By Vivian Okejeme Abuja
A three-man- panel of the Court of Appeal, sitting in Abuja, yesterday, ordered the stay of execution of the bench arrest warrant order made against the Chairman of the Independent National Electoral Commission INEC, Prof. Mahmoud Yakubu
The warrant of arrest made by Justice Stephen Pam of the federal high court, directed the Nigerian Police Force to arrest the INEC Chief, for disobeying court orders.
Sequel to the arrest order, the INEC boss, had through his counsel, Chief Adegboyega Awomolo, SAN, approached the appellate court, challenging the warrant of arrest order by trial court as well as praying it to stop Justice Pam from sitting on the contempt charge against him.
In the appeal, Yakubu told the appellate court that he was apprehensive that the high court Judge would send him to prison if allowed to proceed with the case as scheduled.
“My lords, it will appear that the trial Judge is bent on committing the appellant to prison at all cost and our worry is that he has dragged himself into the arena.
“The danger is that if my lords do not do anything, our appeal before you will be in vain and by the time we come back in September to hear the matter, he must have sent my client to jail,” Awomolo pleaded.
Reacting, counsel to the respondents, Mr. Goddy Uche, SAN, accused the INEC Chairman of deliberately using the appeal to frustrate the contempt charge against him.
Uche urged the appellate court to uphold the integrity of the judiciary by compelling the Appellant to obey subsisting orders from the high court.
“This whole thing is bordering on the integrity of the judiciary. We have not gotten to the stage of anybody being sent to jail. All the trial court has asked is for the appellant to come and show cause why he should not be committed to prison for disobeying valid court orders”, Uche stated.
The panel in response to submissions from both parties, said it would in the meantime, refrain from delving into the legality or otherwise of the arrest warrant and Prof. Yakubu’s alleged disregard to court orders.
The Justice Abdul Aboki led panel held that the arrest order should be placed on hold, pending the hearing and determination of an appeal before it.
The appellate court held that the lower court should, in the meantime hands-off the case, saying it would be prejudicial for the contempt proceeding against Mahmood to continue while his appeal is still pending.
Continuing, the court warned that no one found to have held valid court orders in contempt would be spared from facing the legal consequences.
However, the appellate court held that such punishment must follow the due process.
“If we allow some people to willingly disobey orders of Court, then there will be no rule of law. No body is going to accept that nonsense from anybody no matter how highly placed.
“But the proceeding concerning the alleged disobedience must be compacted within the law. Before anyone’s liberty is shackled, it must be done within the confines of the rule of law.
“The position we have found ourselves in today is that we cannot hear the matter and conclude it today.
“Since the court below is aware that an appeal has been entered in this court and is pending here. Also considering that the legality of the warrant of arrest is an issue in this appeal, it will be prejudicial to the appeal for the trial court to continue dealing with the issue.
“We therefore stay the execution of the warrant of arrest pending the determination of the motion on notice, which will be taken together with the main appeal.
“The application is adjourned till 17th of September for hearing.”
The appellate court, also, directed the respondents, Chairman and Legal Adviser of Anambra State Chapter of the Peoples Democratic Party, PDP, Chief Ejike Oguebego and Chuks Okoye, to file their brief of argument respectively before the adjourned date.