In only one month, many events have happened in Nigeria’s political scenes that have signposted adverse future for multiparty democracy in Nigeria.
From the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) came the shocking announcement within the period under review that it has de-registered over a dozen registered political parties out of the nearly fifty political parties.
The reason adduced for this anti-democratic posture of the Attahiru Jega-led INEC for curtailing the democratic freedoms of some Nigerians by the unilateral and unconstitutional annulment of the over one dozen political parties is that those political platforms were not viable and have failed to win any elective position in the 2011 general elections.
Bizarre and illogical as the reason offered by the electoral commission for demolishing these political structures appears, the Enugu State High Court has also added to the unfolding drama of a well coordinated war against multiparty democracy when the Chief Judge of Enugu, Innocent Umezuruike wielded the big stick by sacking the entire national executive committee of the All progressives Grand Alliance headed by Chief Victor Ume.
To add further fun to the entire drama, the judge comically ordered for the conduct of fresh election by the All Progressives Grand Alliance (APGA) given that the tenure of the dismissed national hierarchy had lapsed, according to Justice Umezuruike, since the year 2010.
If you ask me, I will say that what played out in form of a court verdict at the Enugu High Court was a huge comedy because if the judge sacked the entire national executive committee of a legally existing political party, how on earth does he expect that fresh election would be conducted to fill up the vacancies that arose from the court intervention given that the extant party’s constitution governing APGA recognizes the national executive council as the only legal entity to convoke a national for the purpose of organizing fresh election?
The import of the pronouncement of Justice Umezuruike is as good as asking that APGA should rest in peace but this is considered as a grave abuse of the tenet of Justice.
Chief Victor Umeh, the embattled national chairman of APGA who is the hardest hit by this judgment of Umezuruike did not express much surprise at the position of the court. “I am going to appeal immediately, put a stay of execution on this judgment until the Court of Appeal reviews it. I also have a right of further appeal to the Supreme Court”.
He continued thus; “The sponsors of this ignoble act against me have nothing to profit from the judgment because the judgment has not created alternative leadership for APGA. He is still directing the NEC of APGA to meet and elect a new leadership. The time he is talking about, the expiration of tenure, of the chairman of NEC, I was the chairman of the convention and no other organ of the party is empowered to do this. The Board of Trustees (BOT), had only one surviving member, Dr. Tim Menakaya, and his tenure expired on January 11, 2013. The Judge has finished his business and we will test it at appeal.”
“By sacking the party’s National Working Committee (NWC) that was elected at the national convention of February 10, 2011, Justice Umezururike has completely decapitated APGA and left it without a leadership. This is like removing the head of a trailer and the bodies of the trailer can no longer move”, so says Umeh.
“By this judgment, there is no organ of the party left to execute the orders he made, therefore the orders are in vain. Nobody, including Anambra State Governor Peter Obi, the sponsor of this suit, can derive any benefit from the judgment until the matter is determined at the Court of Appeal and Supreme Court”, he stressed.
Most observers with extensive knowledge of the workings of the Nigerian law say that the above interpretation of the controversial verdict of Umezuruike as opined by Chief Umeh is logically sound.
The Enugu state Chief Judge ruled that Umeh should stop parading himself as the party’s national chairman since, “his tenure ended on December 2, 2010”.
The Judge asked members of the party to take steps to convoke a national convention for the purposes of electing membership into the party’s NEC in line with the party’s constitution.
But I ask, did Justice Umezurike made any effort to read the contents of the extant constitution of APGA registered with the electoral commission before reaching this bizarre determination?
Umezuruike was ruling in a case brought by former chairman of the party for Udi council, Jude Okuli asking the court to determine whether by virtue of the proper interpretation of Section 18;2,3,4 and 5 of APGA constitution, Umeh should remain the national chairman after four years in office without re-election.
Okuli also asked the court to declare Umeh’s continued stay in office without a party convention as illegal and ultra vires the APGA constitution. He reasoned that the violation of the Section 18 of the party’s constitution, which stipulates that there must be an election into the party’s national offices through proper national convention, was the source of disenchantment in the party.
On February 10, 2011 at Awka, Anambra State, Umeh had sought the consent of the party to continue as the national chairman after his first four years in office, which he began in 2006 expired.
Leaders of the party at the Awka convention reaffirmed the continuation in office of the Umeh led executive for another four years. They claimed that NEC had earlier ratified their decision.
Justice Uwazuruike held that the process, which threw up the leadership, was faulty and unconstitutional.
He said: “The letters of the said constitution, which the court is invited to interpret are clear and unambiguous. I cannot see how the presence of APGA was necessary that it can assist the court one way or the other in interpreting Section 18 of the party’s constitution”.
According to him, Section 18(4 & 5) provided for a national convention properly fixed to elect the party’s national leadership by secret balloting. He added that the members vying for re-election into office of the national chairman must have vacated office at least two months before the convention.
He said: “In the instant case, it was gross travesty of article 18 of the party’s constitution, the meeting of the INEC was not convoked by party executive, no secret balloting was prescribed ads the officers had to be returned by voice vote as recorded by the minutes of the convention before the court.
“When things are done regularly in accordance with constitution, the court has no business, but when it is the other way, it will be an invitation of court. The court cannot run away in terror because it is the domestic affair of the party. The court has a duty to protect law and order”.
“Umeh’s tenure ended on December 2, 2010 and he was not re-elected in accordance with article 18 of the party constitution. I therefore declare that he ceases to be the party national chairman from December 2. Members shall take immediate steps to elect members into the NEC of the party in accordance with its constitution.”
This pronouncement is fundamentally faulty and lacks constitutional foundation.
The decision by the Enugu State High Court has once more drawn negative attention to the judicial arm of government even as critical observers have warned that should the judiciary continue this free fall and/or descent to the abyss of credibility deficit, the litigants will rapidly lose faith and trust in the court system as the last hope of the common man.
Only last few weeks, the Abuja High Court in the case involving the theft of over N30 Billion of police pension fund, returned a laughable verdict of only a fine of N750,000 to one of the kingpins of the heist who is a serving Assistant Director in the Federal Civil Service.
Why would the Enugu State Chief Judge not excuse himself from the matter he has now ruled even when it was clear from the beginning that the defendants protested vehemently that they do not trust the integrity and impartiality of the presiding judge?
Before the plaintiff proceeded to the Enugu State High Court, two significant political scenarios emerged.
First, the Enugu State governor Sullivan Chime had predicted the demise of the All Progressives Grand Alliance (APGA).
While the APGA leadership under Chief Umeh were criticizing the Enugu State Chief executive for making such a comment, a man suspected to have been expelled from the party who incidentally comes from same local government as the Enugu State governor, filed the matter before the Enugu State High Court which has now returned this seemingly ridiculous verdict which on the face value seems to have sounded the death knell on the All Progressives Grand Alliance (APGA), thus actualizing the “prophesy” made by the Enugu State governor that APGA will die before 2015.
The Anambra state governor who is one of the two produced by APGA is also being fingered as the sponsor of the Court case given that the Chief Umeh’s School of thought believe that he (Peter Obi) has already cross carpeted to the ruling People’s Democratic Party (PDP) in readiness for the 2015 general election in which the Anambra State Chief executive who would vacate office before this year runs out, has already pledged to work for the incumbent President Dr. Goodluck Jonathan.
But why will the Enugu State High Court play into the hands of the political forces credited with plotting to demolish APGA from the political firmament of Nigeria? Why is the National Judicial Council so weak that under the current dispensation it has failed to call judges to order especially in this instance whereby Chief Umeh had rushed to them (NJC) with petition against Justice Umezuruike?
What manner of Justice is the Court system in Nigeria producing?
These and many other credibility questions have actually emerged from this incredible verdict of the Enugu State High Court which has clearly abridged the political freedom of the members of the All Progressive Grand Alliance?
It is expected that the appellate court will restore the credibility of the nation’s court system by expeditiously determining the appeal already instituted by Chief Umeh and his other national leaders of APGA against the Justice Umezuruike’s controversial verdict.
* Emmanuel Onwubiko, Head, HUMAN RIGHTS WRITERS’ ASSOCIATION OF NIGERIA blogs @www.huriwa.blogspot.com.