Romanus Ugwu, Abuja
The All Progressives Congress (APC) National Working Committee (NWC) has threatened to petition the National Judicial Council (NJC), over what it described as the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) legal manipulation of the state chapter of the party and fueling the crisis.
The ruling party statement issued by the party’s National Publicity Secretary, Mallam Lanre Issa-Onilu, accused Justice Augusta Kingsley-Chukwu, whose husband contested for chairmanship of Local Government Area under PDP, of entertaining the suit and granting an injunction restraining the APC and the caretaker committee from taking any steps.
“Following disputation in the Rivers State chapter of the APC, we bring to the attention of the NJC the suspicious handling of our court case by Justice Augusta Kingsley-Chukwu and the apparent machinations of the PDP.
“After the Supreme Court decision to nullify the APC Congresses in Rivers State and effectively disqualify our party from participating in the 2019 governorship elections in Rivers State, the APC decided to restrategise and reposition the party.
“On September 6, 2019 the APC constituted a caretaker committee to pilot the affairs of the party in Rivers State. The party also scheduled the conduct of congresses to elect the executives of the party at various levels.
“One Ibrahim Umah immediately instituted a court action at the Rivers State High Court challenging the proposed congresses of the APC and obtained an interim injunction restraining the APC from conducting the proposed congresses.
“The APC objected to the jurisdiction of the court to entertain the suit and on December 18, 2019 the court struck out the suit for want of jurisdiction, thereby allowing the APC to proceed with its restrategising process and conduct of congresses.
“Before the court rendered its decision striking out the suit, one Igo Aguma filed a similar suit against the APC challenging the composition of the caretaker committee. The suit was filed on December 16, 2019 and assigned to Justice Augusta Kingsley-Chukwu. The APC was entitled to 21 days within which to enter an appearance and file a defence to the suit. Curiously, it was brought to our attention that Justice Augusta Kingsley-Chukwu had abridged the time to 48 hours.
“Our curiosity was further heightened when we discovered that the husband of Justice Augusta Kingsley-Chukwu is a PDP leader who had previously contested for the position of Chairman of Obio/Akpor local government area and currently serves as the legal adviser of the PDP in Rivers State.
“It is now obvious that the PDP being the ultimate beneficiary of the inability of the APC to elect its state executives for more than one year owing to judicial restrictions have deployed professional litigants and judicial staff to aid their unholy interference in the affair of the APC.
“They have put their plans to action by getting minions to institute frivolous suit and ensuring that the suit is assigned to Justice Augusta Kingsley-Chukwu, wife of a top PDP leader in Rivers State.
“Expectedly, the APC had reasonable apprehension that Justice Augusta Kingsley-Chukwu will not be able to discharge her duties as a judicial officer objectively without interference.
“The foregoing fears led the Rivers State APC to forward a petition to the Chief Judge of Rivers State requesting the reassignment of the suit to another judge of the Rivers State High Court for adjudication. This petition was endorsed to Justice Augusta Kingsley-Chukwu.
“On December 20, 2019, the suit was listed before Justice Augusta Kingsley-Chukwu for hearing of the pending application. Our counsel drew the attention of the court to the petition pending before the chief judge as well as the weighty allegations contained therein.
“The APC expected Justice Augusta Kingsley-Chukwu to have followed the time-honoured tradition of judicial officers such as Justice Zainab Bulkachuwa, President of the Court of Appeal and Justice Mary Peter Odili JSC who had recused themselves from adjudicating over cases that would likely impact on the political interest of their spouses.
“Disappointedly, Augusta Kingsley-Chukwu proceeded to entertain the suit and granted an injunction restraining the APC and the caretaker committee from taking any steps whatsoever.
“It is clear to us that the PDP in connivance with Justice Augusta Kingsley-Chukwu has perfected plans to keep APC in Rivers State in perpetual paralysis through endless suits and injunctions. The APC rejects the PDP’s attempt to make Rivers a one-party state and will be taking the following steps:
“Petition the National Judicial Council over Justice Augusta Kingsley-Chukwu insistence to proceed with the determination of the suit despite the obvious grounds of bias and conflict of interest
“Petition the Chief Judge of Rivers State requesting the reassignment of the suit to another judge of the Rivers State High Court for adjudication.
“We call on the Chief Justice of Nigeria to caution judicial officers in Rivers State and indeed the entire country not to drag the Judiciary into the internal affairs of the APC by perpetually stopping our party from conducting simple congresses in Rivers State.
“As a party, we can no longer fold our arms and watch this abuse of judicial powers in Rivers State continue,” the statement read.