With its internal squabbles, the ruling All Progressives Congress seems to be reenacting the 2016 experience when the Peoples Democratic Party caused confusion in the land through the procurement of several conflicting court orders, In the following featured for PUNCH, OLADIMEJI RAMON writes
There is a fragile peace between the National Chairman of the ruling All Progressives Congress, Adams Oshiomhole, and the Governor of Edo State, Godwin Obaseki.
Oshiomhole, a former governor of Edo State, has been in a show of force with Obaseki, his political godson and successor.
If Oshiomhole gets the upper hand, Obaseki will not be re-elected as Edo State Governor for second term.
But Oshiomhole will be living in a fool’s paradise if he thinks he can easily stop Obaseki, who has been in control in Edo State for nearly four years while Oshiomhole moved his base to Abuja.
In what seemed to be a demonstration of the potential damage that Oshiomhole can suffer from his face-off with Obaseki, the APC in Ward 10, Etsako West Local Government Area of Edo State, where he (Oshiomhole) registered as a APC member, suspended him.
Riding on this suspension, the High Court of the Federal Capital Territory, Jabi, Abuja was asked and did make an order suspending Oshiomhole as the APC national chairman.
Justice Danlami Senchi, who made the suspension order, said Oshiomhole could not continue to hold office as the national chairman of the APC when he had been suspended as a member of the party by the APC in Ward 10, Etsako West Local Government Area of Edo State, following a November 2, 2019 resolution.
The Abuja judge ordered Oshiomhole to stop parading himself as the APC national chairman, and ordered the APC to deny him access into the party’s national secretariat.
Jolted by the order, the Oshiomhole’s camp, the following day, went to Kano and obtained a countermanding order from Justice A. Lewis-Allagoa of the Federal High Court.
In sharp contradiction to Justice Senchi’s order of March 4, 2020, Justice Lewis-Allagoa, on March 5, 2020, voided Oshiomhole’s suspension, holding that the November 2, 2019 resolution, with which the APC in Ward 10, Etsako West Local Government Area of Edo State suspended Oshiomhole as party member, was of no effect.
With these two contradictory orders from Justices Senchi and Lewis-Alagoa, who are judges of coordinate jurisdiction, the stage was set for confusion in the APC.
Rather than bring calm, the courts had ironically heightened tension with the conflicting rulings.
Commenting, a Senior Advocate of Nigeria, Mr Ebun-Olu Adegboruwa, decried how the judiciary was exposing itself to ridicule by allowing itself to fall for the manipulation of politicians.
“The speed at which the ex parte orders of injunction are granted in political cases is very disturbing indeed. However, bulk of the blame rests on politicians and their lawyers who file these frivolous cases, knowing that a case is pending before a court in Abuja only to rush to Kano to file the same case on the same subject.
“This is indirectly exposing the judiciary as a politically-exposed institution, which should not be the case at all,” Adegboruwa said.
But in the festering power crisis within the APC, the attempts by politicians to bring judges of coordination jurisdictions into head-on collision did not stop with Justices Senchi and Lewis-Alagoa.
On March 13, the Lagos State Chairman of the APC, Tunde Balogun, approached Justice Mohammed Liman, sitting at the Federal High Court in Lagos, with an ex parte application, praying that the APC National Executive Committee meeting fixed for March 17 must not hold except a former Oyo State governor, Abiola Ajimobi; Waziri Bulama and Paul Chukwuma, were allowed to attend.
Balogun, through his lawyer, Gani Bello, prayed the court to compel the APC to recognise Bulama as the party’s acting National Secretary; Ajimobi, as the acting National Deputy Chairman (South); and Chukwuma, as the acting National Auditor of the party.
Justice Liman granted his prayers.
Meanwhile, on the same March 13, the APC chairman in the Ado Ekiti Local Government Area of Ekiti State, Michael Akinleye, was before Justice U. N. Agoma, sitting at the Federal High Court in Ekiti, to seek an order stopping Ajimobi from occupying office as the acting APC National Deputy Chairman (South).
Akinleye, through his lawyer, Taiwo Omidoyin, described Ajimobi as an impostor.
The flurry of conflicting suits in the APC crisis brings to mind how the judiciary allowed itself to be dragged in the mud through the battle between Ahmed Makarfi and Ali Modu Sheriff for the soul of the Peoples Democratic Party in the build-up to the 2019 general elections.
In the heat of the power tussle, Justice Okon Abang, sitting at the Federal High Court in Lagos, on August 16, 2016 made an order stopping the planned national convention of the PDP fixed for August 17.
In his ruling, Justice Abang gave a stern warning to the Chairman of Independent National Electoral Commission, Prof. Mahood Yakubu, not to monitor the convention.
The judge, who ruled in favour of the Sheriff faction of the PDP, also ordered the Inspector-General of Police to ensure that his order was fully enforced.
But within the same week, in the Port Harcourt Division of the Federal High Court, Justice Ibrahim Watila, ruled that the PDP convention must go on as scheduled and ordered the IG to ensure that his order was carried out.
In the face of these countermanding orders, INEC said it was at a loss whether to monitor or stay away from the planned PDP national convention.
While conflicting court orders are not limited to political lawsuits, politicians are usually the main actors when the courts make such countermanding orders.
This was the situation when in December 2016 a former governor of Ekiti State, Ayodele Fayose, obtained an ex parte order of Justice Taiwo Taiwo, sitting at the Federal High Court in Ade Ekiti, to defreeze his bank account, which had earlier been frozen on the orders of Justice Mohammed Idris, then sitting at the Federal High Court in Lagos.
Taking on Fayose then, Socio-Economic Rights and Accountability Project had accused him of forum-shopping.
In a statement by its Director, Adetokunbo Mumuni, SERAP had called on the National Judicial Council “not to allow politicians to continue to use judges to grant conflicting orders only for the politicians to turn around to accuse judges of corruption.”
Mumuni said, “The persistent attempts by politicians to engage in forum-shopping by seeking the most favourable order to set aside an earlier order of a court of coordinate jurisdiction amount to a willful abuse of court process. Such practices if not stopped will have grave consequences for the rule of law and the integrity of the judiciary in the country.
“Allowing the politicians to abuse the process of court and play politics with the judiciary tends to cast the judiciary in an unfavourable light, thus leaving judges at the mercy of the political class.”
Ahead of the 2019 general elections, a former Chief Justice of Nigeria, Justice Walter Onnoghen (retd.), said only the judiciary could save itself from the manipulation of desperate politicians.
Addressing judges during the opening of the 2017 edition of the Annual Conference of Justices of Court of Appeal, Justice Onnoghen said, “Let me remind us that our salvation remains in our hands; so, in the approaching frenzied political activities leading to the 2019 general elections let us continue to watch the company we keep, the people we open our doors to lest we unwittingly open ourselves to ridicule and embarrassment as the politicians will do anything, not necessarily legal, to have their way including destroying our hard-earned reputation and integrity.”
Onnoghen’s predecessor, Justice Mahmud Mohammed (retd.), had previously sounded a similar note of warning.
Speaking at a Conference of the Justices of the Court of Appeal held shortly after he was sworn into office, Justice Mohammed said the judiciary risked total loss of public confidence if the judges fall for the antics of politicians to churn out conflicting judgments.
He said, “Conflicting judgments lead to accusations of improper considerations and corrupt practices. I need not remind us of the corrosive effect that this has had on the judiciary and its estimation in the eyes of the public. I am sure you will agree with me that this issue must be addressed as a matter of urgency.”
A Senior Advocate of Nigeria, Prof. Fidelis Oditah, also described conflicting court orders as a sign of indiscipline in the legal profession and prescribed sanction for both judges and lawyers caught in the web of countermanding court orders.
Oditah said, “There should be some discipline for those judges who give conflicting orders, because the natural order of events and the whole essence of judicial restraint is that you shouldn’t embarrass yourselves by being engaged in a race to give a pronouncement first. You should encourage all the issues to be consolidated in one court. And that’s how any system that runs an efficient justice administration, whether civil or criminal, should behave.
“Both the lawyers who initiate those processes and the judges who grant them bring the system into disrepute and all of them should be sanctioned and disciplined.”