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Courts can’t entertain suits on party’s rotation policy – S’Court

From Olalekan Awojodu, Abuja.

The Supreme Court Friday struck out a suit instituted against the People’s Democratic Party (PDP) to enforce the zoning and rotation policy of the party in the 2023 Presidential election.

The Apex Court on Friday in a unanimous judgment delivered by Justice Adamu Jauro struck out the suit on the ground of lack of jurisdiction to entertain it.

A Presidential aspirant of PDP and former Deputy Speaker of Abia State House of Assembly, Hon Cosmas Ndukwe instituted the suit against his party praying for an order to compel it to uphold the zoning and rotatory policy of the party.

Specifically, the Presidential aspirant sought for order of the court to compel PDP to zone the nomination of its presidential candidate to the South East geo-political zone of the country.

However, Justice Jauro held that the suit was not justiciable on the ground that the nomination of candidates for elections is an internal affairs of political parties.

Justice Jauro invoked section 22 of the Supreme Court Act to give final resolution of all issues raised in the suit to prevent them from becoming statute barred.

Ndukwe, currently Abia State Commissioner of Trade and Investment had sued the PDP, the Chairman of the party’s Primary Election Planning Committee and the National Secretary, Senator Samuel Anyanwu and others, praying that the scheduled primary election of the party be halted

He accused the PDP of refusing to honour its zoning arrangement under which he claimed, PDP ought to have zoned its presidential ticket for the 2023 presidential election to South East.

He is also aggrieved over his disqualification from participating in the presidential primary election on grounds of alleged anti-party activity.

Ndukwe filed along with the substantive suit marked: FHC/ABJ/CS/508/2022, an ex-parte application, for an order to restrain the PDP from going ahead with the primary election until his suit was determined.

In a ruling on April 28 this year, Justice Donatus Okorowo of the Federal High Court in Abuja declined to grant the ex-parte motion seeking to stop the planned primary election as argued by plaintiff’s lawyer, Paul Erokoro (SAN).

Instead, Justice Okorowo ordered the PDP and the other defendants to appear before the court on May 5 to show cause on why the primary election should not be stopped in view of the pending suit by Ndukwe.

Dissatisfied with order to show cause on why its primary election should not be stopped, PDP and others approached the Court of Appeal in Abuja with a request that the ruling of the high court be set aside on ground of jurisdiction and competence of the suit.

In the appeal filed in Anyanwu’s name, the appellants claimed that the high court Judge erred in law by denying him fair hearing in breach of section 36 (1) of the 1999 Constitution.

They argued that the plaintiff’s originating summons was not ripe for hearing and that the time for the defendants to file counter affidavit against the suit had not lapsed when the judge gave the order.

The appellants claimed that the court erred in law when it failed to aver its mind to the provision of Section 84 (15) of the Electoral Act 2022, before making the order to show cause.

They further stated that the Judge erred in not directing the plaintiff to put them on notice but rather, directed them to show cause on an ex-parte application allegedly anchored on an incompetent originating summons.

The appellants sought the Court of Appeal to void and set aside the order of the Federal High Court of April 28 asking them to show cause on why the primary election should not be stopped.

The Court of Appeal in its decision of July 15 agreed with PDP and others that the Federal High Court ought not to have entertained the suit on ground of lack of requisite jurisdiction.

Ndukwe on his part felt dissatisfied with the Court of Appeal decision and proceeded to Supreme Court to have his suit entertained.

Justice Jauro in the Supreme Court decision however, held that the Court of Appeal was right in holding that the Federal High Court lacked jurisdiction to intervene in the matter.

He held that several judicial precedents have been established to the effect that selection and nomination of candidates for elections are internal affairs of political parties and that no court should dabble into it.

However, rather than remitting the case to the high court for determination of the substantive matter, Justice Jauro invoked section 22 of the Supreme Court Act to give final judgment, striking out the suit for want of jurisdiction and competence of the suit.

At the Supreme Court proceedings, Paul Erokoro SAN stood for Ndukwe while Mahmoud Magaji represented PDP.

Other Justices of the Supreme Court in the panel are Amina Adamu Augie who presided, Mohammed Lawal Garba, Tijani Abubakar and Emmanuel Akomaye Agim.

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