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ANALYSIS: What the Supreme Court ruling on Rivers means

The Supreme Court on Tuesday affirmed the October 10 decision of the Rivers State High Court which nullified the May 12 congress conducted by the All Progressives Congress in the state.

The Supreme Court on Tuesday affirmed the October 10 decision of the Rivers State High Court which nullified the May 12 congress conducted by the All Progressives Congress in the state.

The decision of the apex court also invalidates the May 19 to 21 local and state government congresses of the party.

The party officials elected in the state congresses eventually conducted the primaries that produced Tonye Cole as the governorship candidate of the APC in Rivers.

The Rivers APC is split into two factions, one loyal to a serving senator, Magnus Abe, and another to transport minister, Rotimi Amaechi. While Mr Amaechi’s faction produced Mr Cole as governorship candidate, Mr Abe’s faction produced him as the candidate.

In a unanimous judgment by a five-member panel, led by Justice Bode Rhodes-Vivour, the apex court allowed the application brought by Mr Abe’s faction. The court also dismissed a preliminary objection brought by the APC faction loyal to Mr Amaechi.

The court, which also struck out a number of related applications on the same issue, said it would give its reasons in three months.

The judges, however, noted that their decision is premised upon the fact that the issues brought before the court were pre-election matters.

The apex court agreed with submissions of the Magnus Abe-led faction through their lawyer, Henry Bello, that the applicants at the lower court ought to have brought their request within a stipulated period of 14 days after the October 10 decision of the High Court was made.

Although the court said it would provide further details about the judgment on a later date, Mr Bello told journalists that the decision of the apex court implies that parties would now return to the Court of Appeal where the lawyer believes that Mr Abe would be pronounced the eventual flagbearer of the APC in next month’s governorship election.

“The judgment delivered in four appeals at the Supreme Court today has confirmed the infallibility of the judgment of the High Court of Rivers State rendered on October 10, 2018, which nullified the congresses conducted in Rivers State in 2018 and the indirect primaries election conducted by APC in Rivers State.

“The implications of this decision is that the Ojukaye Flag-Amachree led exco have been automatically dissolved. Those parading themselves under the leadership of Tonye Cole as the candidate of the APC for the 2018 general elections are no longer the candidates.

“Subject to the decision of the Court of Appeal within the week by the grace of God, the faction led by Magnus Abe are the candidates of APC for the various positions in the 2018 General elections in Rivers State,” Mr Bello said.

How it started

On May 11, 2018, a high court in Rivers presided by Chinwendu Nwogu gave an injunction barring the APC from conducting its congress scheduled for the next day.

The party, from the faction loyal to Mr Cole, ignored the injunction and proceeded with the Congress on May, 12. The party also conducted other Congresses where party representatives loyal to Mr Ameachi emerged as flag bearers for the state elections.

In addition, the factional members challenged the decision in a motion brought before the Appeal Court on May, 15.

Following that request, on June 21, 2018, the Court of Appeal affirmed the Congresses conducted by the APC and nullified the injunction issued by the High Court.

Dissatisfied, Mr Abe’s faction challenged the June 21 decision at the Supreme Court.

Consequently, on October 22, the Supreme Court nullified the stance taken by the Court of Appeal and questioned the lower court for allowing a request by “applicants in breach of an existing court order,” according to the apex court.

But the APC members, led by Mr Cole, approached the court with yet another request, stemming from the same high court decision and again the Court of Appeal nullified the decisions of the lower court, relying upon certain factors including its earlier decision on June, 21.

It was this pronouncement by the Court of Appeal that prompted further appeals at the Supreme Court by factional members loyal to Mr Abe which resulted in Tuesday’s ruling.

The recent decision by the Supreme Court

The faction led by Mr Cole began losing their case at the apex court on February 8, four days after a Court of Appeal paved the way for them to be flagged as representatives of the party in the March 2 elections.

The Supreme Court nullified the February 4 decision, with other previous rulings, allowing APC members working with the Cole-led faction to partake in the elections.

The reason adduced by the Supreme Court in that February 8 ruling, seen by PREMIUM TIMES, was that the Court of Appeal ought to have dismissed the case, rather than deciding on it.

According to the apex court, applicants from Mr Cole’s faction withdrew their request after filing it at the lower court.

The apex court, whose February 8 ruling was prepared by Justice Ejembi Eko, faulted the decision of the Appeal Court to proceed with its order, despite the withdrawal of the request by lawyers representing Mr Cole’s faction.

The apex court ruled that the actions of the applicants at the appeal court was sufficient to warrant a dismissal of the entire appeal at the appellate court.

“Therefore the question in this appeal is whether the withdrawal of Appeal number: CP/PH/198/2018 is valid or authorized and what is the effect if same pursuant to order 11, rule 1 and 5 of the Court of Appeal rules 2016.”

The court cited the provisions of the aforementioned section to imply that the withdrawal of the appeal was tantamount to its dismissal.

“An appeal which has been withdrawn under this order, whether with or without a court order shall be deemed to have been dismissed.”

The apex court viewed that the appeal court was wrong in its actions and evoked section 22 of the Supreme Court rules which allowed it to revoke decisions termed wrongful by the lower court.

With Tuesday’s decision, the Supreme Court gave final verdicts on all formally pending requests at the apex court.