Justice John Tsoho of a Federal High Court, Abuja, on Monday, ordered the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) and its chairman, Professor Mahmood Yakubu, to appear before it to answer to contempt proceedings pending against them.
Justice Tsoho gave the order in his ruling on arguments on whether or not the physical presence of INEC and its chairman was necessary for the court to determine the contempt proceedings initiated against them by Ejike Oguebego and Chuks Okoye – Chairman and Legal Adviser of the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP), Anambra State.
The judge rejected argument by INEC’s counsel, Adegboyega Awomolo to the effect that the nature of the contempt proceedings against his clients was civil and could be determined without their physical presence.
Justice Tsoho said whether civil or criminal, contempt proceedings were always quasi-criminal, which required the physical presence of the alleged contemnor in court for him/her to be heard on whether or not the order of committal should be made.
Relying on the provisions of Order 9 Rule 14 of the Judgment Enforcement Rules, Justice Tsoho said it was the duty of the court’s registrar to issue and serve Forms 48 and 49 on a party in disobedience of court’s order for him/her to attend court, failing which a bench warrant might be issued against him/her to attend court and show cause.
“I hold that the alleged contemnors are under obligation to appear before this court to show cause why an order of committal should not be made against them,” the judge said.
Justice Tsoho, who specifically directed the alleged contemnors to present themselves in court on Thursday (July 7), said a bench warrant would be issued for their arrest should they refuse to be present in court on the next adjourned date.
Oguebego and Okoye, suing for themselves and on behalf of other members of the Executive Committee of the PDP, Anambra State, are accusing INEC and Mahmood of refusing to obey the December 5, 2015 judgment of the Federal High Court, Abuja, delivered by late Justice Evoh Chukwu.
Chukwu had, in the fifth order as contained in the judgment, restrained INEC, its agents, among others, “from accepting or receiving any delegates list or nominated candidates that may emerge from the congresses or primaries conducted by the caretaker committee set up by the first defendant (PDP) for the Anambra PDP, except those that emanated from the plaintiffs.”
Worried by INEC’s alleged refusal to comply with the judgment, particularly the fifth order, Oguebego and Okoye initiated contempt proceedings against the INEC chairman before the Federal High Court, Abuja.
On May 20, Justice Tsoho granted an order ex-parte for substituted service of processes in relation to the contempt proceedings, including Form 48, on Yakubu.
For service on the INEC boss, Justice Tsoho directed the plaintiffs to serve the court processes, including Form 48 on “an adult person, staff or official at the Legal Department of INEC at No: 436 Zambezi Crescent, Maitama, Abuja, being the usual place of business of the second repondent (Yakubu).
As it affects INEC, the judge ordered the services of all processes, including Form 48, “by delivering or leaving same at the Legal Department of INEC, the commission having refused to accept service of same from the bailiffs of this honourable court.”
The Form 48 issued by the court’s registrar on March 31, 2016, a notice of consequences of disobedience to order of court states: “Take notice that unless you obey the directions contained in the order of the honourable court, attached to this Form (in particular, the fifth order, restraining you from acting on any list of nominated candidates for the PDP in Anambra State, in respect of legislative seats for the 2015 general election, except those that emanated from the plaintiffs), you will be guilty of contempt of court, and you will be liable to be committed to prison.
“Take further notice that if the INEC continues to disobey this order, you, Professor Mahmood Yakubu, the chairman of INEC, will be held liable for contempt of court and liable to imprisonment,” the judge said.