There was an uneasy calm in the Enugu State chapter of the Peoples Democratic Party, PDP, Friday as the State High Court declined to vacate earlier order restraining the Peoples Democratic Party, PDP, from using the list of delegates elected during the November 1, 2014 ward congresses of the Enugu State PDP for the conduct the primary elections.
The Court also failed to rule on preliminary objection challenging the jurisdiction of the court to hear the suit.
The position of the state’s High Court presided over by the Chief Justice of Enugu State, Justice Innocent Umezulike, came against the reported peace talks between the two feuding camps loyal to Governor Sullivan Chime and the Deputy President of the Senate, Senator Ike Ekweremadu wherein it was reliably gathered that both camps had agreed to work together, and that the pending court cases in Enugu instituted by the Chime camp be withdrawn.
However, in what appears to be a twist, the Enugu State High Court, Friday, declined to vacate its earlier order and rather adjourned further proceedings in the suit to December 12, 2014 when both parties are expected to return to court to brief it on the outcome of the out-of-court settlement.
The judge had adjourned the matter to Friday for ruling on the preliminary objection raised by counsel to the PDP, Alex Izinyon, SAN, challenging the jurisdiction of the court to entertain the motion, which subject matter was the same as that decided by the Federal High Court, Abuja last Monday.
When the case came up for ruling Friday, counsel to the Plaintiff, Mrs. Justina Offiah, SAN, told the court that she had the instruction of his client, Mr. Charles Okafor (plaintiff) to inform the court that the parties were already holding discussions with a view to settling the matter out of court.
She urged the court to suspend its ruling on the preliminary objection to enable the parties conclude the ongoing peace process.
She said: “I have the instruction to inform the court that the parties herein and others concerned with this matter are right now in the middle of discussion for amicable resolution of their differences. The consensus is that the court should allow the process of settlement and we hope to come back and inform the court of the final settlement”.
Mrs. Offiah asked the court to graciously adjourn the ruling and adjourn further proceeding so as to afford a conducive atmosphere that would enable the parties exhaust the process of settlement.
But the counsel to PDP, Mr. Obinna Nnaka, who stood in for Dr. Alex Izinyon, SAN, opposed Offia’s application saying he had no instruction of his client or his principal to consent to the application to arrest the ruling on preliminary objection, submitting that the ruling should be delivered as it would go a long way to determine whether the matter should continue or not.
Justice Umezulike therefore asked the lawyer to contact his principal and client on phone to inform them of the new development, which he did by stepping out of the court room to contact them.
Nnaka returned to the courtroom after about three minutes and said that he had instructions to request that if the scheduled ruling should be suspended, the interlocutory order earlier made by the court should be vacated, while the peace process should go on or the entire matter should be withdrawn from court.
In the same vein, Chief Tagbo Ike, counsel to the second set of defendants/applicants, Messrs Chinenye Orji, Orji C. Orji, and Cletus Akalusi, argued that it would be wrong to keep the ruling on the court’s jurisdiction in abeyance without vacating the earlier order of the court.
Chief Ike said: “I am aware that the parties communed to settle. I am also further aware that they have settled and my instruction is that the plaintiff will withdraw the suit this morning to solidify the settlement. The application for adjournment by the plaintiff’s counsel without first vacating the earlier order will go against the settlement because it will give the impression that the parties are still at war. You cannot say you are settling when one party is at arm and another has no arm.
“If the court must adjourn without the suit being withdrawn, our application is that the earlier order of the court should be put in abeyance. Leaving the matter pending is like a farmer going to farm to cultivate corn and carrying squirrel with him.”
The defence counsel added that both parties have their eyes focused on Saturday’s Primaries and a situation where they go to the primary election and one of the parties has the court order in his pocket does not help the process of peaceful settlement.
But Mrs. Offiah insisted that since the peace process, which was already on course would be holistic, all processes of the matter should be put on hold pending when the parties returned to court to inform it of the outcome.
Chief Ike and Chuma Oguejifor insisted that if the matter should be stepped down as requested by the plaintiff’s counsel on the strength of the out of court settlement, the application brought by the three other defendants who were among the PDP delegates elected during the November 1 Ward Congresses should be heard first since they were not party to the said reconciliation process.
However, the Chief Judge agreed with Offiah’s contention that the application could not be heard in isolation and directed that the three defendants should be carried along in the peaceful resolution of the matter.
However, after listening to the submissions by both counsels, Justice Umezulike ruled that the matter be adjourned toDecember 12 to enable both parties conclude the process of out-of-court settlement.
He said that the Enugu State High Court law encouraged settlement of disputes by parties outside the court and would therefore not do anything that would be in conflict with the process of reaching the peace accord.
Speaking with newsmen after the court session, Chief Ike said: “What the court did today was to stay the ruling. The court ought to have determined whether it has jurisdiction on the matter or not, but with the indications of the parties that they have either settled or that the settlement is still on-going, the court has to promote settlement and reconciliation because part of the rules of the court is that the court should as much as possible encourage parties to settle.
“The implication is that the primaries (of PDP) will still go on because under Section 87 (11) of the Electoral Act 2010 as amended, no court can stop the holding of primary or general election. And don’t forget also that there is an existing judgment of the Federal High Court on the issue at Abuja. So everything is now in place, the parties can still go ahead with their primary.”