The Nigerian Court of Appeal sitting in eastern Nigerian city of Enugu on Monday nullified an Enugu High Court judgement removing Chief Victor Umeh as the National Chairman of the All Progressives Grand Alliance (APGA).
In a unanimous decision, the appellate court quashed the judgment by Justice Innocent Umezulike, the state’s Chief Judge, which he granted in favour of one Jude Okuli, nullifying the 10 February 2011 APGA convention.
The convention produced Umeh and other members of the party’s National Working Committee (NWC).
Delivering the lead judgment, Justice Tom Yakubu overruled all the grounds of the preliminary objection filed by the respondent.
According to Yakubu, the lower court has no jurisdiction over the matter as the respondent has no locus standi to sue.
“It is not the duty of the court to scout for evidence to aid the case of the plaintiff. It is not the duty of the court to arrogate jurisdiction to itself,’’ he said.
The judge said the appeal filed by Umeh did not constitute an abuse of court process as the respondent claimed.
“The claim of the plaintiff was not against APGA but Umeh as he was not the alter ego of APGA,’’ Yakubu said.
The judge also said the lower court dissipated its energy in considering his locus standi and added that it was not the duty of the lower court to scout for evidence to aid the case of the plaintiff.
“By the statement of claim, the respondent could be best presumed to be an ordinary member and not a member of the National Working Committee (NWC),” he said.
On the issue of nullification of the convention, Yakubu noted that the trial judge over shot his mark when he declared the convention of APGA as unconstitutional, null and void.
The judge described Okuli as `a busy body,’ meddlesome person who lacked the locus standi to institute the case in the lower court yet the trial judge assumed the jurisdiction which he did not have.
Concurring with the lead judgement, the Chairman of the panel, Justice Paul Galinge, reiterated that if a court was not competent to hear a matter, it was a waste of time to hear and determine the matter.
“A court should not award that which was not claimed in pleadings by parties. A court is not a charitable organisation. This order was made without jurisdiction. The order is a nullity,’’ he said.
Galinje announced that the third judge in the panel, Justice Modupe Kwasami, who was unavoidably absent, also agreed with the lead judgement.
In his reaction, Umeh thanked the chairmen of the party in the various states and the NWC for their support, assuring them that it would bounce back and win the governorship election in Anambra.
He urged the aggrieved members to join hands with him so that the party would find a credible candidate to replace Gov. Peter Obi.
Also speaking, the respondent, Okuli, expressed disappointment with the judgement and said he would seek advice from the leaders of the party on the next step.
Mixed reactions trailed the judgement.
Some of the politicians who spoke with the News Agency of Nigeria (NAN) in Awka soon after the judgment, hailed the judgement while other said it had caused more confusion.
Chief Mike Kwentoh of Umeh’s faction described the judgement as a “triumph over illegality”.
Kwentoh said the judiciary had once again displayed that it was the last hope of common man in the society.
He urged the party faithful not to lose sight of the ultimate goal of APGA which was to ensure good governance.
On his part, Chief Ifeanyi Udokwu, a member of the party, said the judgement was “good and objective,” adding that it was the Umeh group that was recognised by INEC
In his reaction Chief Egwuoyibo Okoye of Maxi Okwu’s faction said the judgment had created confusion in the leadership of the party and showed “the level of hopelessness in the judiciary”.
“A few weeks ago, we celebrated when a the Court of Appeal in Enugu dismissed a suit against the election of Maxi Okwu and I, and today, the same court validates the leadership of Victor Umeh.
“Now that there are two judicially backed-up factions in the leadership of the party, INEC and the State Independent Electoral Commission (ANSIEC) are at liberty to obey whichever faction they deem fit.
“The implication, however, is that there are two authentic chairmen of APGA in Anambra. The two factions are at equilibrium with each enjoying the endorsement of the court,” he said.
In the same vein, a gubernatorial aspirant on the platform of APGA, Chief Patrick Obianwu, said the leadership of the party should exercise caution not to ruin it but employ dialogue to resolve the crisis.
“My opinion is that dialogue should be used as the best means of resolving the impasse. Above other things, the party leaders must see the interest of the party as paramount in all they do”, Obianwu said.
In his reaction, the Special Adviser to Gov. Peter Obi on Political Matters, Mr Felix Okafor, said the judgment created a parallel function which would be determined by the Supreme Court.
Meanwhile, Umeh on Monday dedicated his victory at the Court of Appeal in Enugu to the late Leader of APGA, Dim Chukwuemeka Odumegwu-Ojukwu.
Addressing newsmen at Ojukwu’s cenotaph in Nnewi after singing praises to the late Ikemba, Umeh said the victory was a new dawn for APGA.