi George (SAN) to announce his appearance for Sheriff.
George arrived in court while Oladejo Lamikanra (SAN) for Obi was arguing his client’s case. Justice Watila stood the case down till 2pm for his ruling.
On resumption, George renewed efforts to announce his appearance, “at least”, for what he called “record purpose”, but the judge shouted him down.
He accused George of attempting “to arrest the ruling”.
Justice Watila said: “You cannot be heard in this case, there is nothing before me. You cannot just come from nowhere to seek to be joined, this matter is for ruling. I adjourned it since morning and have been working since then, you did not file your processes.
“Sit down, this is not a kangaroo court, I am not a politician, neither am I a businessman. The convention in question is tomorrow (today), and you know the exigency of this ruling to the convention.”
In his ruling, Justice Watila held that the Makarfi committee is the executive authority in all matters concerning PDP.
Ordering the Police, DSS and INEC to participate in the convention, he said: “It is necessary for the defendants to carry out their respective functions at the 17th August, 2016 convention”.
The court stressed that all the defendants were bound to obey the decision.
“This court will not shy away from protecting the sanctity of its judgment. The court has held that the appointment of the PDP National Caretaker Committee is valid. In view of the subsisting judgment of this Honourable Court in Suit No:FHC/PH /CS /524/2016, PDP V. Senator Ali-Modu Sheriff and others, the defendants cannot lawfully interfere or prevent the Plaintiff from organising /holding the Planned National Convention of the PDP in Port Harcourt on August 17th 2016.”
He said the defendants were served all the processes by Obi, but they chose not to contest the facts.
Justice Watila said court records showed that the proceedings and order of 10th August, 2016 and the interlocutory injunction of 15th August, 2016 were served on the defendants with proof of service .
After the court rose, George told reporters: “I am counsel to Alhaji Modu Sheriff. We became aware of the matter in court yesterday (Monday). Our client briefed us to apply to be joined, that was why we were in court today (yesterday) and the court in his wisdom decided not to even look at the processes not to talk of deciding it one way or the other.
“The court’s action is against what is the normal principle that is known to everybody. The Supreme Court has already established it that no matter how stupid an application is, it must be decided one way or the other. But in his wisdom, he decided not to even look at it.”
Asked if his application was not a deliberate attempt to arrest the ruling, he said: “It cannot be an attempt to arrest ruling because, the parties in the initial case decided by Justice Muhammad Liman also of the Port Harcourt Federal High Court were six and they came to enforce against three, and the other people are saying, we are parties to that judgement, we have appealed and we should be allowed to also say something in respect of this new one filed, but the court in its wisdom said no we cannot do so.”
Stopping the convention , Justice Abang ordered INEC not to monitor it.
He reaffirmed his interim orders made on Monday, converting them to an interlocutory injunction to last until the determination of the substantive suit filed by Sheriff and members of his group.
The ruling was on a motion on notice for interlocutory injunction argued by the plaintiffs’ lawyer, Adeniyi Akintola (SAN).
The judge faulted the decision of his Port Harcourt counterpart to assume jurisdiction on the case relating to the PDP convention and directed that his order be accompanied with Form 48 (Notice of disobedience of court order) and served on the INEC Chairman and Secretary.
He said failure by INEC or any of the defendants to comply with his order “will attract disciplinary action” provided “the plaintiffs know what to do.”
The judge also directed the Inspector-General of Police (IGP) to among others, ensure the enforcement of his orders.
The judge held that the motion was not opposed by the respondents.
He said the Makarfi camp, which was yesterday joined as the third to the ninth respondents in the case adopted the strategy of not filing a counter-affidavit but filed other processes that were not placed in the court file.
Justice Abang said the request for an adjournment by lawyers to Makarfi and others – Yunus Ustaz (SAN) and Ferdinand Orbih (SAN) – after Akintola had moved his motion was an afterthought.
“Having asked the court to adjourn to the next day to enable him file response to the plaintiffs’ processes, the lawyer to the 3rd to 9the defendants (Makarfi and eight other members of his committee) have waived their rights to be served within seven days,” the judge said.
He noted that, rather than file a counter-affidavit to the plaintiffs’ motion for injunction, the defendants’ lawyers chose to file other processes that were only referred by the lawyer, but not placed in the court’s file.
“The issue of asking for an adjournment is an afterthought. Therefore, a counsel will sink or float with the decision taken by him in the discharge of his professional duties to his client,” the judge said.
Noting that lawyer to the PDP, Olagoke Fakunle (SAN) and that of INEC, Alhassan Umar, did not oppose the motion for injunction, the judge said: “In any case, the plaintiffs’ application is not opposed by any of the parties.
“The law must take its course. The facts placed before this court are unchallenged and uncontroverted by the respondents when they had the opportunity to do so. The facts deposed to by the plaintiffs are credible.
“The plaintiffs’ application is not opposed by any of the parties. I so hold. The defendants have not filed counter-affidavit to the application. They have opportunity of filing counter-affidavit and they failed to do so. The law must take its course.
“It is my view that the facts placed before the court are unchallenged and uncontroverted by the defendants when they had the opportunity to do so. They had opportunity to file counter-affidavit, they failed to do so; they filed preliminary objection.
“Their objection was not in the court’s file. I rely on the authority of the Supreme Court. The facts deposed to by the plaintiffs are credible and are deserving to grant the application in the overall interest of justice.
“The plaintiffs’ application therefore succeeds and is accordingly granted as prayed in line with the reliefs endorsed on the motion paper dated July 20, 2016 and I make the following orders:
“An order of interlocutory injunction is hereby made restraining the defendants (the nine of them), their servants, agents, howsoever named from conducting the national convention of PDP and from supervising or monitoring same under any guise and for electing any national officer of the (second) defendant (PDP), and for recognising same in any manner whatsoever pending the determination of the substantive suit.
“An order of interlocutory injunction is hereby made restraining the PDP from presenting anybody and from sponsoring anybody for election into its offices and holding national convention, conference whatever name for the purpose of electing national officers of the second defendant pending the determination of this suit.
“Prayer 3 is refused. The orders of Buba J. and the order of Idris J. are subsisting. You can take step to enforce the order. Prayer 3 is hereby refused and accordingly struck out. I so hold.
“An order of interlocutory injunction is hereby made restraining the INEC from monitoring the national convention of PDP scheduled for Port Harcourt on Wednesday, August 17, 2016 or any other day and from accepting, publishing or recognising, conference or convention howsoever named being planned by second defendant.
“The Inspector-General of Police shall enforce the order until all applications are disposed of.
“The plaintiffs shall endorse Form 48 and serve and all the defendants, especially INEC to accompany the order.
“Learned counsel for INEC shall inform the Chairman of the INEC of the court’s decision and failure to comply with the order of the court will attract disciplinary action against any party in disobedience provided the plaintiffs know what to do.”
Justice Abang blamed his Port Harcourt counterpart for the conflicting orders on the convention.
“The Federal High Court, having regard to Section 249(1) of the Constitution, is one court, but with several divisions, for administrative convenience to bring administration of justice nearer to the people.
“The issue of whether or not the PDP should hold its convention was raised by the plaintiffs in this suit. The case was assigned by the Chief Judge to this court on the 4th of July. Assigning a case to a judge is a constitutional duty of the Chief Judge of this court and no person can question it because it is an administrative decision.
“The issue of whether the PDP should hold its convention, having been assigned to this court, no other division of the Federal High Court ought to be seised of the matter in the same manner, so as to avoid conflicting decisions,” he said.
The judge noted that in any civilised country, like Nigeria where there is the Court of Appeal to correct any error that may arise from the proceedings of the high court, parties ought to have availed themselves such opportunity rather than going before another division of the Federal High Court with the same suit.
Justice Abang said though he lacked the power to review the decision of the Port Harcourt court, except it was a nullity, the judge should have drawn the Chief Judge’s attention to the new case filed before it on the same issue already before the Abuja division.
He said the unenviable situation today would have been avoided if the judge in the Port-Harcourt division of the court had refused to assume jurisdiction over a case filed on August 9 after the Abuja division was already handling similar case filed in July.
Justice Abang, who queried the jurisdiction of the Port Harcourt court over the matter, when parties like PDP and INEC have their headquarters in Abuja, said his court was not struggling jurisdiction with the Port Harcourt division, but that it is concerned about the conflicting decisions.
“The attitude of my brother judge in Port-Harcourt is what the Supreme Court condemned in the case of NIBS v. Union Bank reported in part 2004 NWLR.
“Therefore, the Port Harcourt division of the Federal High Court cannot make an order neutralising the order made by this court.
“This is so because a court of coordinate jurisdiction cannot make an order that has the effect of overruling the order made by this court on the 28th of July restraining parties from taking any steps in relation to the subject matter of this suit. Any person that disobeys the court will have himself to blame. Nobody should bring himself with the direct confrontation of this court,” Justice Abang said.
The judge expressed discomfort over media report about the comments reportedly made by Prince Dayo Adeyeye (who is the 8th defendant in the case and a member of the Makarfi committee) castigating the court and judge for the interim orders made on August 15.
The judge said, but for the fact that the court is patient, it would have moved against Adeyeye for assuming judicial powers to query the court’s decision and make disparaging comments about the court.
Further hearing in the substantive suit has been adjourned till September 7.