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Published On: Wed, Aug 15th, 2018

Court contempt: Arrest of INEC chair still subsists, Judge maintains

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By Vivian Okejeme Abuja

Justice Stephen Pam of the Federal High Court Abuja, yesterday, insisted that his order of August 1 to the police to arrest to and produce Chairman of the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC), Prof. Mahmoud Yakubu in court still stands.
This is following the absence of the counsel to the INEC boss in court with no explanation for their absence.
The Court of Appeal, had on August 13, restrained the police from arresting the INEC chief based on the orders the lower court.
However, when the matter came up yesterday, Justice Pam maintained that the Police must arrest and produce Yakubu in court on August 16, to explain to the court why he should not be committed to prison over alleged disobedience to order of the court which still remains valid.
Justice Pam had on August 1, issued a bench warrant against the INEC chief, following his failure to appear before the court on three occasions to defend himself in the contempt charge brought against him by Ejike Oguebego and Chuks Okoye, Chairman and Legal Adviser of the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP), Anambra State respectively.
Based on the first order, the police was supposed to produce Yakubu in court on August 8, however, the INEC was not in court on the said date, forcing the court to adjourn to August 14 with the court again affirming its earlier order of August 1.
At the resumed proceeding yesterday, the INEC chairman was not in court to show cause why he should not be committed to prison over contempt of court allegation. His counsel neither appeared nor sent a message to the court on why they were not in court.
Counsel to the plaintiffs, Kanayo Okafor, informed the court of the ruling of the Abuja division of the Court of Appeal on August 13, which ordered a stay of execution of the warrant of arrest as well as the proceedings at the trial court.
In a short ruling, Justice Pam held that the court is a court of record and as such would require the ruling or judgment of the appellate court, adding that there is no proof of such decision of the higher court before him to be guided by.
“At the commencement of proceedings, counsel to the applicant, Kanayo Okafor informed the court that the Court of Appeal on Monday, asked the court to stay proceedings in the matter.
“The counsel to the respondent is not in court and no reason has been given for their absence.
“The contempt proceedings and the bench warrant issued for the arrest of Prof. Mahmood Yakubu, INEC Chairman still subsists, the IGP is to carry out the order of the arrest of Yakubu.
“This court being a court of record, has nothing to prove that there was an order for stay from the Court of Appeal.”
Subsequently, the court adjourned to August 16 for the police to produce Yakubu in court for the trial.
It will be recalled that Appeal court also halted Yakubu’s trial at the lower court pending the determination of the appeal filed by Yakubu.
Yakubu, who is challenging the order of his arrest at the Court of Appeal, claimed that Justice Pam acted in bad faith in the issuance of the arrest order because he had already filed a pending appeal against the order and the attention of the judge drawn to the appeal.
In his argument, his counsel, Chief Adegboyega Awomolo SAN, submitted that if the appeal was not heard by the time the court would be sitting in September, his client would have been sent to prison, adding that the lower court was bent on sending Yakubu to jail.
However counsel to the respondents, Goddy Uche SAN, insisted that the trial was yet to reach the stage where Yakubu could be jailed, adding that what the trial court is asking for is for the INEC chief to appear in court to show cause why he should not be committed to prison.
He said the trial judge had been unable to deliver his ruling on the contempt charge because of Yakubu’s continued absence in court.
Consequently, the hearing at the Court of Appeal did not go further following the court’s decision to avoid delving into the substantive matter.
The three man panel of the court of appeal, presided by Justice Abdu Aboki, held that it would be better for the court to take the appeal and the substantive suit together.
The court then ordered for a stay of execution of the warrant of arrest on Yakubu as well as a stay of proceedings of the matter at the trial court.
“Parties have agreed that the application cannot be taken today, since they have not filed their argument”, he said, adding that, argument cannot be taken without delving into the main issues.
“ The proper order is to adjourn for parties to file their brief of argument and since the court below is aware of the appeal and considering the legality of the warrant of arrest issued, it would be prejudicial for the lower court to continue with the case.
“We therefore stay execution of the warrant of arrest pending the determination of this appeal and the substantive suit which would be taken together at the adjourned date”, the court held.
The matter was then adjourned till the 17 of September, 2018 for the hearing of the appeal and the substantive suit.

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