The Chairman of Independent National Electoral Commission, Mahmood Yakubu, on Tuesday shunned a valid order summoning him to appear before Justice Stephen Pam of the Federal High Court sitting in Abuja.
Justice Pam had on July 5, ordered Yakubu to appear before him to show cause why he should not be sent to prison for contempt of court.The judge made the order while ruling on a preliminary objection by INEC and it’s Chairman in a contempt proceeding filed by Ejike Oguebego and Chuks Okoye, Chairman and Legal Adviser of the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP), Anambra State respectively.
At a resumed hearing on Tuesday, counsel to INEC, Chief Adeboyega Awomolo (SAN) had applied for an adjournment to enable him respond to the application filed by counsel to the applicant Chief Chris Uche (SAN) to show cause why the contemptor is absent from court.
“I will be asking your lordship for an adjournment to enable me respond” Awomolo pleaded.He told the court that he filed a notice of appeal before the Court of Appeal against the ruling delivered on July 5.More so, Awomolo pleaded for adjournment based on the fact that he is yet to be served by the applicant, an application that this matter be heard during vacation.”I wrote a letter to the Chief Judge of the Federal High Court that I am not favourably disposed to the case being heard during vacation.
“My lord, there is no affidavit of urgency that this matter be heard today” Awomolo held.In reactio, Chief Uche opposed the application for an adjournment and urged the court to proceed with hearing of the matter.”My lord the contemptor disobeyed the order of the court as no explanation was proferred before this honourable court to show cause while Prof Yakubu is absent from court.
“We therefore urge your lordship to deal with this issue of disobedience” Chief Uche submitted.In a short ruling, Justice Pam held that the fiat issued by the Chief Jushe of the Federal High Court to hear the matter during vacation is still subsisting and that the case will continue to sit during vacation.The judge cautioned counsel to desist from not advising his client to obey an order of court as “this disregard amounts to contempt of court.
“The contemptor cannot ask favours from the court while he continues to disregard orders of court”, Justice Pam held. Consequently, he adjourned the matter till August 1st during the vacation to enable the contemptor appear before the court in person to show cause why he shouldn’t be committed in prison.
Recall that in dismissing the preliminary objection, the court had held that the filing of two suits cannot be classified as tantamount to abuse of court proceedings.Instead, the court reasoned that “it is the filling of the same application with different suit numbers that constitutes an abuse and forum shopping.
More so, the court stated that the contemptor had failed to establish through verifiable and affidavit evidence that the plaintiff’s tenure of office had expired.”I hearby hold that further objections further raised by the contemptor is irrelevant because they have not established the date by which the plaintiff’s office had expired.
“In any case the tenure of office is hardly relevant for a case as serious as contempt against the court” Justice Pam posited.
Consequently, the trial judge discountenanced the submission by counsel to the INEC Chairman that the contempt suit amounted to forum shopping and an abuse of court process.
The contemptor had argued that there was a similar suit pending at the Federal High Court on the same subject matter.”In view of the foregoing, the court stated that, the preliminary objection fails in its entirety and is accordingly dismissed”.It would be recalled that the Supreme Court had in January 2016 declared the list of candidates submitted by the Ken Emekayi led faction of the Anambra PDP, illegal.
That pronouncement emanated from a suit filed by Oguebego on behalf of themselves and others including Mr Chris Uba, who is the Anambra South Senatorial Zone candidate for the apex court to determine who were the legal and validly nominated candidates of the party to stand for the last general elections for the party in the state.
Going by the ruling, the list of nominated party candidates in the 2015 general election from the Oguebego-led executive of the Anambra PDP was the only one to be recognised by the INEC.
In the list are Chris Uba, John Emeka and Annie Okonkwo said to be the duly nominated senatorial candidates for Anambra South, Central and North in the March 28, 2015 general election.Similarly, Justice John Tsoho of a Federal High Court, Abuja, has in 2017 ordered the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) and its chairman, Professor Mahmood Yakubu, to appear before it to answer to contempt proceedings pending against them.
Justice Tsoho gave the order in his ruling on arguments on whether or not the physical presence of INEC and its chairman was necessary for the court to determine the contempt proceedings initiated against them by Ejike Oguebego and Chuks Okoye – Chairman and Legal Adviser of the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP), Anambra State.
The judge rejected argument by INEC’s counsel, Adegboyega Awomolo to the effect that the nature of the contempt proceedings against his clients was civil and could be determined without their physical presence.
Justice Tsoho said whether civil or criminal, contempt proceedings were always quasi-criminal, which required the physical presence of the alleged contemnor in court for him/her to be heard on whether or not the order of committal should be made.
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