The Calabar Division of the Court of Appeal has delivered judgment in appeal No. CA/C/337/22, filed by Senator John Owan Enoh against the APC, INEC and Senator Bassey Otu. The court affirmed Senator Prince Bassey E. Otu as the authentic APC Governorship candidate for the upcoming 2023 General elections. In a unanimous decision on the appeal filed and argued for the Appellant by Chief Awa Kalu, SAN and opposed and argued by Chief Mike Ozekhome, SAN, for Senator Otu, the 3-man panel of the court consisting of Justice Jimi Olukayode Bada (presiding), Justice Elfrieda Oluwayemisi Williams-Dawodu (who read the lead judgment) and Justice Ugochukwu Anthony Ogakwu, dismissed the appeal filed by Senator John Owan Enoh, as lacking in merit and affirmed the decision of the Federal High Court in Suit No FHC/CA/CS/106/2022, delivered by Justice Ijeoma Ojukwu, on 24th October, 2022.
The brief facts of the case are that by an Originating Summons brought before the Federal High Court, Calabar, presided over by Justice Ijeoma Ojukwu, Senator John Owan Enoh had argued that the APC governorship candidate, Senator Prince Bassey Otu, was not eligible to contest for the party primaries held on 26th May, 2022; and that the National Working Committee (NWC) which cleared him to contest, had done so pre-emptorily without such powers. Senator Bassey Otu, through his Counsel Ozekhome, had argued that the NWC, being responsible for the daily administration of the party, had duly exercised its powers in clearing the candidate.
Justice Ojukwu had consequently dismissed Senator Ewa’s suit for lacking in merit. She held that Senator Bassey Otu was never disqualified by the Screening Committee, or the Screening Appeal Committee, which merely gave their initial reports as “not cleared”, and “inconclusive”, respectively. None of the reports said he was “disqualified”, as required by the APC Constitution and Guidelines; for if it were, a “certificate of disqualification” would have been issued to Otu. When the reports of the Committees were questioned through petitions by the same Senator John Owan Enoh, the NWC sat over the petitions and decided that both Committees had erred in their earlier non-clearance. It went ahead to clear Senator Bassey Otu as eligible to contest the election. Justice Ojukwu agreed with the NWC, and affirmed Senator Bassey’s election as the APC governorship candidate for the 2023 General election.
Dissatisfied with this well-considered judgment, Senator John Owan Enoh through his Counsel approached the Court of Appeal, Calabar, urging it to overturn the decision of the lower court. Counsel to Senator Ewa formulated two issues for determination, to wit, whether the Appellant (Senator Ewa) was at all times not qualified to contest the election; and whether the NWC lacked the power, or whether there is a regulation preventing the NWC from looking into the eligibility of Senator Bassey Otu.
On his part, Senator Bassey argued through his counsel that he had always been eligible to contest for the party primaries and election. He argued that the Senator had satisfied all constitutional requirements for governorship candidates; and thus, ought to have been cleared by the Screening and Appeal Committees. He also argued that he was never disqualified as both reports of the Screening Committee and the Screening Appeal Committee had merely stated “not cleared” and “inconclusive”, respectively, without more. When the NWC sat on the appeal, it rightly cleared the Senator for the elections, after which he contested and defeated Senator Enoh by a huge margin of 811-84 votes.
Ozekhome had also argued that there was no provision in the APC Constitution or Guidelines to the effect that without an appeal to the Screening Appeal Committee and the NWC by an affected aspirant, the NWC could not decide on appeals over an internal issue. Given that both decisions of the Committees were challenged by Senator John Owan Enoh himself, the matter had been automatically activated and brought to the table of the NWC. There was therefore no hindrance for the NWC to exercise its undoubted powers, since it was the NWC that set up both Committees in the first place; sat as an appellate body over these Committees; and exercised its powers under section 13 of the APC Constitution. Chief Kalu, SAN, however contented that the NWC had no such powers.
The Court of Appeal on 15th December, 2022, in a lead judgment delivered by Justice Williams-Dawodu, unanimously held that the fact that the NWC cited the wrong paragraph when it exercised its power to clear Senator Bassey was of no moment, as it did not thereby strip it of its powers to do so. This would not be allowed to oust a qualified candidate who was never disqualified by the two Committees; and was also duly cleared by the NWC.
The 3-man panel of the court further held that the NWC is the last appeal body according to the APC Constitution. Therefore, denouncing the clearance by the NWC and holding that it had no power to clear Senator Bassey would amount to mere technicality. It further held that the courts have and will continue to shy away from technicalities, and rather seek to do justice to a case on the merit. Given that both issues for determination were resolved in favour of Senator Bassey Otu, the court held that the appeal failed. It accordingly dismissed it and affirmed the judgment of the trial court. It concluded thus:
“In light of the foregoing, one can agree with the decision of the Court and in consequence, resolve the sole issues against the Appellant; the judgment of the court delivered on October 24, 2022, by Honourable Justice Ijeoma Ojukwu is hereby affirmed.”