Lawyers: This is a message to political actors that impunity has consequences

By Henry Ojelu

In every democratic society, the rule of law is king. This is ideal for peaceful coexistence. Since independence, numerous legislations have been passed and reviewed to ensure that citizens are subject to a generally agreed code of good behavior. The 1999 Constitution and several other auxiliary legislations enacted by the federal, state and local governments prescribe codes of behaviors and actions which citizens must adhere to. Good as these laws are, compliance by individuals, corporate, social and political organizations, and even government remains the biggest challenge.

Over time, the culture of impunity appeared to be the new order. Once someone is in government, he simply becomes the law and dictates what the law is and what is not. The plethora of political, social and economic rights abuse cases against previous and current government is a testament to this. In all of these, the nation’s judiciary remains the beacon of hope not just   for the common man as they say, but also for the uncommon man whose fate reduces to that of the common man at some point. Though bugged by its own challenges, the judiciary, in its pronouncements and judgments on key issues of law, has continued to show that all hope for true reign of the rule of law in the country is not lost. Penultimate week’s Appeal Court judgment on the crisis in the Rivers State Chapter of the All Progressives Congress, APC, is a testament to this.


As part of its preparations for the 2019 elections, Rivers State APC fixed its ward, local and state congresses for May 2018. On the eve of the exercise, some aggrieved members of the party approached a state High Court and obtained an interlocutory injunction restraining the party from going on with the congresses.

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While the state chapter of the party ignored the order and went ahead with the congresses, the national leadership cancelled the exercise and fixed May 19, 20 and 21 respectively for another ward, local government and state congresses which led to the emergence of a former Chairman of Asari-Toru Local Government Area of the state, Hon. Ojukaye Flag-Amachree, as Chairman of the party in the state.

The crisis took a turn for the worse when a Rivers State High Court, presided over by Justice Chiwendu Nworgu, declared the congresses and their outcome null and void and ordered the party to revert to status quo ante.

Despite the court ruling, the Flag-Amachree faction of the party went ahead with the primaries for the governorship, House of Representatives and Senate elections.

Whereas Lagos-based billionaire, Tonye Cole, emerged as the governorship candidate of the Flag-Amachree faction, loyal to the Minister of Transportation, Mr Rotimi Amaechi, Senator Magnus Abe, the arrowhead of the other faction, maintained that he is the governorship candidate of the party.

Not satisfied with the judgment of the lower court, Cole’s faction approached the Appeal Court to nullify the decision of the court.

In a well articulated judgment, the Appeal Court upheld the decision of the lower court.

It also dismissed the applications for joinder by Cole and sacked Ojukaye Flag-Amachree as APC Chairman in the state   for not observing the 14 days’ rule of appeal. Justice Abubakar Yahaya, who read the unanimous decision, said the applications of Cole and Amachree lacked merit and that the appeal against the lower court’s decision was filed out of time. The court held that the Flag-Amachree faction failed to seek leave of court before appealing against the judgement, adding that the judgement delivered by the lower court was a consent judgement

Before this latest judgment, the same appellate court had granted an interim order to the APC to conduct its state congress pending the final determination of the substantive appeal. But the Supreme Court, in a ruling on the issue, faulted the appellate court for halting the execution of the state High Court judgment that barred APC from going ahead with its planned congress. The apex court said it was baffled that the APC, “in the most impudent manner”, ran to the Court of Appeal to apply for stay of proceeding and execution of the High Court order with respect to the suit marked PHC/78/2018.

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It further observed that though the appellate court declined to stay proceedings of the High Court, it, however, stayed the execution of the May 11 order by Justice Nwogu. The apex court, however, reserved judgment in the appeal by the APC challenging the jurisdiction of Nworgu to hear the matter in the first place, indefinitely.

Lawyers React

Although APC has reportedly appealed the Appeal Court final decision, the implication is that the party does not have a candidate for the 2019 governorship election in Rivers State. Senior lawyers who spoke to Sunday Vanguard were of the opinion that what the Appeal Court has done by the judgment is to send a signal to political actors that rascality, self-help and flagrant disregard for laid down process and the rule of law come with serious consequences.

In his reaction, Professor Ernest Ojukwu said the Appeal Court judgment is a message to politicians and our leaders on why dictatorship, impunity, corruption, abuse of office, and abuse of the rule of law will and should not have a place in a truly civilised and democratic country.

He said: “The Rivers State APC conundrum is the result of a long history and culture of impunity of political actors and leaders of state. I have not read the full text of the Court of Appeal decision but from the media summaries, one of the consequences of the ruling is that APC as a party may not have candidates at the 2019 elections in Rivers State. Such an outcome will be positive to teach politicians and our leaders a lesson on why dictatorship, impunity, corruption, abuse of office, and abuse of the rule of law will and should not have a place in a truly civilised and democratic country. Such an outcome will go a long way to strengthen our democracy, the rule of law and inclusive governance. It will also place our judiciary as a respected and independent arm of government that we set up to provide hope to our country.”

When contacted, senior lawyer, Femi Falana, said anybody who is not satisfied with the decision of the appellate court should approach the Supreme Court. He said, “I don’t have a copy of the judgment, so I can’t talk on it. But anybody who is not satisfied with the decision of the court should go on appeal.”

In his reaction, Senior Law Lecturer, Lagos State University, Gbenga Ojo, praised the judgment of the Appeal Court, saying Rivers APC got what it deserved for undermining statutory principles guiding the conduct of party congress.

Ojo said: “What happened to the APC in Rivers State was anticipated. According to the Electoral Law 2010, the Constitution of the party and the guidelines for the elections are the key documents that govern party primaries. The Supreme Court has held, in several cases, that the only valid and legal congress of any party is the one organized by the National Working Committee. The law is very clear that the only organ of the party that can organize a congress is the National Working Committee. Any other congress or congresses organized by a party is ultra vire. The APC in Rivers State ought to have put its house in order to be in conformity with the Constitution. They allowed internal wrangling to mess them up. By virtue of the INEC timetable, they are out of the game. They were aware that the INEC timetable has constitutional basis. It is unfortunate that they allowed themselves to get to this point. We have continuously preached internal democracy but they won’t hear. I believe what they got serves them right. “

For his part, Convener, Voters Initiative, Wale Ogunade, believed that while the judgment sends a strong signal on the need to adhere to party guidelines, the appellate court ought to have decided the case on merit and not on technicalities.

He said: “I totally submit to the judgment of the Appeal Court. My only concern, as a lawyer, is that the issue of technicality ought to have been suspended by the Appeal Court in the interest of justice. The decision of the court was based majorly on lateness in filing certain processes and joinder. If, indeed, the justice required the issues to be looked at very well and extensively, then, obviously, the issue of technicality should have been suspended. Again the lesson here for all the actors is that rules and regulations must be obeyed. That is the only way the electoral process can be sanitized. “



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