The Federal High Court sitting in Abuja, on Wednesday, issued a bench warrant for arrest of the Chairman of the Independent National Electoral Commission, INEC, Prof. Mahmood Yakubu, over his alleged disobedience to a valid court order.
Justice Stephen Pam ordered the Nigerian Police Force to arrest and produce the INEC boss in court on August 8 to face contempt charge.
The order followed Mahmood’s persistent refusal to honour a summon for him to appear in court with respect to a suit involving the Anambra State chapter of the Peoples Democratic Party, PDP. Prior to Wednesday’s sitting, the INEC Chairman had on July 5 and 10, equally failed to honour the court’s summon to appear and defend a contempt proceeding that was initiated against him by Chairman and Legal Adviser of the PDP in Anambra state, Ejike Oguebego and Chuks Okoye, respectively.
Justice Pam had specifically summoned the INEC boss to appear and show cause why he should not be committed to prison for refusing to recognize the Oguebego-led faction of the PDP in Anambra state in compliance with a judgment the Supreme Court delivered in December 2014. The Applicants had prayed the court to jail Mahmood for disregarding the said judgment.
They decried that contrary to the apex court’s verdict, both INEC and its Chairman, have continued to relate with another faction of the PDP in the state. Meanwhile, in his defense, Mahmood 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.
At the resumed proceeding, Mahmood’s lawyer, Chief Adegboyega Awomolo, SAN, told the court that his client was not present owing to the fact that he was attending an important national assignment in Mali.
Awolowo said his client was leading a team of electoral officers from the Economic Community of West African States, ECOWAS, to Mali, on a very crucial assignment.
His excuse for Mahmood’s absence in court for the third consecutive time was however rejected by Justice Pam who said he would no longer tolerate an attempt to turn his court to a toothless bulldog. “It is sad that the contemnor and his senior counsel have chosen not to obey the order of this court in respect of this contempt charge.
“The contempt of the contemnor to this court can no longer be tolerated and he should not be allowed to continue to take the court for a ride”, the Judge fumed. Besides, the court faulted a letter dated July 27, which Awomolo wrote to explain his client’s repeated absence and the fact that he had earlier written the court through the Executive Secretary of INEC.
The court noted that whereas Awomolo claimed in his letter of July 27 that he was notified in writing that his client would not appear in court because of the Mali trip, the said letter from INEC he made reference to, was actually dated July 29.
Justice Pan said he was not convinced that the INEC boss had any justifiable reason not to attend the court proceeding as he was ordered to do.
Consequently, he ordered that he should be arrested and produced in court on the next adjourned date.
Earlier, the Judge struck out a motion that asked him to hands off or step aside from the matter on the premise that an appeal had been filed to challenge the legality of the court summon that was issued against the INEC boss.
Justice Pam maintained that the motion amounted to an application for the stay of proceeding, contrary to section 360 of the Administration of Criminal Justice Act, ACJA, which he said forbade the grant of a stay in criminal matters.