Godwin Tsa, Abuja
The Chairman of the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC), Prof. Yakubu Mahmoud, got some reprieve, on Monday, as the Abuja division of the Court of Appeal stopped the execution of the warrant of arrest ordered against him by a Federal High Court.
The appellate court granted a stay of execution of the arrest warrant on Yakubu pending the determination of the appeal he filed before the court.
Justice Stephen Pam of the Federal High Court, Abuja had, on the August 1, 2018, ordered for the arrest of Yakubu, following his absence in court on three different occasions, to show cause why he should not be committed to prison over his alleged disobedience to the order of the court.
Justice Pam, also in a short ruling on August 8, reaffirmed the order, when Yakubu, on the last adjourned date, failed to show up.
His counsel, Chief Adegboyega Awomolo SAN, had informed the court that Yakubu was not in court as a result of the appeals he filed at the appellate court challenging the court’s jurisdiction to entertain the contempt charge, the legality of the charge as well as the arrest order.
The INEC chief in the notice of appeal, claimed that Justice Pam acted in bad faith in the issuance of the arrest order because he had already filed a pending appeal against the order and the attention of the judge drawn to the appeal.
When the matter came up, on Monday, counsel to the INEC chief, told the court that he had filed an application challenging the judgment of the lower court as well as its jurisdiction to hear the matter, adding that the application was supported by a further affidavit dated August 10, praying for the appellate court to make five orders in favour of his client.
Awomolo SAN said if the appeal was not heard by the time the court would be sitting in September, his client would have been sent to prison, adding that the lower court was bent on sending Yakubu to jail.
However, counsel to the respondents, Goddy Uche SAN, insisted that the trial was yet to reach the stage where Yakubu could be jailed, adding that what the trial court is asking for is for the INEC chief to appear in court to show cause why he should not be committed to prison.
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He said the trial judge had been unable to deliver his ruling on the contempt charge because of Yakubu’s continued absence in court.
However, the trial could not proceed further following the court’s decision to avoid going into the substantive matter.
The three man panel of the court of appeal, presided by Justice Abdu Aboki, held that it would be better for the court to take the appeal and the substantive suit together.
The court in the meantime then ordered for a stay of execution of the warrant of arrest on Yakubu as well as a stay of proceedings of the matter at the trial court.
The court in a short ruling, held that hearing of the appeal cannot go on without delving into the main suit, adding that parties are yet to file their brief of argument.
“Parties have agreed that the application cannot be taken today, since they have not filed their argument”, he said, adding that, argument cannot be taken without delving into the main issues.
” The proper order is to adjourn for parties to file their brief of argument and since the court below is aware of the appeal and considering the legality of the warrant of arrest issued, it would be prejudicial for the lower court to continue with the case.
“We therefore stay execution of the warrant of arrest pending the determination of this appeal and the substantive suit which would be taken together at the adjourned date”, the court held.
The matter was therefore adjourned till the 17 of September, 2018 for the hearing of the appeal and the substantive suit.
Yakubu, within a space of 24 hours after a Federal High Court in Abuja, issued a bench warrant for his arrest on alleged disobedience to court orders, approached the Court of Appeal to quash the arrest order.
Among others, yakubu claimed that no order was enrolled and served on him for his personal appearance in court as required by law.
He averred that the warrant of arrest against him was a nullity because none of the parties in the contempt case applied for issuance of bench warrant except the judge who did so of his own.
The INEC chief maintained that he had not disobeyed any court order because he was not present before the court when the alleged order directing his personal presence was made and that Justice Pam who issued the order has no jurisdiction to punish him for the alleged disobedience of court order committed ex-facie curie (outside the court).
Yakubu in the notice of appeal predicated on five grounds claimed that the Federal High Court Judge was wrong to be a judge of his own order allegedly not obeyed outside the face of the court.
He maintained that he was no longer a contemnor at the Federal High Court under the strength of his appeal lodged at the Court of Appeal challenging the justification of the contempt charge against him.
Besides, Yakubu asserted that Justice Pam committed a grave miscarriage of justice, when he unilaterally struck out a motion on notice he filed on July 31 praying his court to adjourn the contempt charge against him pending the determination of his appeal on the contempt charge at the Court of Appeal.
He insisted that the trial court breached section 36 of the 1999 constitution by striking out his motion without hearing it, thereby denying him his right to fair hearing in the determination on merit of his application.
He, therefore, prayed the Court of Appeal for an order setting aside the entire ruling of Justice Pam delivered on August 1, during which a bench warrant for his arrest was issued.
Yakubu also prayed for an order of the appellate court remitting the contempt charge marked FHC/ABJ/CS/854/2015 back to the Chief Judge of the Federal High Court for reassignment to another judge of the court for hearing and determination of the matter, on the grounds that Justice Pam had exhibited patent bias against him in his handling of the matter.
Respondents in the notice of appeal are Ejike Oguebego and Chuks Okoye, Chairman and legal adviser respectively of the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) Anambra State, who instituted the contempt charge for themselves and on behalf of other members of the Executive Committee of the party in the state.
Following the service of Form 49 on Prof Mahmood, the court summoned him to show cause why he should not be committed to prison for having disobeyed the order of the court made on December 5, 2014, restraining him from accepting or receiving or according recognition to any list of nominated candidates for elective posts for the Senate, House of Representatives and House of Assembly of Anambra state in the 2015 general elections except those that emanated from the plaintiffs, which order was affirmed by the Supreme Court on January 29, 2016.