By Nduka Edede Chisom
On the 16th of June 2021, Alhaji Rabiu Garba Aliyu, an indigene and resident of Jigawa State, approached the Jigawa State High Court and sought relief from the Court to be declared as the Acting National Chairman of the All Progressives Grand Alliance (APGA). His contention was that he, rather than Chief Jude Okeke, was the rightful person to the seat following the suspension of Chief Edozie Njoku by the National Executive Committee of the Party on the 15th June, 2021.
Upon service of the processes, Okeke through his counsel responded to the suit on the 24th June, 2021. The Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC), which was sued as the 2nd respondent, also filed their response and the case was argued.
Justice Musa Ubale, before whom the case was filed on 30th June 2021, gave his judgment in the case and found in favour of Okeke as the rightful chairman of the party with powers to conduct governorship primaries of the Party including that of Anambra State which the plaintiff sought was his right to conduct.
Barely a week later on the 6th July, 2021, Chief P. I. N. Ikwueto, on behalf of Chief Victor Oye and APGA, filed a Notice of Appeal and also a notion seeking leave of the Court to appeal as an interested person. Also Chief Edozie Njoku, the National Chairman whom the plaintiff claimed was suspended by the NEC of the party acting through Chike Onyemenam, also filed his motion seeking leave to appeal as an interested person on the 22nd July, 2021.
The plaintiff in the suit filed his own appeal through Chibuzor Ezike on the 30th June, 2021, the same day the judgment was delivered.
The courts in Nigeria being on their annual vacation and the case being an election related case, the President of the court of Appeal set up a panel of three Justices headed by Hon. Justice Haruna Simon Tsammani. Other members of the Special Appeal Panel are Justice Usman Musale and Justice Abdullahi Ridwan Maiwada. On the 28th July, 2021 when the matter came up for hearing of the appeal, the Court listed all three appeals, being the appeal by the plaintiff and the two motions seeking leave of Court to appeal as an interested person.
Chief Wole Olanipekun leading the team for Victor Oye had his matter called up first and he argued his motion fervently praying the court to grant the application and allow them to appeal.
While moving his motion, he referred to a second affidavit which he said was filed on the 26th July, 2021 and wherein he exhibited a fresh copy of a Notice of Appeal of 15 grounds and withdrew the former Notice of Appeal filed on 6th July, 2021 with only four grounds of appeal.
Hence, having withdrawn the earlier filed Notice of Appeal and relying on the fresh one, the earlier Notice of Appeal was bound to be struck out. After arguments, the court adjourned to 30th of July, 2021 for ruling.
The second matter called up was that of Chief Edozie Njoku. It went on a recess for an hour for counsel to prepare for the address. The court resumed and after taking all arguments also adjourned for ruling on the 30th July, 2021. The panel then proceeded to hear the appeal by the plaintiff and after arguments had been taken adjourned the matter sine die for judgment.
On the 30th July, 2021 in a unanimous decision, the Court of Appeal Panel granted the prayers of Chief Victor Oye and APGA by granting leave for them to appeal and also gave timelines for filing and exchange of all processes.
In the second ruling of the day, the panel unanimously again held that the case before it was a pre-election matter and by the requirements of the Constitution, the appeal ought to be filed within 14 days. It cited Section 285(11) of the Constitution as being binding on the court.
Also relying on the expanded interpretation of Section 285(14) of the 1999 Constitution of the Supreme Court authority in APC v. Umar & Ors (2019) LPELR- 47297, the court held that the issue in the trial court, though being on the issue of who becomes the chairman of the party with powers to conduct the primaries of the impending Anambra Governorship election was a pre-election matter and the appeal ought to be filed within 14 days. It then correctly struck out the motion of Chief Edozie Njoku for being incompetent.
But on a close look, one would find that the contention of parties at the High Court was on the national leadership of the party which was in contention and wherein the plaintiff asked for relief that he be declared chairman and not the 1st defendant and that the court should nullify all actions of the defendant to conduct the primaries in Anambra and hand over such powers to him. This is the leg of the suit in the High Court that squarely made the matter a pre-election matter as was held in the case of APC V Umar & Ors (Supra).
Also being an issue which borders on the national leadership of the party which is an intra-party matter, any High Court of a state has requisite jurisdiction to entertain the matter. APGA being a national party and having offices in all the states of the federation and also the second defendant, INEC having offices in all states of the federation, the Jigawa State High Court which is in the state of residence of the plaintiff was correctly clothed with the territorial jurisdiction to determine the matter.
Furthermore, on the argument that assuming without conceding that the matter was a pre-election matter that the matter at the High Court was filed after 14 days the cause of action arose, the cause of action being the 31st May 2019, National Convention of the party held in Owerri, it can be said that this argument is a very wrong interpretation or understanding of the contention at the High Court.
The contention was the appointment of the 1st defendant, Chief Jude Okeke as acting National Chairman by the NEC of the party on the 15th June, 2021 and the suit was filed on 16th June, 2021 and all the responses were filed within time and judgment delivered within the constitutionally provided time for judgment to be delivered in a pre-election matter.
The issue was about an intra-party dispute brought by a Jigawa indigene who claimed to be an official of APGA and wanted to stop Jude Okeke from being the acting chairman and Okeke defeated him. Okeke is the victim here not the aggressor. Okeke was dragged to court in Jigawa, he did not go to Jigawa on his own.
Therefore, it can be rightly said that the Jigawa State High Court’s APGA leadership judgment is a historical pre-election case that complied with rules of territorial jurisdiction while resolving APGA’s endless crisis and the self-inflicted woes.
•Nduka Edede Chisom is a la
wyer and a director at the center for Justice, Equity and Due Process Compliance.