The Court of Appeal sitting in Port Harcourt has upheld the ruling of the Rivers State Governorship Election Tribunal, recognising Mr. Henry Bello as the authentic counsel for the African Action Congress ( AAC) in the appeal filed by the defeated Rivers State AAC governorship candidate, Biokpomabo Awara.
The defeated State AAC governorship candidate, Awara, through his counsel, Tawo Two, a Senior Advocate of Nigeria (SAN), in suit number CA/PH/PHT/356/2019, urged the Court of Appeal to stop Bello from representing the AAC in the governorship petition.
Delivering the lead judgment, Justice Hamma Barka, struck out the AAC interlocutory appeal on the ground that the appellant has no locus to file the appeal as he was no longer the counsel for AAC.
The Court of Appeal also ruled that the appeal filed by the defeated Rivers AAC governorship candidate was incompetent, having been filed without prior leave of court.
Also, the court noted that judgement of a court was sacrosanct, which all parties were bound to obey. It emphasised that AAC has right to change its counsel based on the judgement of the Federal High Court, which recognized Leonard Nzenwa as the National Chairman of the party.
The court recognised counsel for the AAC, Bello, filed a preliminary objection on the premise of section 242 of the constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria, 1999 (as amended) , saying that the appeal was incompetent.
Counsel for the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC), Steve Adave (SAN), said the decision of the Court of Appeal laid to rest the issue of representation in the suit filed by the AAC governorship candidate.
Counsel for the AAC, Bello, said that the party sacked Omoyele Sowore and elected Leonard Nzenwo, who subsequently appointed Bello as the authentic counsel of the party.
He said that the ruling of the Court of Appeal was in consonance with the constitution, which gave the individuals the right to choose their counsels.
In a preliminary objection, Counsel for the Rivers State Governor, Nyesom Wike, Emmanuel Ukala (SAN), argued that the appellant was not a person affected by the decision or ruling of the tribunal and accordingly, has no locus standi or competence to appeal the judgement of the tribunal.
Ukala further argued that the appellant’s appeal has been mooted and rendered academic by subsequent events including the striking out of the substantive appeal by the tribunal.
Mark Agwu, who spoke on behalf of Ukala (SAN), said the ruling has proved that the appeal was a mere academic exercise and lacked merit.
“The genesis of the issue was that the petition was filed by the Chamber of Tawo E. Tawo representing both petitioners. But, in course of the processes, the AAC decided to debrief the chambers of Tawo E. Tawo and engaged the chambers of H. A. Bello to represent it. In the course of that H. A. Bello fulfilled the condition, which you can now change your counsel.
‘After that, Tawo brought an application asking court to set aside the change of counsel filed by H. A. Bello after hearing the argument. The tribunal came to the decision that the party deserves its right to engage counsel of his choice, that is sacrosanct and nobody can change it. Preliminary objection was raised to the effect that AAC, now having changed their counsel, Tawo, now lacks locus standi to represent it”, Ukala explained.
He said that the Court of Appeal has confirmed the ruling of the Federal High Court that Nzenwa is the National Chairman of the AAC
Counsel for Awara, Mr. David Adebe, of the Tawo Tawo Chambers, said they would study the judgement and decide on the next line of action.
“The court in their opinion said they did not agree with our view. But, by the time our principals consult with the client, then, they will decide which way forward”, he said.