Court of Appeal Grants Application To Join Aggrieved Edo PDP Members In Suit Questioning Legitimate State Delegate List
*Describes Interlocutory Ruling of Trial Court As Amounting to Judicial Impertinence and Rascality
*Describes Respondents’ Counsel Attitude As Impudent, Most Disturbing and Condemnable
A Court of Appeal sitting in Benin has given a ruling directing aggrieved members of the Peoples Democratic Party to be joined to a suit at the Edo State High Court challenging the legitimate delegate list of the party’s state chapter.
In a ruling delivered on the 19th of May, 2022 and sighted by TheNigeriaLawyer, the Court decided the appeal between IN RE: 1. HON. MONDAY IYORE OSAGIE & Ors (For themselves and on behalf of the 576 Ad-hoc Delegates elected at the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) Wards Congresses in the 192 Wards of Edo State on the 30th day of April, 2022 and monitored by INEC) VS VICTOR ENOGHAMA & Ors.
The application which the appellate Court ruled on was filed by the Applicants/Interested Parties on Thursday, the 12th May, 2022 seeking for an Order of this Court granting them Leave to appeal as persons having interest against the Ruling of the Edo State High Court sitting in Benin City, dated the 5th day of May, 2022 in suit No: B/408/2022.
The application wherein the Applicants prayed to be joined as parties to the suit instituted by the trial court where the Applicants were restrained from participating in the party’s primaries as delegates even though they were not party to the suit and thus were not afforded the opportunity to defend themselves was premised on 9 grounds, to wit:
The Applicants are card carrying members of the Peoples Democratic Party, a Political Party duly registered in Nigeria with its primary object being participation in general elections to political offices in Nigeria.
(2) The Applicants are the duly elected Ward Delegates of the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) at the Wards Congresses conducted on the 30th day of April, 2022 in the 192 Wards of Edo State and monitored by the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC).
(3) The 1st, 2nd, 3rd and 4th Respondents surreptitiously ganged up and wrote their names as elected Ward delegates and approached the Edo State High Court for an order restraining the 5th and 6th Respondents from recognizing the Applicants as duly elected Delegates at the Wards Congresses of the 5th Respondent conducted on the 30th day of April, 2022 across the 192 Wards in Edo State. (4) The Applicants who are the duly elected Delegates at the Wards Congresses of the 5th Respondent conducted on the 5th day of April, 2022 though adversely affected by the restraining order were not made parties to the suit before the Hon. Justice V, 0. Eboreime of Edo State High Court.
(5) The Applicants stand to be adversely negatively affected if they are unable to appeal the Ruling before the Honourable Court.
(6) The Applicants’ Proposed Grounds of Appeal raise serious constitutional and jurisdictional issues.
(7) The Applicants are seeking this opportunity to be heard on the propriety or correctness or otherwise of the ruling. The Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) has already set out the Time Table between April and June, 2022 for every registered political party in Nigeria to hold their Conventions and Congress for the nomination of candidates for the general election.
(8) If this application is first made at the trial Court, the Respondents will have ample time to file their respective responses to the application before the trial Court may take time at its discretion to hear and determine the application.
(9) If the trial Court refuses the application the Appellants/Applicants will have to apply for and secure the certified copies of the Court processes, the record of proceedings and the Ruling of the Court to be exhibited to the application in the Court of Appeal, and the Applicants/Appellants’ participation in the 5th Respondent’s Convention, Congresses and nomination of candidates would have been denied.
In his contention, Counsel to the Applicant, Ferdinand Orbih SAN relied on several authorities to show that where the Applicants have alluded to the fact that they were not parties at the trial Court but that the judgment of and Order of that Court affected them, the Court is always inclined to give opportunity to such persons whose rights have been affected behind their back to be heard and such persons cannot be shut out as that will infringe on their constitutional right to fair hearing which borders on jurisdiction. He listed the factors which the Court should consider when determining such an application as: (1) The Applicant/Party Interested in the case whose interest needs to be protected; (2) Whether the Proposed Notice and Grounds of Appeal are substantial and arguable? And (3) The Applicant’s entitlement to exercise the guaranteed right of appeal. Learned Senior Counsel referred to the facts averred in the affidavit in support and contended that they were not made parties by the 1st-4th Respondents, at the lower Court. They were not aware of the pendency of the action until a restraining order was made public as depicted in Exhibits B and C. He further contended that the ruling of the lower Court directly affected the political fortunes/interests of the Applicants and the same has subjected them to confusion and disorganisation. On the reason of approaching the Appeal court first rather approaching the lower Court in the first instance with such application, learned Senior Counsel drew the attention of the Court to the time frame set out by INEC for the political parties’ primaries to begin in April, 2022 and end in June, 2022 which he argued, constituted exceptional circumstances. He stated that the natural delay in approaching the Court below first will surely defeat the essence of the proposed appeal. He pointed out that the Proposed Grounds of Appeal raised constitutional and jurisdictional issues of the trial Court. During his adoption of the written address, he drew the attention of the Court to the fundamental issue of law pertaining to section 84(14) of the Electoral Act, 2022, which categorically charged all aggrieved aspirants who have complaints about flouting of the provisions of the Act and the guidelines of of a political party in the selection or nomination of a candidate to apply to the Federal High Court for redress, and then urged that this application be granted.
Responding, the Respondents Counsel, Ayo Asala SAN vehemently contended that the Applicants have not shown any special circumstances to warrant bringing this application at first instance before the Appeal Court without first filing it before the lower Court. He said that the reason as portrayed at paragraph 19 of the affidavit in support of the application does not constitute special circumstance. He referred to the case of Vaswani Trading Co. vs. Savalakh (1972) 1 All NLR Part 2 page 482 for the construction of the word “special” which would entail a consideration of of some collateral circumstances and, in some cases, inherent matters which may, unless the order is granted, destroy the subject matter of the proceedings or foist upon the Court, especially, the Court of Appeal, a situation of of complete helplessness or render nugatory any order or orders of the Court of Appeal or paralyse in one way or the other, the exercise by the litigant of his constitutional right of appeal or generally provide a situation in which whatever happens to the case, and in particular even if the Appellant succeeds in the Court of Appeal, there could be no return to the status quo.
He submitted that the Applicants have not displayed any special circumstances that would warrant their bringing this application before this Court. The second reason he adduced is that the ruling of the lower Court which the Applicants are seeking to appeal against has lapsed and overtaken by event. He said that the Motion on Notice to which the order sought to be against was subjected, was heard by the lower Court on the 13th May, 2022, then bringing to a stop or closure that interim order made on the 5th May, 2022.
In deciding the application, the Court of Appeal in the lead judgement read by JUSTICE THERESA NGOLIKA ORJI-ABADUA, deprecated the conduct of the trial judge.
It held: “The trial Judge had exhibited the greatest degree of disrespect to this Court and judicial process. He deliberately boxed this Court to a corner for refusing to fix the Motion for Interlocutory Injunction before him for hearing but then turned around to hear the same after this Court had fixed the instant application. No, we shall not permit such rascality to prevail.. The question is, why the mad rush to hear the Motion he had since refused to give a date for. He simply rushed to emasculate this Court and stifle the course of justice.”
The Court further described his actions as amounting to judicial impertinence and a disrespect to the court.
The court noted that the application stems from a political matter and Courts had been enjoined by the apex Court to exercise great caution in dishing out such orders in time-bound cases. It further noted that Grounds one and five of the Applicants’ Proposed Grounds of Appeal raised serious issues of jurisdiction which are found exceedingly compelling in granting the application.
It then held thus: “In the end and for all the reasons I have given above, this Court finds substance in this application more so where there is a seeming conspiracy to unjustly deny the Applicants their rights without being heard at all and stifle the course of justice.”