A complaint by Justice Nwosu-Ikpeme of the Court of Appeal, Awka Division, about the collusion of high court judges in ‘judgment shopping’ by politicians was among the developments that led to the summon of chief judges of six states by the Chief Justice of Nigeria (CJN) Tanko Mohammed, checks by The ICIR have revealed.
The CJN had, in a notice issued on August 30, summoned the chief judges of Rivers, Kebbi, Cross River, Anambra, Jigawa and Imo states.
The chief judges are to appear before the CJN to explain the issuance of conflicting orders on the same subject matter by courts of coordinate jurisdiction under their authority.
In the summons extended to the chief judges, the CJN said, “My attention has been drawn to media reports to the effect that some courts of coordinate jurisdiction were granting conflicting ex-parte orders on the same subject matter.
“It has become expedient for me to invite you for a detailed briefing on the development.”
Checks by The ICIR show that high courts in the states supervised by the six chief judges have issued conflicting orders on political matters in recent times.
The concerned political matters involve the candidate of the All Progressives Grand Alliance (APGA) for the November 6 governorship election in Anambra State, and the unfolding leadership crisis in the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP).
* Jigawa, Imo, Anambra high courts fall over each other to dish out orders on Anambra APGA crisis
On June 28, 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 governorship election in Anambra State.
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.
A former Governor of the Central Bank of Nigeria (CBN) Chukwuma Soludo had also emerged the APGA candidate for the Anambra gubernatorial election by winning the June 23 primary election organised by the party’s leadership led by Victor Oye.
Oye was reportedly the APGA national chairman recognised by INEC and the primary which produced Soludo was monitored by the electoral commission and was also endorsed by Anambra State State governor Willie Obiano.
Obiano is a member of APGA and has endorsed Soludo as his successor.
But as a result of the June 28 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.
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 judgment of the Anambra High Court which declared the former CBN governor as the party’s authentic flagbearer.
* Appeal Court accuses politicians of judgment shopping, demands sanctions for Jigawa, Imo high court judges
But Justice Nwosu-Ikpeme did not stop at just dismissing the application of the Okeke faction.
She accused Anambra politicians of going round the country shopping for judgments 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.
The Court of Appeal justice regretted that some judges and lawyers 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 judgments 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 high courts in Jigawa and Imo states be punished for professional misconduct.
* Harvest of court orders in PDP leadership crisis
Besides the controversial court orders recorded in the build-up to the Anambra gubernatorial election, eyebrows have been raised over a series of recent conflicting court orders issued by judges in Rivers, Kebbi and Cross Rivers states concerning the leadership crisis in the PDP.
Kebbi, Rivers and Cross Rivers states are all among the six states whose chief judges were summoned by the CJN.
The ICIR had earlier reported that 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 to 27.
The first court order came on August 23 when a Rivers State High Court presided 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.
Secondus 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 state high court in Kebbi State 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 Rivers 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.
Secondus 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 till September 7 for the hearing.
* NJC warned judges about granting ex parte applications
In the summons issued to the six chief judges, the CJN, who is also the chairman of the National Judicial Council (NJC), the apex judicial body which appoints and disciplines judges, noted that the NJC had warned judges on the need to be circumspect in granting ex parte applications.
The CJN observed that the disregard of the NJC warning by the judges made it more compelling for the chief judges to explain the conflicting court orders.