….as court fixes May 14 for judgment
By Ikechukwu Nnochiri
ABUJA – The Independent National Electoral Commission, INEC, on Monday, said it would remain neutral in the suit seeking to void the one-year tenure extension that was granted to National Chairman of the ruling All Progressives Congress, APC, Chief John Odigie-Oyegun and other members of the National Working Committee, NWC, of the party.
In a 4-paragraphed counter affidavit that was deposed to by one Ibrahim Sani Mohammed, INEC, said it would abide by whatever decision the Federal High Court in Abuja takes on the matter.
“My lord we decided not to file any process either in support or in opposition to the suit. We want to remain neutral and will be bound by judgment of this court”, INEC’s lawyer, Mr. Idris Yakubu submitted.
The electoral body took the position on a day Justice Nnamdi Dimgba fixed May 14 to deliver judgment in two separate suits seeking to sack Oyegun and other executives of the party upon expiration of their tenure in June.
It will be recalled that the National Executive Council of the APC had at a meeting it held on February 27, 2018, extended the four-year tenure of the party officials due to expire on June 30, by one year.
However, four aggrieved members of the party- Ademorin Kuye from Lagos State; Sani Mayanchi from Zamfara State and currently the Publicity Secretary of the party in the state; Are Mutiu also from Lagos State, and Machu Tokwat from Kaduna State, maintained that the action of the APC NEC was illegal.
Aside Odigie-Oyegun, others that the plaintiffs in the suit marked FHC/ABJ/CS/237/2018, urged the court to compel to vacate their positions at the expiration of their current tenure, are officials of the party at the National, State, Local Government Area, and Ward level across the country.
Cited as 1st to 4th defendants in the suit were INEC, APC, Chief Odigie-Oyegun and the National Organising Secretary of the party, Senator Osita Izunaso.
While the 1st plaintiff, Mr. Kuye, told the court that he is aspiring to run for the office of the National Legal Adviser of the APC, the others said they want to run for offices of the chairman of the party in their respective states – Zamfara, Lagos and Kaduna.
Likewise, in a separate suit marked FHC/ABJ/CS/219/2018, another member of the party who told the court that he intends to become the Chairman of APC in Imo State, Mr. Okere Nnamdi, prayed the court to compel INEC to reject, cease to recognize and to stop dealing or having any official communications with the Odigie-Oyegun led NWC of the APC, effective from June 1, 2018, having spent the constitutionally allowed tenure of office.
Specifically, the plaintiff urged the court to among other things, determine “Whether or not the National Executive Committee of the All Progressives Congress has the constitutional powers to extend the tenure of the National Working Committee, State Working Committee, Local Government Area Executive Committee and Ward Executive Committee of the All progressives (APC) by one year or by any day howsoever purported; in view of Section 223 (1) (a) and (2) (a) of the 1999 Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria (as amended) and section 85 (3) of the Electoral Act 2010 (as amended) .
The court adjourned the matter judgement after all the parties adopted their final briefs of argument in both suits.
While adopting their brief, counsel to the first set of plaintiffs, Mr. Ahmed Raji, SAN, said there was need for the court to interprete whether any organ of the APC could extend constitutionally fixed tenure of the party executives.
“My lord we want the court to intervene in this matter, if not the president will sit down in this country one day and say Governors, though your tenure has expired, continue in acting capacity.
“To allow the extension will amount to standing the law on its head. We urge the court to avoid any interpretation that will render section 223 of the constitution useless.
“The President has already taken side by saying that the extension was illegal. But the highest organ of the party wants to overrule the president”, Raji added.
However, all the defendants, aside INEC, filed preliminary objections asking the court to hands-off or dismiss the suit for want of jurisdiction.
APC’s lawyer, Mr. J. B. Daudu, SAN, maintained that the case was a domestic affair of the party, saying the plaintiffs did not exhaust internal dispute resolution mechanism in the party before rushing to court.
He further challenged the locus-standi of the plaintiffs who he said failed to adduce their party cards.
“We don’t know them or where they are coming from. This suit is based on fear, speculation and political calculations. It is a drama that is purely academic.
“The party is trying to resolve the issue, it does not require court intervention. He has quoted the President, but the party does not belong to an individual. There are many elders and statesmen that make up the party”, Daudu submitted.
He said the APC constitution made provision for tenure extension when the need arises, “but such situation has not arisen yet, when it does, we know what to do”, he added.
On his part, Chief Odigie-Oyegun’s lawyer, Chief Akinolu Olujumi, SAN, insisted that there was no resolution on February 27 showing that tenure of any of the officials of the party was extended.
“The plaintiffs brought what they called Caretaker Committee Report, but that is not a resolution. What they are urging my lord to do is to engage in speculation as there is clearly no cause of action before this court”.
After he had listened to all the parties, Justice Dimgba adjourned the case for judgement.
Among reliefs the court is prayed to grant includes an order, “Mandating/Compelling the APC to organize elective National, State, Local Government and Ward conventions of the party in accordance with section 20 of the APC Constitution 2014 (as amended) and section 85 (3) of the Electoral Act 2010 (as amended) for the purpose of electing members of the National Working Committee, State Working Committee, Local Government Area Executive Committee and Ward Executive Committee of the party on or before the expiration of the tenure of the existing officers of the party”.