The Chairman of the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC), Prof. Mahmood Yakubu, yesterday alleged that Justice Stephen Pam of the Federal High Court sitting in Abuja is determined to send him to prison without recourse to rule of law.
Yakubu’s position was contained in a petition he sent to the Chief Judge of the Federal High Court, Justice Abdul Abdu-Kafarati, asking him to disqualify Justice Pam who issued arrest warrant on him.
But the judge insisted that the inspector-general of police must produce Yakubu in court on August 14.
The INEC boss, in the petition he filed through his counsel, Chief Adegboyega Awomolo (SAN), alleged that the trial judge exhibited bias tendencies against him by issuing a bench warrant for his arrest when condition precedents for the issuance of such order was not fulfilled.
In addition, he alleged that Justice Pam has personalised the contempt charge that was initiated against him by the Anambra State chapter of the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) by insisting that he must appear in court despite a motion challenging the competence of the proceeding before him.
He, however, prayed the CJ to, in the interest of fair hearing, transfer the matter to another judge for hearing.
After informing the court of the petition, he prayed the court to adjourn the matter pending when the CJ will take action.
Counsel to the applicant, Gordy Chris Uche (SAN), opposed Yakubu’s plea for the case to be adjourned, arguing that mere filing of a petition was not sufficient to void the fiat that the CJ gave to the judge to preside over the special court he constituted to hear the contempt charge.
He contended that the INEC boss ought to have submitted himself to the court as he was ordered to do, before raising issues pertaining to the competence of the proceeding and objectivity of the judge.
“Unless an order of court is set aside, parties should obey it. I had expected that the alleged contemnor will be in court today,” Uche submitted.
After listening to the parties, Justice Pam refused to hands off the matter, saying he had yet to receive any directive from the CJ.
He noted that the INEC boss failed to serve him with a copy of his petition.
Justice Pam, however, reiterated his earlier order made on August 1 for Yakubu to be arrested and produced in court for disobeying an order of the Supreme Court.
According to him,
“the bench warrant of the court for the arrest of the contemnor is still subsisting and the Police are ordered to look for Prof. Yakubu and bring him to court on August 14.”
The judge held that he was persuaded by argument of Uche that Yakubu’s request for an adjournment of the case lacked merit.
Justice Pam had on August 1 ordered the Nigeria Police Force to arrest the INEC boss for refusing to appear before the court.
Yakubu had, on three different adjourned dates, failed to honour the court’s summon to appear and defend a contempt charge that was initiated against him by Chairman and Legal Adviser of PDP in Anambra State, Ejike Oguebego and Chuks Okoye, respectively.
Justice Pam had summoned the INEC boss to appear and show cause why he should not be committed to prison for refusing to recognise the Oguebego-led faction of PDP in Anambra State in compliance with a judgement of the Supreme Court delivered in December 2014.
The applicants told the court that contrary to the apex court’s verdict, both INEC and its chairman have continued to relate with another faction of PDP in the state. In his defence, however, Yakubu claimed that no order was made against him since he was not in office in 2014, insisting that he could not be held liable for disrespecting any court order.
He subsequently filed an appeal before the Abuja Division of the Court of Appeal to challenge the validity of the arrest warrant against him.
In his six grounds of appeal, the INEC Chairman said he was denied fair hearing by the trial judge, saying he was not properly served with an enrolled summon by the court’s bailiff.
He argued that the High Court erred in law when it ordered that he should be arrested for allegedly disobeying its order,
“when the conditions necessary to warrant the issuance of bench warrant have not been satisfied.”
He told the appellate court that Justice Pam’s arrest order “occasioned a grave miscarriage of justice,” saying he was being punished for alleged non-obedience of a summon the court issued on July 5, despite an appeal against the order.
“The learned trial judge erred in law when he descended into the arena of conflict when he argued the case of the respondents without opportunity of hearing given to the appellants or their counsel before striking out the motion asking for adjournment of further hearing of the alleged contempt proceedings,” the appellate added.
More so, he argued that the provisions of the Administration of Criminal Justice Act (ACJA) 2015, which the judge relied on, were not referred to by any of the counsel in the matter, thereby violating
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“the rights of the appellants preserved by Section 36 of the Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria 1999.”