The Supreme Court of Nigeria (SCN) has struck out two applications seeking for an order of the court to stay the judgment of the Court of Appeal, Port Harcourt, Cross River State, setting aside the installation and recognition of Chief (Prof) T.J.T. Princewell (The sitting, Amanyanabo of Kalabari). The applications were struck out following their withdrawal by the lawyer to the appellant who took the apex court’s hints that it would not grant them since the appellant had not come to equity with clean hands. The implication of the apex court’s rulings, made on October 2012 and February, 2013, is that while waiting for the determination of the appeal filed by the respondents before the court, the decision of the appellate court, setting aside the installation and recognition of Chief (Prof.) Princewill in 2002, still subsists.
According to the observation of the apex court, the appellant and other respondents, particularly the Amanyanabo, were in disobedience of the orders of the courts below and could not ask for an order of court when they were in contempt of the same order of the court. The apex court, in striking out the motions for stay, ordered: “That the motions filed on the 19th day of October, 2012 and 12th February, 2013, having been withdrawn without objection be and is hereby struck out and that N50,000 costs is awarded to the first respondent (Chief Abbi). (N50,000 is repeated on both orders).A full panel of five justices, including Walter Samuel Nkanu Omoghen, Muhammad Saifullah Munkaka Coomassie, Nwali Sylvester Ngwuta, Olukayode Ariwoola and Musa Dattijo Muhammad gave the unanimous decision, with Omoghen reading the lead ruling.
History has it that the King of Amanyanabo of Kalabara is a 400 years-old recorded dynasty. It was one of the eight first-class chiefs recognized by the colonial administration in the old Eastern Region of Nigeria. Following the death of the immediate past Amanyanabo of Kalabari, late King Obaye Abbiyesuku Amachree (X), who passed away on June 7, 1998, the Throne became vacant. This development created opportunity for five princely chiefs who emerged as contestants to the stool. They include: Elder Chief (Barr.) Macdonald Oribo Abbi, Chief (Dr.) Basoene Abbiye-Suku Amachree, Chief (Engr.) Inye Cottone Charlie Amachree, Chief (Engr.) Faithful Abbiye-Suku Amachree and Chief (Prof.) Theophilus Jacob Tom Princewill.
Under the Kalabari native law and customs, the five contestants are all eligible to contest for the throne of the Amanyanabo of Kalabari Kingdom which is now being occupied by Chief Princewill in flagrant disobedience of court orders,” as observed by the Court of Appeal. While in that high office, he has been reported to have served as the Chairman of the Rivers State Traditional Council of Chiefs (RSTCC), and has also allegedly earned for himself a national honour of Commander of the Federal Republic (CFR).
Chief Amachree had filed the two separate applications on October 19, 2012 and February 12, 2013 respectively, seeking to stay the judgment of the Court of Appeal which nullified the installation of the Amanaganabo, Prof. Princewill in 2002. The two applications were filed separately on October 19, 2012 and February 12, 2013. Both were struck out with an award of N50,000 each to the first respondent, Chief Abbi. Chief Abbi had gone to the apex court, seeking it to set aside the decision of the Port Harcourt division of the Court of Appeal made against the Amanyanabo and other chiefs in council.Representing himself and the King Abbi Royal House, the kingmakers of Kalabari Kingdom, Buguma, Rivers State, Chief Abbi had prayed the Court of Appeal, seeking to set aside the decision of Justice J.M. Kobani of the Rivers State High Court, delivered on December 19, 2005 who refused to grant the order to return the parties to status quo as at March 29, 2000 when the suit against the coronation of a new Amanyanabo commenced.
Chief Abbi was seeking a restorative injunction as a result of the purported installation and recognition of Professor Princewill as the Amanyanabo of Kalabari which took place on March 23, 2002 during the pendency of the suit, and also done in disobedience of the order of interlocutory injunction made on July 31, 2000. The high court had made an order restraining all parties in contest of the stool of the Amanyanabo from taking any step in furtherance of and or in selecting, electing, anointing or installing any person whatsoever as the Amanayanabo of Kalabari without the consent, knowledge and participation of all the parties in the suit and all the chiefs of Abbi Royal House, Council of Chiefs, the Karibo Group of Houses, the Buguma Council of Chiefs and the Kalabari National Assembly or any other affected body or bodies or houses or group of houses, pending the peaceful resolution of the dispute between the parties themselves or the hearing and determination of the substantive suit.
It was canvassed that the order of the Rivers State High Court, made by Justice A.A. Wodu was allegedly violated by the Professor Princewill’s group, as he was on March 23, 2002 installed as the new Amanayabo of Kalabari and was given quick recognition by the then Governor of the State, Dr. Peter Odili. It was because Justice Kobani refused to restore the parties to the status quo as at March 29, 2000 having been seized of the fact that one of the parties has over-reached the order of July 31, 2000, but instead ordered that the parties should maintain status quo as at December 19, 2005, three years after the coronation of the Amanyanabo in the person of Prof. Princewill. The unanimous decision of the three-man panel of the appellate court, including Justices M.D. Muhammad (OFR) Ejembi Eko and T.O. Awoteye was delivered by Justice Eko. The appellate court observed that the ruling of Kobani on December 19, 2005 invariably reversed the order made on July 31, 2000 even though, no party from all available records, asked for the review of that order.
It further noted that it was as a result of this alleged miscarriage of justice, Chief Abbi sought for restorative order for maintenance of status quo as at March 29, 2000 and subsequently set aside the ruling of Justice Kobani of the trial court which reversed the order of Justice Wodu made on July 31, 2000. In granting Chief Abbi’s request the Court of Appeal had this to say: “There is no dearth of authorities to guide the learned trial judge in the application for a restorative or mandatory injunction to restore the parties to status quo ante. He merely turned the other way to involve the doctrine of expediency as a veneer for his judicial impertinence. “It was unreasonable and perverse on his part to sacrilegiously review and reverse the previous order made on 31st July, 2000 without any application for such review. Even if there was such application, the learned trial judge, on principle of his being functus officio, would have acted reluctantly.
“There is no way a judge, acting, arbitrarily, can ever enforce justice, order and good government. Only the rule of law and not lawlessness, anarchy and impunity governs this realm. The rule of law includes the orders of court of law. The principle of expediency that is antithetic to, and a violent rejection of the rule of law, is nothing but arbitrariness and an invitation to judicial anarchy,” the court continued. According to the appellate court: “The learned trial judge (Kobani) acted grossly in error when he condoned the indiscipline and lawlessness of the defendants/respondents who had flagrantly flouted the subsisting injunctive order made on 31st July, 2000. “The lone issue canvassed by the appellant, (Abbi), is hereby resolved in favour of the appellant and against the respondents. The appeal is hereby allowed. The ruling, including the orders therein, made on 19th December, 2005 are hereby set aside. The appellant made out a case for restorative or mandatory injunction sought. The order made on July 31, 2000 remains extant. The purported installation and recognition of the first defendant/respondent (Chief Prof. Princewill) are consequently set aside. By this decision “the parties including the first defendant/respondent (The Amanyanabo installed, Chief Pricewill) shall be and are hereby reverted to the status quo ante imposed by the order of 31stJuly, 2000”, the court held. The Court of Appeal thereafter ordered the Chief Judge of Rivers State “to use his good offices to ensure accelerated hearing of the suit pending at the high court by a judge other than Justice J.M. Kobani.” The court also awarded N60,000 costs in favour of the appellant (Abbi).