By Ikechukwu Nnochiri
ABUJA – The Supreme Court, will on Tuesday, commence hearing on the crisis rocking the Peoples Democratic Party, PDP, in Ondo State.
The apex court will among other things, determine whether the President of the Court of Appeal, Justice Zainab Bulkachuwa, was right when she constituted a special panel to resolve dispute over who should be the flag-bearer of the PDP in the Ondo governorship election billed for November 26.
It will be recalled that the Justice Ibrahim Salauwa-led panel had on November 18, adjourned sine-die (indefinitely), further hearing on the matter.
The panel handed-off the dispute, barely 48 hours after it reserved judgment on an appeal that was lodged before the appellate court by one of the contenders for the PDP ticket, Mr. Eyitayo Jegede, SAN.
Justice Salauwa said the panel took the decision after it was served with a motion from the Supreme Court for the proceeding at the appellate court to be suspended.
“We were served a motion in suit No CA/A/551b/2016, which was filed in the Supreme Court on November 17”, Justice Saulawa stated.
He said the motion which was filed by six chieftains of the PDP in South West, led by Chairman of the party in Ondo State, Prince Biyi Poroye, among other things, prayed the apex court to invoke its disciplinary powers against the appellate court panel.
The Poroye led group, who are Respondents in Jegede’s appeal, further prayed the apex court to not only set aside proceedings of the appellate court, but to also restrain the special panel from further adjudicating on the dispute.
Besides, the Respondents, who are appellants before the Supreme Court, equally applied for an order disqualifying/recusing all members of the special panel on the ground that they betrayed there Oath of Office by their refusal to be bound by laid down judicial principle of staris-decisis.
Poroye and the other Respondents contended that the panel had in a ruling it delivered on November 16, okayed Jegede’s appeal, despite being aware that the Supreme Court was already seized of the facts in dispute.
They had through their lawyer, Mr. Beluolisa Nwufor, SAN, vehemently opposed decision of the panel to hear Jegede’s appeal.
Nwufor, SAN, insisted that hearing the appeal would amount to the panel engaging in an act of “judicial rascality” since the matter was already before the apex court.
He argued that in line with the legal principle of lis-pendis, the appellate court ought to hands-off the case to avoid a situation where it would conduct a parallel proceeding with the Supreme Court on the same subject matter.
“In view of the unchallenged facts brought to the notice of this court that an appeal against the ruling granting leave to the appellant to appeal the high court judgment, which this court made on November 10, is already before the Supreme Court and has been entered.
“It is therefore our position that this court has lost its jurisdiction to continue with this matter. By order 5 Rule 11 of the Supreme Court Rules 1985, as amended, the Supreme Court is now seized of the whole of this proceeding as between the parties herein.
“It is also an undisputed fact that a motion on notice for staying of all further proceedings and further hearing in this appeal is pending at the Supreme Court and has been drawn to the notice of this court.
“We thus maintain that this panel cannot entertain further proceedings until that motion is decided by the apex court, one way or the other.
“Proceeding to hear this appeal will amount to an effort in futility. It will amount to judicial rascality and judicial impertinence.
“I submit that this court should not conduct parallel proceeding with the Supreme Court regarding the same case, but should allow the apex court, in line with the dictates of the hierarchy of courts established by the constitution, which places the Supreme Court above this court, to take a decision regarding the pending motion for stay of proceedings already before it.
“I urge you to follow your own earlier rulings in CA/A/402/2016 and CA/A/402a/ 2016, delivered on September 8, concerning this same Ondo PDP crisis”, Nwufor submitted.
Poroye and his group queried the decision of Justice Bulkachuwa to set-up a special panel for a pre-election matter which they said required no urgency.
They insisted that Jegede’s suit should be returned to the Appeal Court Registry and allowed to take its rightful turn in the docket.
The appellate court panel had initially refused Nwufor’s submissions, even as it gave Jegede’s lead counsel, Chief Wole Olanipekun, SAN, the nod to adopt his processes in the appeal to enable it to deliver judgment on the matter.
Olanipekun had maintained that the appellate court had a constitutional responsibility to do justice in the case, saying the court would be abdicating its duties should it allow itself to be stampeded into handing-off the matter.
The panel had on September 8, suspended hearing on two other cases relating to the Ondo governorship crisis, following appeals also pending before the Supreme Court.
Specifically, two members of the PDP, Benson Akingboye and Ehiozuwa Agbonayiwa, are in their motion, seeking for a stay of “all further proceedings and further hearing in CA/ABJ/402A/2016 filed on behalf of the PDP by a lawyer engaged by the Ahmed Makarfi-led faction of the party’s leadership”.
They hinged the motion on among other things, the argument that it was wrong to allow the Court of Appeal to proceed with any of the appeals, when they have valid appeals before the Supreme Court, which is challenging the jurisdiction of the Court of Appeal.
“As the first and second respondents in the lower court, they (Akingboye and Agbonayiwa) challenged by way of preliminary objection the validity of the appeal which originated the appeal at the court below.
“Apart from the said objection, there arose in the court below the issue of representation for the Peoples Democratic Party as two counsel laid conflicting claims to being the counsel authorized by the said party to act for it in this appeal.
“Neither the said preliminary objections of the applicants herein nor the said issue of which particular legal practitioner is authorized to represent the PDP was resolved before the court below fixed the substantive appeal for hearing.
“By fixing the substantive appeal for hearing, the court below thereby postponed the ruling or decision on it until the hearing of the whole appeal or case.
“The interlocutory appeal is capable of disposing of, or terminating, the substantive appeal.
“This application could not be first brought at the court below due to the fact that the appeal had been entered at the Supreme Court when it was filed,” they averred.
The appeal at the Supreme Court, filed on October 31, is challenging decision of the appellate court to accelerate hearing on the appeal before it.
The appellants raised four grounds in their notice of appeal before the apex court, the first being that Justices of the Court of Appeal erred in law by their failure to first determine vital issue of jurisdiction raised in the respondents preliminary objection.
The appellants faulted the former panel of the Court of Appeal for fixing the substantive Appeal for hearing when the issue of which counsel to represent the PDP (in whose name the appeal was filed) had not been resolved.
They also faulted the appellate court for granting a relief in the motion for accelerated hearing of the case in the court bellow, which the motion was defective and devoid of address for service.
Jegede had approached the appellate court to challenge the judgment of June 29 judgment of Justice Okon Abang of the Federal High Court in Abuja, which directed the Independent National Electoral Commission to only relate with the Ali Modu-Sheriff faction of the PDP.
Justice Abang, on October 14, also re-affirmed the verdict, even as he warned the electoral body against accepting candidate nominated by the Senator Ahmed Markafi-led National Caretaker Committee of the PDP.
Acting on the strength of the high court order, INEC, promptly removed Jegede’s name from the list of candidates for the Ondo gubernatorial poll, and replaced it with Mr. Jimoh Ibrahim.
It will be recalled that whereas Jegede emerged from primary election that was sanctioned by the Markarfi-led NWC of the PDP, Ibrahim on the other hand, secured his ticket from the Modu-Sheriff faction of the party.