Can the CJN’s War End Conflicting Court Orders?

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CJN Justice Tank Muhammad

This article by Ahuraka Yusuf Isah discusses the issue of courts of coordinate jurisdiction giving conflicting orders on the same cases with the same subject-matter, citing the recent APGA Gubernatorial and the PDP Chairmanship crises as examples, going as far back as June 12, 1993. He however, believes that now that the CJN, Hon. Justice Ibrahim Tanko Muhammad CON, has declared war on this unwholesome practice which has been fuelled by Politicians, we should see the end of this shenanigans

Background

O n August 30, 2021, the Chief Justice of Nigeria (CJN), Hon. Justice Ibrahim Tanko Muhammad, summoned six Chief Judges of the State High Courts in the country, in a bid to halt the indiscriminate granting of court orders and injunctions by some Judges, and to arrest descent to judicial anarchy and disrepute. The Chief Judges (CJs) invited to appear before the NJC were that of Rivers, Anambra, Jigawa, Kebbi, Imo and Cross River State. While the High Courts of Imo, Jigawa and Anambra were required to explain their roles in the Anambra Governorship election, the High Courts of Rivers, Kebbi and Cross River on the other hand, were involved in the case of the PDP Chairman, Prince Uche Secondus.

However, three days after the CJN summoned the six CJs, on September 2, 2021 to be precise, the Chief Judge of Delta State High Court, Justice Marshal Umukoro granted an order stopping Governor Mai Mala Buni of Yobe State, as the Caretaker Committee Chairman of the All Progressives Congress (APC). The Supreme Court had earlier made a pronouncement on the same matter; therefore, Justice Umukoro’s ex-parte order amounted to sitting on appeal against the Apex Court’s judgement. Consequently, the CJN summoned him too, for a meeting on September 7, 2021 alongside with the six other CJs.

Current Conflicting Court Orders

It all began when the Jigawa, Imo, Anambra State High Courts fell over one another, to dish out orders on the Anambra State All Progressives Grand Alliance (APGA) crisis. On June 28, 2021, Justice Justice Musa Ubale of the Jigawa State High Court, handed down an order to affirm Jude Okeke’s claim to the position of National Chairman of the All Progressives Grand Alliance (APGA). Okeke is the leader of a faction of APGA which conducted the parallel primary election that produced a member of the House of Representatives, Chukwuma Umeoji as the party’s candidate for the November 6, 2021 Governorship election in Anambra State.

Former CBN Governor, Chukwuma Soludo, battled several court orders to emerge as APGA’s candidate for Anambra gubernatorial election, by winning the June 23 primary election organised by the party’s leadership led by Victor Oye.

Justice Ubale upheld Okeke’s claim that he became the acting National Chairman of APGA, after purportedly taking over from one Edozie Njoku, who was said to be on suspension.

A Delta State High Court presided by Justice Joe Egwu had earlier issued an injunction against the parallel primary organised by the Okeke faction, but the Judge later allowed the event to go ahead after vacating the order.

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Oye was reportedly the APGA national Chairman recognised by INEC, and the primary which produced Soludo was monitored by the Commission, and was also affirmed by Anambra State Governor, Willie Obiano, who has endorsed Soludo as his successor.

But, as a result of the June 28, 2021 court order delivered by the Jigawa State High Court, INEC listed Umeoji, rather than Soludo, as APGA candidate, when an initial list of candidates for the election was published on July 16, 2021. There were reports that INEC only got to know about the order of the Jigawa State High Court that compelled it to recognise Umeoji, just hours before it released the list of the Gubernatorial candidates.

An Anambra State High Court presided by Justice C. C. Okaa on July 19 reinstated Soludo as the APGA candidate for the Gubernatorial election, by declaring that the former CBN Governor was the authentic candidate of APGA. The court described the Okeke-led APGA faction and its Governorship flagbearer (Umeoji) as meddlesome interlopers, and ordered INEC to publish Soludo’s name as the Gubernatorial candidate of the party. But, following a suit filed by an APGA member, Chike Dike, to challenge the publication of Umeoji’s name by INEC, an Imo State High Court presided by Justice B. C. Iheka on June 30 affirmed that Okeke remained the National Chairman of APGA, with Umeoji as the party’s Gubernatorial candidate.

However, INEC finally reinstated Soludo as the APGA candidate for the Gubernatorial poll after Justice Nwosu-Ikpeme of the Court of Appeal, Awka Division, in August, dismissed an application filed by the Okeke faction to challenge the July 19 judgement of the Anambra High Court which declared the former CBN Governor as the party’s authentic flagbearer. However, Justice Nwosu-Ikpeme accused the politicians of judgement shopping to enable them to contest in the November 6 Governorship election, rather than appear before the courts with the territorial jurisdiction to adjudicate on the election. She accused also the Judges and Lawyers who indulged such politicians, and as a result, tarnished the image of the legal profession.

Justice Nwosu-Ikpeme went further to demand punishment for Justice Musa Ubale of the Jigawa State High Court and Justice B. C. Iheka of the Imo State High Court, for dabbling into the controversy surrounding the Anambra Gubernatorial election and giving consequential judgements on the matter. According to her, the actions of the Imo and Jigawa Judges amounted to professional misconduct. She also demanded that Lawyers who took the cases to the High Court in Jigawa and Imo States, be punished for professional misconduct.

2021 PDP Chairmanship Crisis

At the last count, three different courts in three different States had handed out three different orders on Uche Secondus’ position as National Chairman of the PDP. The court orders were delivered within a period of just five days – from August 23, 2021 to August 27, 2021.

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The first court order came on August 23, when a Rivers State High Court presided over by Justice O. Gbasam granted an interim injunction restraining Secondus from parading himself as the Chairman and a member of the PDP. The order followed an ex parte application in Suit No: PHC/2183/CS/2021 filed by Ibeabuchi Ernest Alex, Dennis Nna Amadi, Emmanuel Stephen and Umezirike Onucha against Uche Secondus (1st Defendant) and the PDP (2nd Defendant). The court also ordered Secondus to refrain from calling, attending or presiding over any meeting of the PDP, or any Committee of the party at the ward, local government or State level, or calling for any ward, local government or State congress of the party. He was also restrained from setting up Committees for congresses, or participating in any activity of the PDP whatsoever whilst on suspension, pending the hearing and determination of the suit.

A second court order came on August 26. In a ruling which upturned the earlier pronouncement by the Rivers State High Court, a Kebbi State High Court ordered Secondus to return to his position as the National Chairman of the PDP. The Kebbi State High Court, presided by Justice Nusirat Umar, gave the order while ruling on an application filed by three concerned members of the PDP – Yahaya Usman, Abubakar Mohammed and Bashar Suleman – in a suit numbered KB/AC/M. 170/2021. The Judge said she was satisfied that an interim order be granted on the purported suspension of Secondus, pending the determination of the case.

The third court order, issued by a Cross River State High Court on August 27, overturned Secondus’ reinstatement by the Kebbi State High Court. Just hours before Secondus was billed to preside over a meeting of the PDP National Executive Committee (NEC), the Cross River State High Court sitting in Calabar barred him from returning to office as the National Chairman of the party. The court presided by Justice Edem Kooffreh granted the interim order, while ruling on a motion ex parte filed by Enang Wani against Secondus and the PDP.
Ruling on an ex parte application numbered HC/240/2021, the Judge granted an order of interim injunction restraining Secondus from assuming the office of the National Chairman of the PDP while seeking reelection, pending the hearing and determination of the motion on notice. He was also barred from presiding over any meeting of the party, until the motion was heard. In the same vein, the court restrained Secondus from attending the meetings of organs of the PDP in the capacity of National Chairman, and any other form. He was also restrained from attempting to forcefully gain entrance into any meeting, or into the premises of the party as National Chairman pending the hearing and determination of the motion on notice.

The PDP was equally restrained from recognising or granting Secondus the powers due to the office of the National Chairman, until the final determination of the suit which was adjourned to September 7 for the hearing.

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The June 12, 1993 Conflicting Orders

Several Judges in the past, have also been involved in issuing conflicting court injunctions on the same matter pending before court(s) of coordinate jurisdiction, with utter impunity. Not until the current CJN, Hon. Justice Ibrahim Tanko Muhammad declared war on Judges dishing out conflicting judgements, no Judge ever thought he could be punished for such an infraction.

Take for instance, the integrity and perhaps, the reputation of nation’s Judiciary which was torn to shreds at the twilight of June 12, 1993 Presidential election and shortly after, when a deluge of suits were filed to halt the election, as well as urging it to be conducted.

It all began with the June 11, 1993 night-time ruling of Justice Bassey Ikpeme, which ordered the then electoral umpire not to conduct the Presidential election billed to hold the following day. Bassey Ikpeme was a practicing Lawyer in General Ibrahim Babangida’s Attorney-General of the Federation and Minister of Justice, Clement Akpamgbo’s law firm. She was appointed a Justice of the FCT High Court few days before June 12, 1993; and the first case, albeit also the last case she sat on, was the ex-parte application filed by Chief Arthur Nzeribe’s Association for Better Nigeria (ABN). ABN told the court that, both NRC and SDP presidential candidates were corrupt.

On June 23, 1993 when General Babangida announced the annulment of the June 12, 1993 Presidential election, highly believed to have been won by the late Chief Moshood Abiola, he blamed the Judiciary for the crisis leading to his decision.

‘’It must be acknowledged that the performance of the Judiciary on this occasion, was less than satisfactory. The Judiciary has been the bastion of the hopes and liberties of our citizens. Therefore, when it became clear that the courts had become intimidated and subjected to the manipulation of the political process and vested interests, then the entire political system was in clear danger. This administration could not continue to watch the various High Courts carry on their long drawn out processes and contradictory decisions, while the nation slides into chaos. It was under this circumstance that the National Defence and Security Council decided that it is in the supreme interest of law and order, political stability and peace, that the Presidential election be annulled’’, Babangida stated.

In the same vein, General Sani Abacha blamed the Judiciary for sacking Chief Ernest Shonekan’s Interim National Government (ING), following Justice Dolapo Akinsanya of Lagos High Court’s judgement, declaring ING illegal and an aberration. General Abacha however, set up a panel headed by the late Justice Kayode Esho in 1994, to cleanse the Judiciary due to its performance in the previous year, and the Panel recommended 47 justices for sack.

Ahuraka Yusuf Isah, is the Senior Special Assistant on Media to the Honourable Chief Justice of Nigeria

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