Justice James Kolawole Omotoso of the Federal High Court in Port Harcourt, the Rivers State capital, has disqualified all candidates of the All Progressives Congress (APC) for “gross disobedience” to court order.
The court also restrained the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) from recognising or publishing the list of any APC candidates for any elective position.
This is the fourth time a court has nullified the 2018 APC state congresses and primary elections in the last four months.
First was by a state High Court presided over by Justice Chinwendu Nwogu in October 10, 2018; another was by the Supreme Court in Abuja, in November, the Appeal Court in December and yesterday’s judgment.
Trouble started last May when aggrieved APC members who paid for forms to participate in the
ward, local government and state congresses were excluded from the process, approached the High Court to seek an order of injunction to stop the party from conducting the elections until they were included.
The group who filed the suit on Ibrahim Umar and 22 others. The court granted the order pending the determination of the matter before it.
However, the party disobeyed the order and went ahead with the process, and elected the purported state executives led by Ojukaiye Flag-Amachree, who conducted the indirect primaries on September 30, 2018, where Tonye Cole became the governorship candidate.
While this was on, the 23 aggrieved members and their supporters rallied round the member representing Rivers Southeast in the National Assembly, Magnus Abe, who also nursed a governorship ambition, but was denied. They formed a parallel party and held their primaries where Abe became the governorship candidate.
But the court, in an October 10, 2018 judgment, nullified the congresses and set aside the executives it produced. The court also voided the primaries and disqualified all candidates produced thereby.
Justice Nwogu said by the judgement, it should be noted that the APC did not conduct any primaries for the nomination of candidates for the governorship, Senate, House of Representatives and House of Assembly for the 2019 elections.
The Amachree-led APC appealed the judgment and the Appeal Court set aside the judgment, saying that it was delivered in error. But the Abe group proceeded to the Supreme Court to challenge the Appeal Court ruling. The court in turn set aside the Appeal Court decision by upholding the judgment of the High Court and insisting that the APC congresses and primaries, and the candidates they produced, remain nullified, void and disqualified, and not worthy of contesting the February elections.
Justice Omotoso nullified the primaries conducted by both factions on the grounds that they were held before Justice Nwogu delivered his judgment on the subject matter. He reiterated that they were held in “gross disobedience to court order restraining parties to maintain status quo till the matter was determined”.
He said: “The APC is not entitled to nominate or participate in any elective position in the elections for failure to comply with the provisions of Cection 87(1) and 87(2) of the Electoral Act, which provides that any political party seeking nomination to an elective position in the country must conduct valid primaries to choose its candidates for the exercise.”
“Following the conduct of the primaries within the period the suit was in court, the purported primaries were illegal and amount to violation of court order, hence, did not meet the provision of the Electoral Act of a valid primary election.”
Specifically, the court said the APC cannot participate in the February/March governorship, senate, House of Representatives and House of Assembly elections.
But Abe’s lawyer, Henry Bello, and that of APC, Emenike Ebete, said they might appeal the judgment.
Bello said: “We may appeal the judgment. The court has held that based on the October 10, 2018 judgment of High Court, APC has no candidate for any elective position in the general elections. We will examine the judgment and discuss it with our clients.”
Ebete said: “This is the court of first instance, it is not the final court, his views may be different from that of the Court of Appeal, and that of the Supreme Court. I know that cases like this does not take immediate effect, but have to await what the Court of Appeal or even Supreme Court will say. So we file our processes for appeal as soon as we get the judgment today or tomorrow, and we will serve INEC.”