A Federal High Court Abuja, on Wednesday issued a bench warrant for the arrest of the Chairman of the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC), Prof. Yakubu Mahmoud, for disobedience to orders of the court which summoned him to appear in person to defend the criminal charges against him.
Justice Stephen Pam, gave the order for the arrest of Mahmoud following his absence in court three times to show cause why he should not be committed to prison for alleged contempt of court.
A Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) chieftain, Chief Ejike Oguebego, had filed a contempt charge against INEC and its chairman for their refusal to recognize him as PDP chairman in Anambra State in compliance with the Supreme Court judgment of December 2014.
At the resumed hearing Wednesday, counsel to Mahmoud and INEC, chief Adegboyega Awomolo SAN had informed the court that Mahmoud was not in court because he was attending an important national assignment in Mali.
Apart from his refusal to appear before the court, Mahmoud filed a motion asking the court to discontinue his trial on the ground that he was already in the court of appeal to challenge the contempt charge against him
But Justice Pam in a short ruling got annoyed with the excuse of the INEC chief to be absent in court and held that the court could no longer tolerate the continued absence of the defendant in court to answer to the trial.
The Judge dismissed the reason advanced by Mahmoud that he was unable to appear in court as ordered by the court because he was leading a team of electoral officers from ECOWAS states to Mali and that the assignment was crucial.
The court held that the reason was not tenable because the INEC chief had on three occasions refused to honour the summon issued against him to appear in court to defend the contempt charge brought against him by Ejike Oguebego, the current chairman of the People’s Democratic Party (PDP) in Anambra State.
Justice Pam, who was fuming with anger on the refusal of INEC chief to appear in court, said that the court will not fold its hands and allow it to be turned into a toothless dog by the defendant.
“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 court faulted the letter by Awomolo, dated July 27 to take excuse for the contemnor on the grounds that the defendant had written through the Executive Secretary of INEC, adding that the letter of Awomolo dated July 27 contradicted that of INEC dated July 29.
The grouse of the judge was that Awomolo claimed in his letter of July 27 that he had been notified in writing that his client will not appear in court because of the Mali trip, whereas the INEC letter relied upon by Awomolo was dated July 29, 2018.
Consequently, the judge ordered that the INEC chairman be arrested for his persistent refusal to appear in court and adjourned further proceedings to August 8.
Earlier, a motion filed by Awomolo on July 31 praying the court to hands off or step aside from the trial on the grounds that an appeal had been filed to challenge the court summon on the INEC chief was struck out by Justice Pam.
The judge held that the motion for stay runs contrary to section 360 of the Administration of Criminal Justice Act (ACJA), which does not permit stay in a criminal matter.
Counsel to Oguebego, Mr. James Odiba, had prayed the court to commit the INEC chief to prison for disregarding the judgment of the Apex Court, adding that contrary to the letter and spirit of the Supreme Court judgment both INEC and its chairman have been relating with another faction of the PDP in Anambra State.
However, the two contemnors in their joint defense claimed that Mahmoud was not in office in 2014 when the Supreme Court delivered the judgment, hence, no order was made against him and that he has not disrespected any order of the court.