By Awa Kalu
As a recap, the story of a man who brought a local dog to church is designed to underline the tendentious nature of applications that have come before the apex Court, the Supreme Court-and the largest Court in this Country, the Court of Appeal.
It is in the interest of the layman to lay emphasis on the fact that both Courts have appellate jurisdiction and are not Courts of first instance except in very limited circumstances.Â Although those circumstances ought not to be of any concern here, it is necessary to note that the Supreme Court has original jurisdiction in disputes arising between the States and the Federal Government or between the States inter se.
By a recent amendment, the National Assembly can now be impleaded before the Supreme Court in its original jurisdiction. On the other hand, the Court of Appeal exercises original jurisdiction to hear and determine any question as to whether â€“ (a) any person has been validly elected to the office of President or Vice-President under the Constitution; or (b) the term of office of the President or Vice-President has ceased; or (c) the office of President or Vice-President has become vacant.Â Several celebrated cases decided by these two Courts in the exercise of such significant jurisdiction adorn our ever multiplying and authoritative law reports.
However, back to the issue at hand, only recently, the dog came to church.Â In another recap, last weekâ€™s instalment of this piece rehashed the Sunday school song about a person who brought a dog to church.Â He was persuaded to take the dog away lest the dog bite the Pastor.
Of course, the rationale was that if the dog bit the Pastor that would be the end of the church service.Â Confusion would certainly reign but there is a consequence of perhaps, lesser magnitude.
It is this: the suspicion that if the dog did not bite the Pastor, there was that likelihood that the dog would defecate all around the church this messing up the entire premises. The result you would imagine is still the same-the church erupting in confusion.
Only a short while ago, I had the privilege of being in the Supreme Court when the scenario of a dog in church unfolded before that Court.Â It is best to recall what happened from the dramatic headline of Newspaperâ€™s which reported the event.Â The GuardianÂ ofÂ November 4, 2009, on its front page screamed:
â€œSupreme Court angry dismisses Omehiaâ€™s suit against Amaechiâ€.Â In the same breadth, THISDAY of the same date ran a story headlined: â€œRivers: Sâ€™Court Dismisses Omehiaâ€™s case â€¦ says â€˜you canâ€™t turn Court to musical chairâ€ what appears of interest is what the Presiding Justice, Justice Katsina -Alu told Counsel to Omehia, â€˜In my view, your action here is a serious professional misconduct.
We have given our decision two years ago and you are here asking us to review it.Â Even if we stay here till December, you will get nothing.Â At best, you can attract punitive damage.Â Whether right or wrong that judgment standsâ€.Â The report indicates that the eminent Judge who presently has been nominated as the next Chief Justice continued in this vein: â€˜You are threading a dangerous ground.Â We have no right to sit on appeal over our decision.Â Our judgement is not a nullity and you can go on and appeal to God.Â One thing I know is that God is not your client.
If you persist, trying that path, you wonâ€™t go home today.Â You donâ€™t talk as if you are talking to some juniors in your Chambers.Â You accuse the Supreme Court of making lawâ€™.Â Hon. Justice Oguntade had a piece of advice for other lawyers who would want to bring their dogs to church, â€˜we are not sitting here as individuals; we are sitting as the final Court of Nigeria.Â We donâ€™t have any friend among you.Â We would leave here and retire to our villages but the Supreme Court and the law will foreverâ€™.
The Supreme Court recounted in unmistakable terms, the reasons for its judgement in favour of the present Governor, Rotimi Amaechi.Â The facts which may be recalled are that Omehia and Amaechi were interested in becoming Governor of Rivers State in 2007.Â Both were members of Africaâ€™s â€˜most popular partyâ€™, the Peopleâ€™s Democratic Party (PDP). In order to determine who would be the Partyâ€™s flag bearer for the gubernatorial elections, the party organised a primary election for the candidates.
Unfortunately, Omehia was not one of those who took part in the primaries.Â Amaechi defeated all other participating candidates and was selected as the Partyâ€™s candidate and his name was forwarded to the Independent National Electoral Commission.
However, his name was later withdrawn and substituted with Omehiaâ€™s on account of which Amaechi went to Court to challenge his unlawful substitution.Â The case traversed the judicial hierarchy travelling through the Federal High Court to the Court of Appeal and thereafter landing at the Supreme Court.Â The rest is now history.
The court decided that Amaechi was wrongfully substituted and in the light of the fact that the election had already been held and won by the PDP, that victory in the circumstances belonged to the party. In the final result, the rightful governorship candidate was to take the place of the impostor. This is a recapitulation of how Amaechi became Governor and Omehia was ousted from that exalted seat. How then did a lawyer dust his wig and gown and come to the same court two years after the decision to ask the Supreme Court to reverse itself?
Before any attempt to answer that question, let it be known that the Court of Appeal faced the same kind of test-being called upon to do that which ought not to be done. Peter Obi and Chris Ngige were candidates at the elections conducted in 2003 for the purpose of electing a Governor for Anambra State.
Chris Ngige was declared the winner by INEC and was given a Certificate of Return on account of which he was sworn- in. Peter Obi lost his position at the tribunal and appealed to the Court of Appeal. After three years of a dog fight, that court voided Ngigeâ€™s election and declared Peter Obi as the rightful person elected as Governor. He then subscribed his oath of allegiance and took the oath of office on a date in 2006 rather than 2003 when other Governors assumed office.
When elections fell due in 2007, the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) included Anambra state as one of the states due for governorship elections. Peter Obi as incumbent Governor prayed the Federal High Court to invoke its interpretative jurisdiction and determine whether or not his term of office had been exhausted. He lost at the Federal High Court and in the Court of Appeal.
On a further appeal to the Supreme Court, the apex court held that INEC should not have held any elections with respect to the governorship position in Anambra state in that as at the date of the said elections, the office of Governor was not vacant.
Chief Andy Uba was declared winner of the election which was conducted in violation of the law and was sworn-in as Governor. The Supreme Court ordered him to vacate the office of Governor forthwith to enable Peter Obi to complete his term of office. No politician ever gives up even when the odds are self evidently insurmountable. It was on that basis that election petitions which were filed against Chief Andy Ubaâ€™s return as the person duly elected into the office of Governor of Anambra state were not withdrawn leading to a situation where the Court of Appeal did not take the earliest opportunity to void Andy Ubaâ€™s election. Buoyed by this inelegant omission, he returned to the Court of Appeal for what he called consequential orders.
These consequential orders, if granted, would have made him a â€˜Governor-in-waitingâ€™, a position unknown to our constitution. What the so-called consequential orders would have achieved would be to make Andy Uba the Governor of Anambra state upon cessation of office of the incumbent Governor. This would have had untold consequences not only for the law, the hierarchy of courts under the constitution but even the constitution itself.
On this, Chidi Anselm Odinkalu (THIS DAY Lawyer, Nov.17, 2009) suggests that â€œAndy Ubaâ€™s latest case baited the Court of Appeal to affirm the Supreme Court, overrule it or topple the constitutionâ€™.
â€˜â€™His insouciant audacity in prosecuting this egregious abuse of judicial process has shredded many reputationsâ€, the audacious Professor notes were the applications before the apex court and the Court of Appeal proper or in bad taste? All we can do is to confirm that the dog came to church.