By CLIFFORD NDUJIHE & IKECHUKWU NNOCHIRI
ABUJA—The Abuja Division of the Federal High Court, yesterday, sacked the National Chairman of the All Progressives Grand Alliance, APGA, Chief Victor Umeh from office and directed the Independent National Electoral Commission, INEC, to forthwith, recognise Chief Maxi Okwu as the chairman of the party.
The court presided by Justice Abdulkadir Abdul-Kafarati further ordered the National Secretary of the party, Alhaji Sani Shinkafi and other members of the National Working Committee, NWC, elected alongside Umeh at a convention held on February 18, 2011, in Awka Anambra State, to vacate their respective offices.
Aside Okwu, the court also directed the electoral umpire to henceforth relate with Mr. Ibrahim Carefor, Chief Dickson Ogu, Dr. Gbenga Afeni and Alhaji Abubakar Adamu as the duly elected national officers of APGA. They all emerged from a separate convention of the party that also held in Awka on April 8, 2013.
Meanwhile, Umeh, has kicked against the verdict, filed an appeal and insisted that the court had no jurisdiction to entertain the suit. His team had also dragged Justice Kafarati before the National Judicial Council, NJC.
Specifically, Justice Kafarati ruled that “Umeh and Shinkafi (1st and 2nd defendants), having been expelled from the party whether lawfully or unlawfully, regularly or irregularly, cannot validly continue to occupy the positions of National Chairman and National Secretary, respectively when the suit they filed challenging their said expulsion has not been decided and in their favour.”
He maintained that “the 2nd Defendant, having first been elected National Secretary of the party on January 10, 2003, which is over 10 years ago, cannot validly continue in office 10 years after he was first elected when by Article 18(2) of the Constitution of the party, any official of the party can only stay in office for a maximum of two terms of four years each.”
The judge equally noted that both the defendants were voted into office by voice votes rather than secret ballot as stipulated by the Constitution of APGA, a process he said, invalidated their emergence as valid national officers of the party.
He stressed that unless and until the judgement of the Awka High Court given in a suit that was earlier filed by one Michael Joe Onwudinjo, which had recognised the Okwu-led faction of the party, was set aside by a higher court, it remained binding, subsisting and must be obeyed by INEC.
Efforts to get Okwu to react to the verdict, yesterday, did not yield dividend as several calls to his mobile phone number did not go through.
However, a press statement by his Senior Media Assistant, Victor Chigozie Eneh, showed the joy that has enveloped Okwu’s camp.
Outlining how the details of the judgement, Eneh expressed happiness that Justice Abdulkadir Abdul-Kafarati granted all the reliefs sought by Okwu.
Meantime, the Umeh- led faction of the party, yesterday, took the matter before the Appeal Court sitting in Abuja, alleging that the trial judge engaged in acts of judicial rascality.
It contended that the Enugu Division of the Appeal Court had ab-initio okayed the indefinite suspension of all the Okwu-led executives from the party and stressed that the Supreme Court was already aware of the facts of the case.
Accusing the judge of overreaching his powers by delving into an issue they contended was purely within the purview of domestic affairs of a political party, Umeh and his faction, yesterday, equally filed a motion for an order staying the execution of the judgment pending the hearing and determination of their appeal.
More so, the defendants, through their lawyer, Chief Patrick N. Ikwueto, SAN, also applied for an order of injunction restraining the Okwu-led faction from interfering in the leadership and management of APGA in any manner whatsoever, including by way of dealing with INEC as officers of APGA and or from parading themselves as the validly elected national officers of the party, pending the outcome of the appeal they lodged yesterday.
It was their argument that the high court lacked the jurisdiction to entertain the suit and make orders that would affect and curtail the constitutional and inherent rights of APGA which they said was at no time, joined as a party in the matter.
In their four grounds of appeal, the Umeh-led faction, contended the Justice Abdul-Kafarati, erred in law and thereby occasioned a miscarriage of justice when it refused to uphold the preliminary objection challenging the jurisdiction of the court to entertain the suit.
Making copies of their appear available to newsmen, the ousted National Secretary of the Party, Shinkafi, said his faction had prepared the appeal in anticipation of the judgment, saying they had also concluded plans to drag Justice Kafarati before the National Judicial Council, NJC.
“It is this kind of judgment that makes us call for a total overhaul of the judicial system in this country and sack of bad judges. This kind of verdict is capable of setting a bad precedence; it is nothing but sheer judicial rascality on the part of the judge to sit on appeal over the previous judgment of a higher court even when the same matter is still pending before the Supreme Court.
“This judgment was fraudulent! However, there is no cause for alarm. We are going to write a petition against the judge. Max Okwu’s expulsion from APGA was upheld by the Supreme Court and since then he has not been granted pardon by the party, so one wonders the basis of this judgment by Justice Kafarati.
“Anyway it is not surprising to us we all know the antecedent of this judge. He was the same man that sacked Oyinola as the National Secretary of the PDP, a verdict that was accordingly set aside by a higher court.
“We have already filed our appeal and applied for a stay of execution. We want to assure all APGA supporters that there is no cause for alarm,” Shinkafi added.
In like manner, Umeh’s Personal Assistant, Mr. Stan Okeke told Vanguard on phone that Umeh was not losing sleep over the judgment because “the court does not have jurisdiction to entertain the case. They gave the ruling premised on the judgment of the chief judge of Enugu State. The position of my national chairman is we are appealing and justice will be done at the end of the day.”
Okwu instituted Suit No. FHC/ABJ/CS/563/2013 on August 19 2013, against Victor Umeh, Sani Shinkafi and INEC seeking a Court order directing Umeh and Shinkafi to vacate office as national chairman and national secretary of the party having been first elected into office on January 10, 2003 and re-elected for a second tenure which expired on January 9, 2010.
The judgment was earlier scheduled for February 7, 2014 but the court gave its ruling yesterday.