SDP leadership crisis: Court dismisses Adeniran’s group’s objection, seeking to terminate suit by Shonibare’s group

• Adjourns till June 2 to hear substantive matter

A Federal High Court sitting in Abuja on Monday dismissed the preliminary objections by the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) and four other respondents in the suit filed by Chief Supo Shonibare’s group over the leadership of the Social Democratic Party (SDP).

Chief Shonibare and 11 others in the suit are seeking the recognition of the Olu Falae-led National Executive Committee (NEC) as the authentic leadership of the SDP as against Professor Tunde Adeniran’s faction.

Defendants in the suit include Professor Adeniran, Shehu Gaban, Emeka Atuma, Prof. Rufai Alkali, Marian Tolopari, Dr Junaid Mohammed, Senator Ebenezer Ikeyina, Senator Erin Henshaw, David Umah, Stanley Nnanka, Joseph Achile, and INEC, who are first to twelfth defendants respectively.

The 1st, 2nd, 4th, 9th and 11th defendants in arguing their preliminary objection urged the court to dismiss the suit on the grounds that it was a waste of time and an abuse of the court’s process because the issues brought before the court have been resolved by the Supreme Court last year, in a judgment which declared former Cross River State Governor, Donald Duke as the candidate of the SDP in the 2019 presidential election.

Their counsel, Mr. Peter Nwatu, argued that hearing the suit will amount to sitting on appeal on the judgments of both the Court of Appeal and the Supreme Court.

Shonibare, courts must, SDP leadership crisis
Supo Shonibare

INEC’s lawyer, Mr. Dimas Emmanuel, on his part, argued that the court lacked jurisdiction to entertain the suit because it has become statute-barred, adding that the court lacks the jurisdiction to entertain intra-party matters.

Responding to the two objections, counsel to the plaintiffs, Mr. Tani Molajo (SAN) told the court that the objections by the defendants were misconceived because the issues brought before the court was quite different from what the apex court had resolved.

According to Molajo, the issue resolved by both the Court of Appeal and Supreme Court has nothing to do with the party’s leadership but the rotation of the presidential ticket among zones in the country.

The plaintiffs’ counsel further argued that certain paragraphs in the affidavit in support of the 1st, 2nd, 4th, 9th and 11th defendants were in breach of the Evidence Act, making the preliminary objection incompetent and urged the court to dismiss the objections and proceed to hear the substantive suit.

The trial judge, Justice Ijeoma Ojukwu who had, on January 19, 2021, slated her ruling on the preliminary objections after taken arguments from counsel disagreed with the defendants that Section 2(a) of the Public Officers Protection Act is applicable to the case and held that the suit, as filed by Chief Shonibare and 11 others is not statute-barred.

According to the judge, the questions and issues raised in Prof. Jerry Gana Versus SDP at the Supreme Court are entirely different from the plaintiff’s suit, adding also that the case of the plaintiffs cannot be dismissed on the issues raised at the apex court as there are many more issues to be determined, which the Supreme Court judgment did not cover.

She said, even though the court cannot interfere with internal matters of a party, the court is supposed to look at the claims of the plaintiffs, and, “having examined the claims of the plaintiffs, there are those which the court has jurisdiction and those which it has not.

“The court interferes when a party violates its own rule. It is only when the case is heard that justice can be done.

“I hold that the preliminary objections of the defendants have failed to terminate the case of the plaintiffs,” she said and consequently dismissed the preliminary objections and adjourned till June 2, 2021, for the hearing of the substantive matter.

The judge told parties to put their houses in order as she ordered an accelerated hearing in the matter.

According to the plaintiffs in the suit numbered, FHA/A/ABJ/CS/1358/2019, they were elected at the party’s national convention on March 9, 2016, for a period of four years but were displaced sometime in 2018 by the Adeniran faction on claims that they were appointed at the party’s 2018 national convention.

Shonibare, who claimed to be the Acting National Chairman of the party, following the resignation of the National Chairman, Chief Olu Falae, in 2019, insisted that there was no election of party officials in 2018.

This development led to legal action to resolve the leadership issue.

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