From Godwin Tsa, Abuja
The Abuja division of the Court of Appeal has dismissed the appeal filed by the All Progressives Congress (APC) challenging the decision of a Federal High Court which had ordered it to swear in the Stephen Leo Ntukekpu led Akwa Ibom State Executive of the party.
In a unanimous judgment, the appellate court presided over by Justice Haruna Tsamani with Justice Ugochukwu Ogakwu and Justice Bature Gafai said the dismissal was sequel to an application by the Counsel to APC, Niyi Akintola, SAN informing the court of his client’s decision to abide by the judgment delivered by Justice Taiwo Taiwo of the Federal High Court Abuja Division.
He further informed the court that his client, the APC has enforced the judgment of the lower court by swearing in Stephen Leo Nkukekpo as the Akwa Ibom State chairman of the party and the other plaintiffs in the judgment of the lower court as the Executive members of the party in the state.
With the dismissal of the appeal, it has put to rest the tussle over the leadership of the APC in Akwa Ibom State.
Counsel to the plaintiffs, Chief Umeh Kalu, SAN, did not oppose the withdrawal and likewise Counsel to the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) Umar Farouk, SAN.
Reacting to the judgment the chairman of the APC in Akwa Ibom State Stephen Leo Nkukekpo hailed the decision of the APC to withdraw the appeal and enforce the judgment of the lower court by swearing in his Executive members. He also hailed the Appeal Court for dismissing the appeal just as he extended his hands of fellowship to the party members in the state, especially the aggrieved ones and urged them to join hands with him to move the party forward with a view to taking over the Akwa Ibom Government House in the 2023 general elections.
The former Secretary of the Caretaker Committee of the Party John James Akpan Udoudehe was at the appeal court for the judgment.
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It would be recalled that a Federal High Court sitting in Abuja had on March 17th sacked the Augustine Ekanem led leadership of the APC in Akwa Ibom State and declared the Stephen Leo Ntukekpo led leadership of the party as the authentic leadership of the APC in the state.
The court presided over by Justice Taiwo Taiwo went ahead to order the party to swear Nkukekpu led Exco of the party.
Justice Taiwo Taiwo had in his judgment held that the inauguration of the Augustine Ekanem led state EXCO of the party was an act of illegality.
In their stead, the court equally ordered the party to swear in Uduakobong Peter Udoh and Uko Obonodo Ini as the state secretary and woman leader of the State Executive Council.
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Justice Taiwo Taiwo made the declaratory orders while delivering judgment in the suit brought against the party, members of the National Caretaker Committee and INEC.
Specifically, the suit marked FHC/ABJ/CS/635/2021 and filed by Stephen Ntukepo, Uduakobong Udoh and Uko Obonodo Ini, listed the APC, Governor Mai Mala Buni (National Chairman Caretaker/Extraordinary Convention Planning Committee of APC); Senator John James Akpanudoedehe (Secretary caretaker/Extraordinary conventional planning committee of the APC) and the INEC.
Justice Taiwo in his judgment declared the plaintiffs as the duly and democratically elected State Executive Committee Officers (EXCO) of the party in Akwa Ibom State.
The court agreed with the submission of counsel to the plaintiffs, Umeh Kalu (SAN), that by the provisions to section 223(1) (a) of the 1999 Constitution, section 85 (3) of the Electoral Act 2010, Article 20 of the APC Constitution and the guidelines for the conduct of the APC state congresses 2021, made pursuant to the party’s constitution, “the defendants cannot refuse to recognise the plaintiffs who were dully elected at the APC Akwa Ibom congress which held in Uyo, Akwa Ibom State on October 16, 2021, as members of the Akwa Ibom State Executive Committee of the APC.
That the act of the defendants to replace the plaintiffs who were dully and democratically elected at the party’s state congress, with unelected persons chosen by the defendants.
Justice Taiwo held that the acts of the defendants to replace the plaintiffs with unelected persons contravened sections 223(1)(a) of the constitution, section 85 (3) of the Electoral Act 2010, Article 20 of the APC constitution and the guidelines for the conduct of the APC state congresses.
That the purported substitution of the plaintiffs as members of the Akwa Ibom State Executive Committee of the APC, with unelected persons chosen by the 1st to 3rd defendants, and, who did not participate at the state congress of the party held on October 16, 2021 is unlawful and illegal.
An order directing the INEC to deal with only the plaintiffs and no other persons in any form or guise as the dully and democratically elected members of the Akwa Ibom state EXCO of the APC.
An order restraining the 1st to 3rd defendants or whosoever, however, named from interfering with the functions of the plaintiffs as members of the state EXCO of the APC.
Justice Taiwo noted that ‘for our democracy to grow, our constitution must serve as a red card to anyone who wants to derail it to satisfy his personal interest.’
He added that ‘a political party cannot be allowed to act or conduct itself against its own constitution.’