The hopes of the All Progressives Congress (APC) to wrest Rivers State from the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) suffered a major setback as the state High Court sitting in Port Harcourt wednesday declared all nominations made by the state chapter of the APC towards the 2019 elections a void.
The court also nullified all the elections of state APC ward, local government and state executive committees that arose from the “illegal ward congresses” of May 19, 2018.
With this judgment, the election of the APC gubernatorial candidate in the state, Mr. Tonye Cole has also been nullified.
APC has however, described the court judgment as an evil collaboration between its factional governorship candidate, Senator Magnus Abe and Governor Nyesom Wike.
This is as Abe, who is the Senator representing Rivers South East senatorial district in the National Assembly, has urged the party to respect the court judgment and ensure that the views of members count in the affairs of the party.
Delivering judgment yesterday in a suit filed by Ibrahim Imah and 22 others against the APC, the Presiding Judge, Justice Chiwendu Nwogu, declared that the ward congresses of the state APC were illegal because they were not conducted in line with the APC guidelines and constitution.
Imah and 22 others had gone to court to challenge their exclusion from ward congresses of the party after purchasing forms from the state secretariat of the party.
Justice Nwogu set aside the ward congresses of Rivers State APC on May 19, 2018, local government congresses of May 19, 2018 and state congress of the party of May 21, 2018.
He stated that all actions taken by the APC during the pendency of the suit have been set aside because they are illegal and unconstitutional.
He declared that all those who purchased nomination forms for the ward congresses were entitled to contest the ward congresses of May 19 but were unjustly excluded by the party.
According to the Justice, “The rule must be checked by the rule of law. We must restore the hope of the common man in the justice system.”
Nwogu, who based his judgment on the Amaechi versus INEC Matter of 2007, noted that having studied the submissions in the matter, he was bound to make consequential orders to ensure that justice was done in the case.
He stated that the High Court has jurisdiction to entertain the matter as an appeal filed by the respondents at the Court of Appeal, Port Harcourt, to stop proceedings on the suit was rejected by the Appellate Court on September 21, 2018.
Nwogu stated that all through the hearing, the APC filed no counter-affidavit denying the facts of the matter as presented by the applicants in the originating summons.
He said it is trite law that facts not disputed are deemed admitted.
On the suit filed in an Abuja High Court by a faction of the APC, Nwogu declared that the court is of coordinate jurisdiction with the High Court in Port Harcourt and cannot sit in appeal over it. The Justice added that the suit filed by Ibrahim Imah preceded that of the Abuja High Court by a faction of the Rivers State APC.
Earlier, before the delivery of the judgment, counsel to the APC, Prince Azunda, moved a motion seeking to stop the delivery of the judgment.
However, Nwogu dismissed his application which he termed as a ploy to arrest the judgement.
Addressing journalists shortly after the judgment, counsel to the aggrieved APC members, Henry Bello, hailed the judgment as victory for democracy and the rule of law.
Bello said: “According to the constitution, not according to the caprices of the elite, the court has nullified and set aside the primary elections conducted indirectly by APC on September 29, 2018.”
However, counsel to the APC, Prince Azunda, insisted that the state High Court lacks the jurisdiction to entertain the matter, adding that the judgment was a nullity.
Meanwhile, APC has described the judgment as an evil collaboration between Abe and Wike.
In a statement issued by the state Publicity Secretary, Chris Finebone, yesterday, the party said it was not surprised by the judgment but the ruling has brought to an end the collaboration between Abe and Wike to destabilise the party.
Finebone said there had been many overt and covert partnerships between Wike and Abe using the Rivers State Judiciary on the matter to scuttle the electoral fortunes of the APC in 2019.
“Today’s ruling is a culmination of such an evil collaboration,” he said.
He accused Abe of being privy to the judgment as he was already referring to the court’s verdict even when the judge had not finished his ruling.
“We wish to inform APC members and sympathisers of our great party in Rivers State and across Nigeria to remain calm as we are well prepared in anticipation of today’s ruling and have therefore done the needful.
“Despite aspects of the matter which are already before the Court of Appeal and the Nigerian Supreme Court, the lower court went ahead to decide on a matter that is being challenged at higher courts of the land. Indeed, our legal team is already finalising the paperwork to file an appeal on today’s judgment and stay of execution. There is absolutely no cause for alarm,” he said.