By Ise-Oluwa Ige
The legal battle for the control of Uyo constituency seat at the lower chambers of the National Assembly has finally shifted to the Supreme Court. The issue in dispute in the case touches on who is the real candidate of the ruling Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) for the 2007 poll into the Uyo Federal constituency seat.
One Emmanuel Obot, former aide to ex-Governor of Akwa Ibom State, Chief Victor Attah, commenced the lawsuit before the Abuja division of the Federal high court. He procured a judgment before the high court declaring him as the candidate for the election after the poll had held. Obot is fighting hard to wrest powers from Hon Bassey Etim who contested and won, landslide, the April 2007 poll into the constituency seat.
He is claiming that though he did not contest the 2007 election, he said he is the rightful owner of the constituency seat, having procured the Abuja Federal high court verdict which declared him the candidate of the ruling PDP for the poll. But both Hon Bassey Etim and the ruling PDP are challenging the validity of the said judgment before the apex court.
They gave a succinct background of why the judgment is a nullity. In their separate appeals, they said that Obot
first approached a Federal high court, Abuja vide a suit with registration number FHC\ABJ\CS\86\2007 seeking to stop his substitution by PDP for the Uyo constituency poll but that he failed as the presiding judge, Justice Abimbola Ogie entered judgment against him.
They said that because he failed to get a favourable judgment in the court, Obot ran before the Uyo division of the Federal high court and surreptitiously filed a similar suit with registration numberÂ HC\UY\CS\30\07, seeking to stop his substitution.
They said he had to withdraw it midway when they became aware of his move and were prepared to complain to the trial judge that he was trying to forum shop, having earlier brought similar suit before another judge at the Abuja division of the high court. They said instead of Obot going on appeal against the judgment of Justice Abimbola Ogie of the Abuja Federal high court as done in Ugwu vs Ararume and Amaechi Vs INEC cases since he was aggrieved, he came before the same Abuja Federal high court judge, Justice Ogie, who had earlier decided his case on substitution with a finality to re-litigate on the issue.
They argued that curiously, the trial judge, not only assumed jurisdiction on the matter even though it was unavailable to her, but that the trial judge re-sat on the case and made a different finding on Obotâ€™s substitution. Specifically, Justice Ogie who had earlier pronounced on the issue of Obotâ€™s substitution reversed herself and voided PDPâ€™s decision substituting his name with Hon Etimâ€™s. The controversial judgment was delivered by Justice Abimbola Ogie on May 17, 2007, shortly after which she was transferred from the Abuja division of the Federal high court.
Both PDP and Etim said they went before the Court of Appeal with separate appeals to nullify the said judgment procured by Obot in Justice Ogieâ€™s court. They said the Appeal Court though agreed with them that the pronouncement of Ogie J on the issue of substitution was a final one, yet they still entered the finding that the trial judge did not err for sitting on the same issue of Obotâ€™s substitution giving the way the reliefs were couched.
They said they wanted the apex court to review the decision of the court below on the issue. Specifically, they wanted a pronouncement on whether a trial high court judge is not barred from adjudicating on a relief already pronounced upon either by him or another judge of co-ordinate jurisdiction and powers. They also wanted a pronouncement on whether a lawsuit commenced vide originating summons which court processes are not personally served on the principal defendants can be said
to be competent and valid.
Although both of them canvassed the twin issues, Etimâ€™s appeal dwelt more on the competence of Obotâ€™s suit while PDPâ€™s own dwelt more on the nullity of Ogieâ€™s judgment for pronouncing on the same relief twice. On the latter, both Hon Etim and the PDP are inviting the apex court to hold that Justice Abimbola Ogie who heard the case in question lacked the jurisdiction to so do.They cited the case of Faleye Vs Otapo where the Supreme Court held that once a matter is finally settled in a previous suit by a court of competent jurisdiction, such a matter or issue so settled can never again, on the principle of issue estoppel or res judicata be raised or re-litigated in subsequent proceedings by those who were parties or privies to the previous proceedings.
They invited the apex court to take judicial notice of its warnings in the case of Faleye Vs Otapo by annulling the controversial verdict of the trial court.
The Supreme Court in the case law cited had warned that it is not uncommon for parties who have lost in an earlier suit to employ all manners of devices to resurrect the case under various names and guises in a bid to becloud the issue of estoppel or res judicata. They also claimed that the case of Ozuma Vs Mowete was instructive in the matter to the effect that a litigant will not be allowed to raise, piecemeal, different facets of jurisdiction either before the same judge or before a different judge.
According to them, they argued that the Abuja Federal high court judge, having refused the principal relief in the first suit with registration number FHC\ABJ\CS\86\07 on the issue of substitution of Obot, the trial judge has become functus officio under the doctrine of res judicata. They said the spread or balkanization of the principal relief number 4 in the first suit number HC\ABJ\CS\286\07 which was refused by Justice Ogie cannot make the court assume
jurisdiction to try the case as was done in this case when it is especially seen that parties and privies are essentially the same.
They concluded by saying that the Supreme Court had in the case of Honda Place Limited Vs Globe Motors Limited had held that parties are not permitted to begin fresh litigation because of the fresh view they may entertain of the law on the case.
They said the Supreme Court had warned that if that wasÂ permitted, litigation would have no end except when legal ingenuity is exhausted. Although Obot is yet to respond to the suit, his arguments at the court below was that there was nothing wrong in what the trial judge, Justice Ogie did in the case.
In fact, he said that there was nothing near relitigating the issues but that the issues brought before Justice Ogie were fresh and distinct from what she decided in the first case even though both suits dwell on his substitution by PDP.
He said if there was any point to be countenanced at all, he said the issue being raised by both PDP and Etim were technical and that the court had moved from era of technical justice to substantial justice.
The fundamental issue for the apex court to determine is whether or not the essential elements in suits number HC\ABJ\CS\2007 and HC\ABJ\CS\286\2007 are not the same and whether or not the decision entered by the trial court on the issue of substitution in the first case is not final as to render the court functus officio on the issue. The finding of the apex court on this twin-issue will, no doubt, rest the controversy on who is the real candidate of the
ruling PDP and winner of the 2007 Uyo Federal constituency poll.