Godwin Tsa, Abuja
The protracted legal tussle over the leadership of the All Progressives Congress (APC) in Delta State has shifted to the Supreme Court with the Chief Cyril Ogodo-led leadership of the party asking for a declaration that it is the authentic leadership of the party.
In doing that, the appellants asked the apex court to first of all set aside the judgment of the Court of Appeal which had sacked it and reinstated Jones Erue leadership as the executive committee of the party in the state.
The Court of Appeal had in a judgment delivered by Justice Jimi Olukayode Bada, Chidi Nwaoma Uwa and Muhammed L. Shuaibu on May 19, set aside the judgment of the Federal High Court, Asaba Division which had upheld the Ogodo-led executive committee as the authentic leadership of the party in Delta State.
The Asaba division of the Federal High Court, had on March 18, sacked the Jones Erue-led executive of the party in Delta State. The court had also voided the participation of Great Ogboru as the All Progressives Congress (APC) candidate in the 2019 governorship election in Delta.
This was consequent upon the case filed by the Cyril Ogodo-led faction of the party, urging the court to recognise it as the authentic APC executive in Delta State.
The Ogodo-led faction had also urged the court to sack the Erue-led executive which produced Mr Ogboru as the party’s governorship candidate.
The court in its judgement similarly upheld the full template of the Ogodo faction’s candidates, including Dr. Pat Utomi, O’tega Emerhor and Ima Niboro as the party’s authentic candidates in the just-concluded elections.
The Ogodo faction fielded Mr Emerhor for the Delta Central Senatorial District election and Mr Niboro for the Ughelli North/South/Udu Federal Constituency seat in the House of Representatives.
Dissatisfied with that decision, the Erue-led faction of the party and the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) had gone to the Court of Appeal to challenge the decision of the lower court and the Court of Appeal in a unanimous decision allowed the appeal and restored the Erue-led leadership on the grounds that the matter was filed out of time and therefore statute barred.
Justice Chidi Nwaoma Uwa who read the judgement held that the lower court lacked jurisdiction to entertain the suit as it bordered on an intra-party matter.
The court stated that the failure of the respondents to file their suit within 14 days of the issue complained of (pre-election) extinguished their rights.
But in a swift reaction, the Ogodo-led State executive committee of the party through their counsel O.J Oghenejakpor in an appeal at the Supreme Court asked the apex court to set aside the judgment of the appellate court on the grounds that the justices of the Court of Appeal erred in law when they held that the appellants had abandoned their preliminary objection and thereby refused to entertain the preliminary objection properly raised before them and ended up striking same out without considering it.
The appellants also contended that the justices of the Court of Appeal misdirected themselves in law in their consideration of the cause of action of the appellants when they held in pages 17-18 of the judgment in part that “it is clear that the crux of the suit at the lower court is the status of the executive of 4th respondent (APC) at the State, local government wards levels in Delta State.
“The positions sought to be declared as authentic, legal and valid are various levels of political party (4th respondent and 1st defendant at the trial) officials in Delta State. It is not a suit in respect of the selection or nomination of a candidate of a political party for election who were to be sponsored by the 4th respondent. It is a case purely concerning members of the state executives of the 4th respondent in Delta State.”
The appellants further avered that their claim as disclosed from the record of appeal was a complaint against the breach of the APC Constitution, APC guidelines for the conduct of primaries, Electoral Act 2010 (as amended) and the Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria 1999 by the respondents which has vested them with a cause of action.
The appellants further contended that the lower court by limiting its consideration to reliefs 1-6 of the statement of claim, amounted to a denial of fair hearing.
They stated that the lower court took a one- sided view of the case and ignored to positively look at the case of the appellants and the findings of the Federal High Court made in respect of the issues placed before the trial court.
The appellants maintained that the Court of Appeal erred in law when they entertained the appeal of the 1st respondent and allowed even when the 1st respondent failed to lead any evidence at the trial court in support of the Vermont contained in its statement of defence.
They asked the apex court to allow the appeal in its entirety, an order setting aside the judgment of the Court of Appeal including the order as to costs and order affirming the judgment of the trail court.