IN THE NATIONAL INDUSTRIAL COURT OF NIGERIA
IN THE OWERRI JUDICIAL DIVISION
HOLDEN AT OWERRI
BEFORE HIS LORDSHIP HON. JUSTICE O. Y ANUWE
DATE: 4th October 2017
SUIT NO: NICN/OW/29/2014
- Suzzy Accra Jaja
Chairman RATTAWU Rivers Arts Council Chapter
- Adafe Jaja
Former Secretary, RATTAWU, Rivers State
- Goodluck Irisoanga
Former Vice Chairman RATTAWU Rivers State
- Ernest Francis
Former Vice Chairman RATTAWU Arts Council
- Tokun Eniofori
Former Vice Chairman RATTAWU Rivers State
1. Radio, Television & Theatre Arts Workers Union
2. Opakirite Erekosima
Chairman RATTAWU Rivers State
3. Miesia BobManuel
State Secretary RATTAWU Rivers State
4. Ebi Ogolo
Assistant State Secretary RATTAWU Rivers State
5. Deinso Harry
Vice Chairman RATTAWU Rivers State
6. Accountant-General Rivers State
7. Attorney-General Rivers State
8. AG Executive Director
Council for Arts and Culture, Rivers State
Nze R. I. C. Ahaneku for the Claimants/Applicants
A. E. Attih, with him, B. U. Uzochukwu for the 1st to 5th Defendants/Respondents
This Ruling is premised on a motion filed by the Claimants on 7/12/2015 wherein they sought the following orders:
1. An Order of the Honourable Court setting aside or nullifying the purported election of the officers of the Radio, Television, Theatre and Art Workers Union, Rivers State Council purportedly conducted on 30/11/2015 wherein the 2nd - 4th Defendants/Respondents were purportedly elected among others in flagrant defiance of the interim order of the Honourable Court made on 14/5/2014 and the pending suit No. NICN/OW/29/2014 and motion for interlocutory injunction filed on 26/11/2015.
2. An Order retraining the 2nd - 4th Defendants/Respondents from acting, holding out or parading themselves or causing anybody including the other Defendants, their servants, agents or privies to regard or accord regards to them as officers of the Radio, Television, Theatre and Art Workers Union, Rivers State Council.
3. A Mandatory Order restraining the Defendants, jointly and severally, by themselves and through their servants, agents, and privies from dealing with, treating or according any right to the 2nd - 4th Defendants among others as the elected officers of the Radio, Television, Theatre and Art workers Union, Rivers State Executive Council based on the purported election of 30/11/2015.
4. And such further or other order(s) as the Honourable Court may deem fit to make in the circumstances.
The grounds upon which the Claimants predicate the application are as follows:
1. There is a subsisting order of the court maintaining status quo ante bellum in the case.
2. There is a motion for interlocutory injunction served on the Defendants/ Respondents which is still pending.
3. There is a motion for committal proceeding against the 1st - 4th Defendants.
4. The purported election of 30/11/2015 conducted by the 1st - 4th Defendants is a deliberate act to undermine the judicial powers and integrity of the court and the constitutional right of the Claimant/Applicants in this suit.
5. The Honourable Court has the inherent powers to reprimand any act of flagrant disregard of the extant orders of court and pendency of the present suit and preserve the judicial integrity of the honourable court from extraneous abuse and contempt.
The motion was supported by a 28 paragraphs affidavit deposed to by the 1st Claimant. The 1st to 5th Defendants, in opposing the motion, filed a counter affidavit of 28 paragraphs which was deposed to by the 2nd Defendant. The Claimants also filed a further affidavit in response, deposed by the 1st Claimant.
I have read the content of all the affidavits and the documents exhibited to them. I have also examined the submissions of counsels to the parties in their written addresses filed in respect of the motion. I intend to keep my decision on this motion simple and short. Therefore, I do not see the need to set out the contents of the affidavits and written addresses in this ruling.
On 12/5/2014, the Claimants filed an ex parte motion seeking the following orders:
1. An order of interim injunction maintaining the status quo ante bellum in this case pending hearing and determination of the motion for interlocutory injunction already before the honourable.
2. An order of interim injunction restraining the respondents, either by themselves or servants, agents or privies from taking any further step against the subject matter of this suit pending the determination of the motion for interlocutory injunction.
Before the motion ex parte, the Claimants had filed a motion on notice on 28/4/2014. The motion on notice is seeking an interlocutory order in the same terms as sought in the ex parte motion. On 14/5/2014, I made an interim order in the terms as prayed for by the Claimants in the motion ex parte which order was to subsist until the hearing of the motion on notice on 5/6/2014. Let me mention that the motion on notice was eventually not heard and it was struck out on 4/7/2017 having been withdrawn by the Claimants. Before then however, the Claimants have filed the instant motion. From the reliefs sought by the Claimants on the motion paper, the grounds of the motion and the facts disclosed in the affidavit in support, the Claimants are seeking the order of this court nullifying or setting aside the election of the officers of the 1st Defendant’s Rivers State Council conducted on 30/11/2015. The reasons given by the Claimants for seeking the order is that the election was conducted in disregard of a subsisting order of this court to the parties to maintain status quo and that a motion for interlocutory injunction, which was served on the Defendants, was pending at the time of the election.
It must be emphasised that courts do not take kindly to their orders being violated. Where any order given by a court is disobeyed, the court will not hesitate to take coercive measures against the defiant party. The courts also have the powers to order the disobedient party to retrace steps already taken or to set aside the acts taken by that party in disobedience of the order of the court. Before the court will invoke its disciplinary powers however, it usually and necessarily inquires to know whether the act complained about was the subject of the court’s order and it was done in disregard of the order of court.
In paragraphs 1 and 2 of the affidavit in support of the Originating Summons, the 1st Claimant stated that he was the elected Chairman of the Arts Council Chapter of the 1st Defendant union. Further in Paragraphs 16 to 20 of the affidavit, he explained that he was given a query and subsequently a letter of suspension from office by the 2nd Defendant who was the Chairman of the Rivers State Chapter of the 1st Defendant union. The case of the Claimants became clear in paragraphs 32, 34 and 35 of the affidavit where the 1st Claimant deposed as follows:
“32. That the Defendants will continue to interfere, meddle and intermeddle in my constitutionally provided function and duties of the elected chairman of the Arts Council Chapter of the Union unless there is judicial intervention before the res is completely destroyed.
34. That the Defendants will continue to usurp my functions, interfere, meddle and intermeddle into the affairs of the Arts Council Chapter of the Union unless restrained by order of the Honourable Court.
35. That the 1st – 5th Defendants have vowed to completely dissolve my chapter Executive and set up a care taker committee to complete my remaining tenure.”
From the affidavit of the Claimants in support of the Originating Summons, it is clear to me that the subject matter of the suit was the disciplinary action taken by the Defendants against the 1st Claimant as the elected Chairman of the Arts Council Chapter of the 1st Defendant. The reliefs sought in the originating summons also relate to this subject. I have also re-examined the facts deposed in the affidavit in support of the motion ex parte on the basis of which I made the interim order. The depositions in the affidavit relate to the actions of the Defendant with regards to the tenure or office of the elected executives of the Arts Council Chapter of the 1st Defendant union. Therefore, the interim order for parties to maintain status quo made by this court was in respect of the status of the officers of the Arts Council Chapter which was the subject matter of the Claimants’ suit. From the case of the Claimant, particularly in paragraphs 4, 12, 13, 15 and 35 of the affidavit in support of the originating summons, it is clear to me that the Rivers State Chapter of the union is not the same as the Arts Council Chapter of the union. These chapters have their respective officers or executives. The election which the Claimants sought to be nullified in this application is the election of the executives of the State Chapter of the Union. The tenure of officers of the State chapter or election of officers of the state chapter is not a subject matter of the Claimants’ suit. Therefore, the interim order to maintain status quo was made in respect of the tenure of officers of the Arts Council Chapter and the order does not extend to all the activities of the union or its Rivers State Council which is are not the subject matter of the suit. The Claimants cannot interpret the order to suit their purpose by extending it to cover all aspects of the actions or activities of the 1st Defendant union. In sum, I will make it clear that the interim order I made on 14/5/2014 does not contemplate the subject election which the Claimants sought to have set aside or nullified in this motion.
The fact that there was a motion for injunction pending or that there was a committal proceeding pending when the election was conducted are not factors to consider in the Claimants motion to set aside the election. Those processes are in respect of the same subject matter as the interim order. With respect to the pending Motion on Notice to restrain conduct of election into the Rivers State Council Executive of the 1st Defendant union, although the motion has been withdrawn by the Claimants, it is my view that election of the executives of the Rivers State Council of the 1st Defendant union is not a subject matter in the Claimants’ suit before this court. As such, this court cannot consider the pendency of that motion to nullify the said election. In view of the foregoing, the Claimants appear to me, as seen in the instant motion, to be exceeding the parameters of the case they presented before this court. I will caution that they stick to their case and avoid further delay of the hearing of the case. The earlier the suit is determined, the earlier the Claimants know where they stand. The motion is dismissed. No order as to cost.
Ruling is entered accordingly.
Hon. Justice O. Y. Anuwe