• Tuesday, July 23, 2024
businessday logo

BusinessDay

The Ides of June: Last hope of Rivers LGA chairmen hangs on Supreme Court as Appeal Court in PH fails to stop Fubara

Rivers crisis: Eight bullets at Sim Fubara?

The hope of the endangered 23 local council chairmen to enjoy tenure elongation now seems to hang on the upcoming Supreme Court ruling in the case filed by the Federal Government against states.

The Supreme Court has already reserved ruling in the matter which seeks to stop states from dissolving local councils and withholding their funds. Being a ruling from the apex court, there would be no appeal and the ruling would be bounding on all states.

Read also: Rivers government is in intensive care unit – Tony Okocha on Fubara’s one year in office

The shifting of hope to the apex court is as the Appeal Court in Port Harcourt Friday, June 14, 2024, failed to stop Gov Sim Fubara of Rivers State from dissolving the local councils on June 18, 2024, a day after the tenure of the present chairmen and councilors.

This has been the matter in question as a major faction of the Rivers State House of Assembly controlled by the Nyesom Wike-backed but defected lawmakers had extended the tenure of the councils for another six months. The Gov Fubara-backed lawmakers led by Victor Jumbo on the other hand did not endorse any tenure elongation. Many of the camps rushed to court to get backing, and the courts have continued to give conflicting rulings.

The world thus waited to see what would happen on June 18, one day after the expiry of the tenure.

Ruling on a major case expected to determine what would happen on June 18 took place this Friday, June 14, 2024. The Appeal Court justice failed to issue an order stopping any action. The justice rather ruled that the status quo be maintained.

Problem is that both camps have gone to the social media to claim opposite interpretations.

The ruling of the Appeal Court may have rather added anxiety to what many now call the ‘Ides of June’ in Rivers State.

The daggers have been drawn for months over the fate of the 23 local council chairmen whose tenure would end on June 17, next week.

Now, the Appeal Court has asked parties to maintain status quo, and adjourned to June 20, which would be few days after the expiry date of the council chairman.

Many say the governor may have completed whatever action he would want to take on the LGAs before June 20.

The Court of Appeal adopted virtual (zoom) method to host the ruling apparently to stop crowds at the court.

The panel of justices led by Jimi Olukayode-Bada gave its ruling on two motions filed by the speaker of one faction, Martins Amaewhule, and the other defected lawmakers on a case No. CA/PH/198/2024 challenging the order of injunction granted by the Rivers State High Court restraining them from acting as lawmakers.

The Appeal Court in ruling on the first motion granted the appellants’ prayers for leave to compile and transmit the records of appeal, deeming the appellants’ brief of argument as filed, accelerated hearing and a stay of further proceedings at the High Court.

The Court of Appeal however refused to grant the prayer to set aside the various actions of the pro-Fubara speaker, Oko-Jumbo as their presumption of correctness of an order of a Court.

It held that granting same would be tantamount to determining the appeal at this stage. The Court went on to order that the present status quo should be maintained pending the hearing of the appeal.

Ruling on the second motion which was brought to set aside the order of interlocutory injunction of the high court, the Court of Appeal refused and dismissed the motion on notice to set aside the order of C.N Wali issued on May ‪29 2024‬ and reiterated that the ‘present’ status quo should be maintained contrary to the status quo before the filing of the suit that was sought by the appellants.

The respondents are to file their briefs within 72 hours of being served.

Interpretations:

Some persons favouring Amaewhule group (pro-Wike) have gone jubilant saying the order to return to status quo means that what the defected lawmakers enacted should remain in force.

One of them, Gideon Deemor, described on facebook as both an engineer and lawyer was quoted that it is the Rivers State Local Government N0.5 ,2018 as Amended, Sections 9(1),2,3 and 4 that has been retained. To them the six months elongation tenure have been retained to be in operation by law.

He said: “That all Commissioners that were screened by Hon. Jumbo including and not limited to the Purported Honourable Attorney General are illegal to the extent of their existence.

“That any budgetary expenditures by Gov SIM that were not approved by RT. Hon. Martins-led Assembly Constituted grave offence.

“That the hopes of all potential caretaker committee chairmen, members and media aides have been legally buried.”

Lawyers loyal to the Fubara camp have however laughed Deemor off thus: “What is status quo antebellum? Blacks Law dictionary 8th edition, page 1448 defines it as ‘The situation before the commencement of the action in court. The court that issued an order for the maintenance of status quo is an appellate court. Now what was the status quo before the appeal? The order made by the lower court.

“Were there prayers by the appellants for the appellate court to set aside the ruling/order made by the trial court? Yes.

“Were those prayers granted by the court of appeal? No. The truth is that the court refused to set aside the order(s) of the trial court, but ordered for status quo to be maintained.

“What was the status quo before the appeal? The ruling of Hon. Justice C. Nwali is the status to be maintained by parties, pending the hearing of the appeal.”

The confusion and anxiety seem to continue till June 18.

The case filed by the Attorney-General of the Federation against state governments may afford the Wike camp the chance to hold onto the third tier of government in Rivers State to achieve grassroots mobilisation.

Should the Supreme Court order the states not to dissolve the councils and never to withhold their funds, the Wike camp may bounce back and square up with Governor Fubara and the battle would remain balanced.