APGA leadership crisis: How neutral is INEC?

In a ruling on March 24, 2023, the Supreme Court corrected a clerical error in its October 14, 2021 judgment, recognising Chief Edozie Njoku as the Nation Chairman of the All Progressives Grand Alliance (APGA). But the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) has continued to deal with Chief Victor Oye as the party’s chairman, despite the apex court’s decision, thereby raising doubt about the Prof Mahmood Yakubu-led umpire’s neutrality in the leadership crisis that has ravaged the party since 2019. 

Since 2019 when some members of the All Progressives Grand Alliance (APGA) purportedly suspended its Chairman, Chief Edozie Njoku, the party has been in crisis. APGA’s stakeholders and supporters however, heaved a sigh when, on October 14, 2021, the Supreme Court handed out its judgment, ordering parties to return to the status quo.

Rather than allow peace to reign, a former Chairman of the party, Chief Victor Oye, whose tenure ought to terminate in 2019 with the emergence of Njoku as the new Chairman, capitalized on an error in the Supreme Court judgment to continue to lay claim to APGA’s Chairmanship.

Upon a motion filed by Njoku, drawing the Supreme Court’s attention to the error in its October 14 , 2021 judgment, the apex subsequently effected the necessary correction by deleting Oye’s name, which the court said was erroneously inserted.

By a letter dated November 7, 2022, Justice Mary Odili (now retired) who presided over the panel that delivered the judgment, stated that the appearance of Oye’s name in the judgment was an error.

She said: “I indeed recall your letter dated 6th May 2022 to me, as the presiding Justice of the panel and the other four Justices, which requested for correction of the 14th October, 2021, Supreme Court judgment, wherein the name of Chief Victor Oye was erroneously inserted instead of the name of Chief Edozie Njoku.

“It is to be placed on record that I corrected the mistake by replacing Chief Victor Oye’s name with that of Chief Edozie Njoku on paragraph 1 of page 13 of the 14th October, 2021 judgment.

“The correction was made having cognizance that on the day of delivery of the judgment being 14th October, 2021 by a slip of the pen and tongue the name of Chief Victor Oye was brought in.

“This error was pointed out to me by other members of the panel, who reminded me that Chief Victor Oye was not a party to the appeal or the proceedings which emanated from the Jigawa High court.

“However in the course of the trajectory of errors, the name of Chief Victor Oye kept recurring in the record of the judgment instead of the right party to the proceeding, Chief Edozie Njoku.

“By this clarification, it is expected that Chief Victor Oye was not a party to the proceedings and the proper for whom the judgment and orders referred is Chief Edozie Njoku.”

Despite this clarification by the apex court, Oye continued to lay claim to being AGPA Chairman, with the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) according him recognition despite persistent protest by the Njoku-led executives of the party.

In an effort to make INEC see reason why it should cease to recognise Oye, Otunba Kamaru Ogidan and Alhaji Rabiu Mustapha, two executive members of APGA, who were elected along with Njoku (as the Chairman) at the party’s National convention held in Owerri, Imo State on May 31, 2019, filed a suit before the High Court of the Federal Capital Territory (FCT).

Ogindan and Mustapha by the suit, marked FCT/HC/CV/4068/2023 sought to enforce the October 14, 2021 judgment of the Supreme Court recognising the party’s leaders who were elected at the May 31, 2019 convention.

They prayed the court to among others, restrain Oye from further acting as APGA Chairman and for INEC , listed as the second respondent in the suit, from further relating with Oye in the capacity of the Chairman of the party in view of the Supreme Court judgment.

The plaintiff equally prayed the court to compel INEC to recognise Njoku as APGA’s Chairman.

Oye however, challenged the competence of the suit and also filed a preliminary objection.

On June 6, 2023 Justice Madugu rendered judgment in the suit, in which he among others rejected Oye’s claim to the leadership of APGA.

The judge also referenced the judgment of the Supreme Court in which Njoku was found to be the actual Chairman of APGA.

Justice Madugu said: “I must make it clear and unequivocal that the the first respondent, Chief Victor Ike Oye has no locus to act or parade himself as the Chairman of APGA.

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“This is evident from the judgment of the Supreme Court delivered on the 24th March, 2023.

“The excerpt from page 24 of the said judgment is hereby reproduced in verbatim: ‘It cannot seriously be disputed that the chairman allegedly suspended at Owerri, Imo State and who the third respondent (Alhaji Rabiu Garba Aliyu) sought to replace as Acting Chairman in the suit he filed before the trial court, against the appellant, Chief Jude Okeke and INEC, was Edozie Njoku.

‘The name of Oye was not included or even mentioned in the case that was filed by the third respondent, either as a person or as the Chairman of the first respondent (APGA) suspended or replaced at the Owerri Convention of 31st May 2019.’

Justice Madugu, in the judgment, held in favour of the plaintiffs – Ogidan and Mustapha and declared Oye’s claim to APGA’s Chairmanship as unlawful, restrained him from further parading himself as the party’s Chairman and restrained INEC from further dealing with Oye as APGA’s Chairman.

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The judge held that “the actions of the first respondent (Oye) posing and parading himself and occupying the party’s secretariat as the National Chairman of APGA, contrary to the judgment and order of the Supreme Court made on the 14th October, 2021 and corrected on the 24th March, 2023 is in disobedience and in clear violation of the judgments of the Supreme Court.”

Justice Madugu issued an order of injunction “restraining the second respondent, whether by itself, agents, privies, assigns, authorized representatives or whosoever described from accepting, recognizing and dealing with the first respondent.”

The judge, who declared all that had been done by Oye as illegal and void, held that the two respondents in the suit ( Oye and INEC) “must comply with the decision of the Supreme court made on the 14th October, 2021 and subsequently corrected on the 24th March, 2023 which has also been served on them.”

Again, INEC failed to abide by the judgment, but chose to appeal.

According to Njoku, INEC has refused to recognised him as APGA Chairman, but has continued to deal with Oye.

Ogidan and Mustapha later returned to the High Court of the FCT, with a motion seeking the committal of Oye and INEC Chairman, Prof Mahmood Yakubu to prison for allegedly disobeying an order of the court.

They claimed that Oye and Yakubu ignored the order for parties to maintain status, made on May 10, 2023 during the pendency of their suit, and proceeded to conduct wards, Local Government Areas, states congresses and national convention to choose candidates for the last general elections.

Oye and INEC denied the claims by Ogidan and Mustapha; challenged the competence of the case and prayed the court to dismiss the committal proceedings. But, in a judgment the motion for committal, marked: FCT/HC/M/10786/2023 delivered on November 9 last year, Justice Madugu held that Oye and Yakubu were in contempt of the order of the court made on May 10, 2023.

The judge said: “I have carefully considered the averments in the affidavit of the parties and submissions of their counsel.

“The cardinal issues that call for determination in this matter is whether or not there is evidence, showing that the first and second respondents (Oye and Yakubu) are in disobedience of the order of the court made on 10 of May, 2023, which is the subject matter of this contempt proceeding.

“The order which was made on 10 of May, 2023, reads thus: ‘It is hereby ordered that the parties herein should maintain status quo ante bellum pending the hearing of the notice of preliminary objection filed on the 9 day of May, 2023 by the defendant/applicant.

‘For the avoidance of doubt and for the purpose of clarity, parties herein whether by themselves, agents, privies, assigns, authorized representatives or whosoever acting on their behalf are restrained from holding the planned congresses, national convention or any other meeting or gatherings in whatever name called, of All Progressives Grand Alliance (APGA), pending the hearing of the notice of preliminary objection filed on the 9th May 2023 by the first defendant/applicant (Oye).”

He added: “This order further restrained all parties from holding planned congresses, national convention, or any other meetings or gatherings of the All Progressives Grand Alliance (APGA) until the resolution of the preliminary objection,” he said.

In the ruling, the judge observed that “upon a careful review of the evidence and arguments presented by all parties, it is evident that the 1st respondent organized and congresses and the national convention of APGA, notwithstanding the court order issued on 10th May 2023.

“To have acted contrary to the subsisting order of this court, without having same set aside or without the expiration of the order’s lifespan, create a complex legal conundrum that necessitates the committal proceedings at hand.

“The first and second respondents (Oye and Yakubu) have committed contempt by disobeying the subsisting order of this court made on May 10, 2023 and I so hold. This impunity cannot continue. This political insanity has to stop.

“The acceptance of candidates by the second respondent (Yakubu) that are products of the congress presided over by the first respondent, Chief Victor Oye held on 31st May, 2023 in defiance of the order of this court made on 10th May, 2023, is undoubtedly an affront to the order of this court.

“Having established the disobedience of the first respondent and second respondent to the order of this court made on 10/5/2023 and since the purpose of committal proceedings is to ensure that the orders of the court are upheld and respected, I hereby adopt a lenient view and order that the first and second respondent should purge themselves of contempt within 14 working days effective from today, the 9th day of November 2023.

“Case is hereby adjourned till 29th November 2023, to enable the respondents purge themselves of the contempt or face the wrath of the law,” Justice Madugu said. But, rather than simply comply with the leeway provided by the court for them to purge themselves of the contempt, Takubu, acting again with Oye appealed the ruling and got a stay of execution pending the determination of their appeal.

Njoku has argued that Yakubu’s failure to comply with the various court decisions given in his favour evidently betrays INEC’s biased position on the leadership dispute in APGA.

He wondered why INEC has chosen to take side in an intra-party dispute which has nothing to do with the commission.

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