Godwin Tsa, Abuja
The Abuja division of the Federal High Court has declined its jurisdiction to entertain a suit filed by the national headquarters of the People’s Democratic Party (PDP) challenging the powers of the Ogun State chapter of the party to conduct party congresses in the state.
Justice Ahmed Mohammed, who delivered the judgment, held that the suit was an invitation on his court by the plaintiffs to sit on appeal over a question already determined by another judge of the same Federal High Court.
The judge specifically made reference to the subsisting judgment delivered on June 24, 2016, by Justice IN Buba in a suit marked “FHC/L/CS/636/2016”, which he held has resolved the issue on whether or not the Ogun State PDP EXCO could conduct congresses in the state.
The judge, who noted that the 2016 suit was filed in the Lagos division of the court by Chief Adebayo Dayo as Ogun State Chairman and on behalf of the state PDP EXCO, held that parties in both the old and the new cases are the same. He proceeded to strike out the new suit.
The national PDP had, in the latest suit, marked “FHC/ABJ/CS/208/2020”, prayed the court to among others, hold that by virtue of the party’s amended constitution of 2017, the 2020 PDP Guidelines for the conduct of congresses, the 1999 Constitution and the Electoral Act, it is the exclusive function of the National Working Committee of the PDP to appoint congress committee members for the purpose of conducting elections into the party’s executive offices from the ward level to the national level.
Listed as defendants in the suit were Engr (Chief) Dayo, Mrs Bimbo Lanre-Balogun, Sampson K Bamgbose, Mr. Mulikat Kusimo, Awoyemi Segun, Alhaji Kola Aknyemi, Hon Bola Odumosun and Olasunkanmi Oyejde.
Justice Mohammed, in the judgement on Tuesday, held that ‘it is not in doubt that that court (the Lagos division of the court) was called upon to determine whether the plaintiff therein (Engr. Dayo), who is the first defendant herein and the Ogun State’ Executive Committee have the power to conduct Ward, LGA and state congresses of the plaintiff in Ogun State.’
The judge further held that the main question determined in the 2016 case has rendered this case (FHC/ABJ/CS/208/2020) incompetent.
The judge, in holding that parties are the same in both cases, noted that the plaintiff in the earlier suit, who is the first defendant in this suit, sued for himself and on behalf of the Ogun State EXCO of the PDP.
He also noted that the national body of the PDP was the second defendant in the case decided in 2016 and that in the instant case, the national PDP also sued members of the Ogun State EXCO.
The judge said the parties in the instant case, having been part of the 2016 case, are bound by the decision in the earlier case.
Justice Mohammed said it is ‘the finding of this court that the issue in contention herein has been successfully and adequately put to rest by my learned brother, IN Buba in suit FHC/L/CS/636/2016.
‘In consequence thereof, I find this suit as an invitation on this court to examine or review the decision of my learned brother, IN Buba, in suit number 636/2016, which invitation I will not accede to. I am not competent to do that.
‘The plaintiff and all the defendants are bound by the decision in the suit: FHC/L/CS/636/2016.’
The judge faulted the argument by Chris Uche, SAN, for the plaintiff, to the effect that the judgment in “FHC/L/CS/636/2016” is not a judgment on the merit because the lawyer of the defendant in that case conceded to the plaintiff’s claims.
He said there can not be a better judgment on the merit than that in which the counsel to the defendant appeared n court and conceded to the clams of the plaintiff.
Justice Mohammed noted that, from a copy of the 2016 judgment tendered in court, it was noted that OO Fakunle, SAN, appeared for the second defendant in that suit (PDP) and told the court that he was conceding to the plaintiff’s claims.
He said that although there are decisions of appellate courts on which body, between state and national EXCOs of a political party, has the power to organise and conduct state congresses, he cannot apply such authorities because of the peculiarity of this case.
‘My hands are certainly tied by the decision of my learned brother alluded to above. I cannot sit on appeal or review the decision of my learned brother, IN Buba, for the reasons I adduced above,’ the judge said.
The judge noted that if he should proceed to hold that it is the national EXCO of the party that has the power to organise and conduct state congresses, he would have sat on appeal over the decision by Justice Buba, who has the same jurisdiction as his.
He said such a development will create a situation where there would be two separate decisions on the same issues by two judges of the same court.
Justice Mohammed said the option opened to the plaintiff is to apply to the Court of Appeal to ask that the decision by Justice Buba be set aside in the face of the decisions of the appellate courts on the issue.
‘It is the decision of this court that this suit is caught up by the doctrine of issue estoppel. I also hold that this court has no jurisdiction to hear this suit. It is hereby struck out for being incompetent,’ the judge ruled.