From 8th April 2016, the news all over the place was that the Federal High Court (FHC), Jos Division had made an order nullifying the 30th September 2014 election of the NFF that brought the Amuju Pinnick-led board into office. This was followed by a public drama in which the Chris Giwa-led faction occasionally insisted on resuming office amid fears of a breakdown of law and order.
About three weeks later, on 28th April 2016, a video emerged of the Registrar of the court, explaining to an interviewer, that the orders made by the court on 8th April did not actually nullify the election or remove Pinnick from office.
It has now become clear that there has been widespread misinformation on the content and effect of the court order. So, what orders exactly, did the court make on the 8th of April 2016?
Background of the case
The plaintiffs (those who sued), in suit no. FHC/J/CS/77/2014 are Yahaya Adama and Obinna Ogba and they claimed to be suing on behalf of the other members of the Executive Committee of the NFF elected on 26th August, 2014 (i.e. the Giwa-led faction). They went to court with the intention of obtaining an order recognizing the election that supposedly brought them into office.
Meanwhile, on 19th September 2014, the court granted an ex-parte order (a temporary order made by court before the case is heard and finally determined) restraining the defendants from conducting the election scheduled for 30th September 2014. After the elections were eventually held, the court subsequently on 23rd October 2014 made an order nullifying the election which had brought the Pinnick-led board into office, on the ground that the election was held in disobedience of the earlier court order.
However, seven days later, the plaintiffs withdrew their case and the court therefore struck out the suit on 30th October 2014.
The Court order of 8th April 2016
On 3rd February this year, the plaintiffs returned to the court by filing a motion asking the court to restore the case which they withdrew. Their motion asked for three orders, which simply put are:
- An order for extension of time to re-list the suit;
- An order re-listing the suit, and
- Restoration of all orders earlier made by the court before the suit was struck out.
In its decision on 8th April 2016, the court made three corresponding orders, which also simply put are:
- an order extending the time within which the plaintiff could apply to re-list the suit for hearing and determination together with all the pending motions which were discontinued and struck out by the court on 30th October 2014;
- an order re-listing the suit (which was earlier struck out) for hearing and determination together with all the pending motions which were discontinued and struck out on 30th October 2014.
- an order restoring all the orders made by the court when the suit was struck out on 30th October 2014.
The first two orders re-listed only the suit and “pending” (i.e. undecided) motions, while the third order restored all orders made when the suit was struck out (i.e. orders made on 30th September 2014). While there is no confusion about the fact that the order of the court has the effect of re-listing or restoring the suit, the area of misunderstanding or misinformation is the third order i.e. the orders made when the suit was struck out, which the court restored.
Which orders did the court restore?
It is vital to note that the court orders restored were those made “when” the case was struck out and not those order made “before” the case was struck out; those previous orders were not restored. This distinction is emphasized by the fact that although the request made (as contained in the papers filed) was for the restoration of orders made “before” the suit was struck out, the court obviously deliberately restricted its decision to those orders made “when” the suit was struck out. Thus, by the distinction in the meaning of both words, whereas the plaintiffs had requested for restoration of the orders made prior to the suit being struck out, the court limited its decision to only those orders that were made at the time the suit was struck out.
The orders made before the case was struck out were referred to earlier – the order of 19th September 2014 restraining the conduct of the election and the order of 23rd September 2014 nullifying the election of the Pinnick-led board. It would suffice to say that those orders – having been made “before” and not “when” the suit was struck out – do not fall within the scope of the orders restored by the court on 8th April 2014.
As pointed out by the Registrar of the court, in the orders made when the suit was re-listed, there was none ordering the removal of Amaju Pinnick and members of his board from office. More so, indeed no court of law and justice in Nigeria will make an order removing a man from an office when that person is not even a party before that court, as is clearly the case in this suit. Those who were sued are Alhaji Aminu Maigari and Musa Ahmadu (on behalf of the defunct board of the NFF), the Plateau State Football Association (on behalf of the 36 State Football Associations and that of the Federal Capital Territory, Abuja) as well as the Minister for Sports. It is instructive to note that neither Amaju Pinnick nor the NFF is a party to the case. Therefore, to make such an order in the absence of the other party would amount to an ambush and giving unfair advantage to one party over the other. No court of justice and equity will agree to such a request, which is why although the plaintiffs requested for such an order, the court refused to do so.
The order nullifying the election of 30th September 2014
It is essential to analyze the status of this order, which appears to be the main point of attention. The fact that the court had at some point made an order nullifying the Pinnick election is not in doubt. However, there are two key points which show that the order has since been terminated.
The first point is very straightforward. When the court struck out the suit (on 30th October 2014), the court made the following order based on the Rules of the Federal High Court –
“all the orders made previously including the dissolution of the executive committee/board of the Nigerian Football Federation vide the order of this honourable Court dated 23rd day of October 2014 seizes to have life and this matter stands struck out.” (emphasis mine)
Secondly, it is a principle of law that when a suit is restored or re-listed, interlocutory/temporary orders that were made before the suit was struck out are not restored (Parmatex Industrial Project Ltd v. Trade Bank (Nig.) Plc & Ors (2003) FWLR [pt. 162] 1922 @ 1933-4 C.A.). The order nullifying the election was based on the earlier interlocutory order which restrained the conduct of the election. Since the prior interlocutory order was not restored, by extension, the nullification order upon which it was based was also not restored. You cannot place something on nothing.
It is clear from the actual content of the current court order that the re-listing of the suit implies that the case is to start afresh and be heard and determined on its merits. Indeed, when a case is re-listed, it has the character of a brand new case. Since the plaintiffs have requested the court to re-list the case, it is only proper that they should be patient enough to pursue the case till the end, giving the court the opportunity to hear both sides to the case and reach a final judgment. After all, if the court removes Pinnick from office on the very first day the case is re-listed as a suit now pending, what then is left for the court to decide as its final judgment in the case?
The widespread claim of the existence of a court order removing Pinnick from office has no legal basis and is false. New life cannot by any stretch of imagination be given to any order of the court made prior to the striking out of the suit. In particular, there is no existing court order removing the Amaju Pinnick-led board from office. The public was simply misled when the court order of 23rd October 2014 was widely circulated in place of that of 8th April 2016 and the orders the Giwa faction is relying on are dead, by virtue of an established principle of law in Nigeria and, particularly, by the clear and unambiguous pronouncements of the Federal High Court made on 30th October, 2014.