Prof. Mahmoud Yakubu, the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) Chairman, can now breath a little easier now that a Court of Appeal has ordered a stay of execution on the arrest order given to the Police Inspector-General to produce him in court.
An evidently angry Justice Stephen Pam of a Federal High Court in Abuja had ordered the arrest of Yakubu on August 8 after he thrice ignored orders to appear before him.
A rattled Yakubu had climbed higher to the Appeal court to stop the execution of the order.
ordered a stay of execution of the arrest warrant issued against the Chairman of the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC), Mahmood Yakubu.
Justice Abdul Aboki ordered the stay of execution, Monday.
Pam had ordered Yakubu to appear before him to show cause why he should not be sent to prison for contempt of court on July 5 while ruling on a preliminary objection by INEC and its Chairman in a contempt proceeding filed by Ejike Oguebego Chairman the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) in Anambra State, and Chuks Okoye, its Legal Adviser 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 five days later, 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 judge 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 Oguebego.
Justice Pam 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.
In a notice of appeal he filed through his lead counsel, Chief Adegboyega Awomolo SAN, the INEC chief claimed that Justice Stephen Pam acted in bad faith in the issuance of the arrest order because he had already filed a pending appeal against the order and the attention of the judge drawn to the appeal.
Among others, Yakubu claimed that up till date no order was enrolled and served on him for his personal appearance in court as required by law.
He averred that the warrant of arrest against him was a nullity because none of the parties in the contempt case applied for issuance of bench warrant except the judge who did so on his own.
The INEC chief maintained that he had not disobeyed any court order because he was not present before the court when the alleged order directing his personal presence was made and that Justice Pam who issued the order has no jurisdiction to punish him for the alleged disobedience of court order committed ex-facie curie (outside the court).
Yakubu in the notice of appeal predicated on five grounds claimed that the Federal High Court Judge was wrong to be a judge of his own order allegedly not obeyed outside the face of the court.
He maintained that he was no longer a contemnor at the Federal High Court under the strength of his appeal lodged at the Court of Appeal challenging the justification of the contempt charge against him.
Besides, Yakubu asserted that Justice Pam committed a grave miscarriage of justice, when he unilaterally struck out a motion on notice he filed on July 31 praying the court to adjourn the contempt charge against him pending the determination of his appeal on the contempt charge at the Court of Appeal.
He insisted that the trial court breached section 36 of the 1999 constitution by striking out his motion without hearing it, thereby denying him his right to fair hearing in the determination on merit of his application.
He therefore prayed the Court of Appeal for an order setting aside the entire ruling of Justice Pam delivered on August 1, during which a bench warrant for his arrest was issued.
Yakubu also prayed for an order of the appellate court remitting the contempt charge marked FHC/ABJ/CS/854/2015 back to the Chief Judge of the Federal High Court for reassignment to another judge of the court for hearing and determination of the matter, on the grounds that Justice Pam had exhibited patent bias against him in his handling of the matter.
September 17 has been fixed for hearing of the appeal.