By Ikechukwu Nnochiri
ABUJA-The Abuja Division of the Federal High Court, on Monday, dismissed two separate suits that challenged the one-year tenure extension granted to National Chairman of the ruling All Progressive Congress, APC, Chief John Odigie-Oyegun and other members of the National Working Committee, NWC, of the party.
The court, in a judgment by Justice Nnamdi Dimgba, held that the suits marked FHC/ABJ/CS/237/2018 and FHC/ABJ/CS/219/2018 have become lifeless, academic and hypothetical.
Justice Dimgba Dimgba stressed that subject matter of both suits have been overtaken by events, noting that APC has already started conducting congresses into offices affected by the proposed tenure elongation.
The court said it took into judicial notice the fact that whereas the APC conducted its Ward Congress on April 5, it organised Local Government election on May 12 and fixed May 19 to hold its Congress at the State level.
Besides, the court noted that National Convention of the party was originally billed to take place today (Monday May 14) but subsequently deferred till June.
According to Justice Dimgba, “it has turned out that attempt to extend the tenure of current officials of the 2nd defendant was abandoned”.
He said implication of ongoing congresses being conducted by the APC was that new officials would take over from the Odigie-Oyegun led Executives, upon expiration of their tenure on June 30.
However, Justice Dimgba said he was satisfied that there was indeed an attempt to extend the tenure of the current leadership of the APC, saying such action would have been unconstitutional and in gross violation of section 223 of the 1999 constitution, as amended.
Earlier, the court dismissed contention of both APC and Odigie-Oyegun that it lacked the jurisdiction to entertain the suit which they claimed was within the realm of domestic affair of a political party.
The Judge held that the court had the power to hear the matter since it not only touched on the interpretation of provisions of the constitution, but equally involved a relief against a federal government agency.
“A court of law should not ordinarily involve in nternal affairs of a political party, but when such affair is in contravention of the Nigerian Constitution, Constitution of the party or any other law, jurisdiction of the court will be invoked automatically”, Justice Dimgba held.
The court said the plaintiffs also had the locus standi to drag APC to court over the February 27 resolution that sought to allow Odigie-Oyegun and others to remain in office beyond their constitutionally approved tenure.
It said the plaintiffs’ right to present themselves for election at the National Convention of the party, if qualified, would have been jeopardized if they did not file suits to challenge the tenure elongation move.
More so, Justice Dimgba held that APC was wrong to equate attempt to illegally elongate tenure of its officials with the leadership case involving the Ahmed Makarfi led Caretaker Committee of the Peoples Democratic Party, PDP, that was resolved by the Supreme Court.
He observed that in the PDP case, it was the National Convention that approved the Makarfi-led Caretaker Committee, while in the case of the APC, it was the National Working Committee, being an organ of the party, that decided to give itself 12 months tenure extension.
The court said it would however not grant any of the reliefs sought by the plaintiffs inview of the fact that APC has dumped the February 27 resolution that favoured the Odigie-Oyegun led Executives.
“It appears to me that in real terms, this suit has become totally academic and not live”, Justice Dimgba added.
He equally dismissed an aspect of the suit that queried the legality of allowing Senator Osita Izunaso to remain in office as National Organising Secretary of the APC having resigned the position in 2015 to contest election in Imo State.
The court said there was evidence before it that Izunaso duly secured waiver from the appropriate organ of the party to contest the election and was duly re-appointed after his resignation.
It will be recalled that the National Executive Council of the APC had at a meeting it held on February 27, 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 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.
While the suit was pending, President Muhammdau Buhari distanced himself from the decision to extend tenure of Odigie-Oyegun and the others, insisting that such move would be illegal.
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) .
Among reliefs the court was 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”.