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Appeal Court violations: Plateau’s bitter pill
  • Court of Appeal lacks the jurisdiction to ascertain validity of PDP’s candidacy – Supreme Court
  • PDP sets off to NJC
  • It’s an irreversible damage – Ozekhome
  • Resign now, HURIWA, Odinkalu tell Appeal Court president


By Neta Nwosu


The 21 candidates of the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) whose victories were unjustly nullified on grounds of invalid nominations by the Court of Appeal may have to swallow the bitter pill of no judicial remedy, senior lawyers have posited. It will be recalled that prior to the last judgement, a panel of the Court of Appeal led by Justice Elfrieda Williams-Dawodu, in November 2023, nullified the election of Governor Caleb Muftwang of Plateau State and declared the candidate of the All Progressives Congress (APC), Dr. Nentawe Yilwadta as the governor of the state on the premise that the former was not validly sponsored by the PDP because the party lacked political structure in the state.

The appellate court also voided the election victory of five members of the House of Representatives from Plateau State who were elected on the platform of the PDP; as well as 16 PDP duly elected lawmakers of the State House of Assembly. Dachung Bagos (Jos South/Jos East); Peter Gyendeng (Riyom/ Barkin Ladi; Musa Agah (Jos North/Bassa); Beni Lar (Langtang North and South); and Isaac Kwalu (Shendam, Mikang and Quanpan) federal constituencies, are the five affected National Assembly Members.

The casualties of the decisions at the Plateau State House of Assembly are; Timothy Datong (Riyom); Rimyat Nanbol (Langtang); Moses Sule (Mikang); Salome Waklek (Pankshin); Bala Fwangje (Mangu South); Maren Ishaku (Bokkos); Dagogot (Quaanpan North); Nannim Langyi (Langtang North); Nimchak Rims (Langtang South) and Danjuma Azi (Jos North-West). Others include, Gwottson Fom (Jos South); Abubakar Sani Idris (Mangu North); Happiness Akawu (Pengana); Ibrahim Abalak (Rukuba/Irigwe); Philip Jwe (Barkin Ladi); and Cornelius Deyok (Qua’apan South).

Subsequent to the Supreme court judgement that overturned Governor Muftwang’s earlier sacked by the Appeal Court, senior lawyers have consistently maintained that the Court of Appeal’s decision cannot be reversed for the affected State and Federal lawmakers, because the court is the last judicature for National Assembly and House of Assembly matters. Penultimate Friday, there was a turnaround of events that left sacked law makers in limbo.

While the Supreme Court on Friday overturned the judgement of the Appeal Court on the governorship election and affirmed the victory of Governor Muftwang, the sacked state and federal lawmakers weren’t as lucky as their Governor. They cannot take their appeals to the Supreme Court based on the electoral laws which terminate their appeals at the Court of Appeal. The apex court justices regretted that despite several decisions of the Supreme Court, that tribunals and courts lacked the jurisdiction to dabble into the internal matters of political parties, some justices could still go ahead and sack a winner of an election on grounds of political parties’ primaries, nomination or sponsorship.

Justice Emmanuel Agim, while reading the Supreme Court’s lead judgment, noted that the APC’s contention that Governor Muftwang was not qualified to contest the election because of non-compliance with the electoral law was faulty. He said, “We have held in a plethora of cases that the sponsorship of a candidate for election is an internal affair of a political party. The Court of Appeal lacks the jurisdiction to determine the validity of the candidacy of the PDP. Yilwatda of the APC has no right to challenge the emergence of Governor Mutfwang as a ticket-holder of the PDP.”

Apparently referring to the sacked lawmakers, Justice Inyang Okoro who headed the apex court’s five-member panel, in his consenting decision, said “My only worry is that a lot of people have suffered as a result of the Court of Appeal’s decision. It was absolutely wrong. The appeal is allowed.” The wrongful verdicts of the Court of Appeal have continued to outrage Nigerians as some senior lawyers lamented the irreversible errors in the unjust sack of the 11 national and state assembly members by the appellate court. Chief Mike Ozekhome, (SAN) reacting to the recent judgement of the Supreme Court, said there could not be a judicial review of an election petition that ended at the Court of Appeal, the court being the final court in such matters.

According to him, the injustice inflicted on Plateau State was an irreversible damage because the Court of Appeal was the last court for National Assembly and House of Assembly matters. He said, “In the case of Plateau State, the wrongs had been done. It is an irreversible damage because the Court of Appeal is the last court for National Assembly and House of Assembly matters. “Now that we have a full complement of the Supreme Court, there may be need to look at the Electoral Act again, to say that all such matters should henceforth go to the Supreme Court. “What it means is that the Court of Appeal successfully took away from the people their voting rights.

The people voted for the people removed from office, but the Court of Appeal did not allow their votes to count.” Ozekhome further stated, “While the people voted for people they wanted, the Court of Appeal said no, we are giving you different candidates. That is the concept I referred to as ‘Judocracy’ from my own ‘Ozekpedia’. “Judocracy is a process whereby presidents, governors, senators, House of Representatives members, House of Assembly members, chairmen of local government, counsellors are integrated, midwifed, and delivered in the hallowed court of law rather than through the ballot papers. “That is crazy, that is far from ‘demo’ (democracy).

It is not democracy, which is a famous concept conceptualised by Abraham Lincoln on the 19th of November 1863, when he described democracy as government of the people, for the people and by the people. “For those senators, House of Representatives members, and members of House of Assembly that were brought back in Plateau, they represent government of Court of Appeal, for the Court of Appeal and by the Court of Appeal. It is certainly not the government of the constituents of those senatorial zones and Houses Representatives zones, and it’s very sad.”

He however, commended the Supreme Court for speaking out against injustice, Ozekhome said, “The Supreme Court spared no efforts in tongue-lashing Court of Appeal, and flogging them with judicial koboko on their bare buttocks for their great miscarriage of justice that they committed. These are the things that bring disgrace, shame on the judiciary. Thank God the Supreme Court rose to the occasion. “In all of the governorship matters decided, the Supreme Court decided to give vent to edify and magnify the concept of the franchise of the people, they made sacred and sacrosanct the ballots box and the ballot paper. “The Supreme Court in all its judgement showed that votes must not only be counted but must also be allowed to be counted.

So, the Supreme Court’s judgements on Friday were all pro-people, and I got up at the Supreme Court to praise them.” In another vein, the Human Rights Writers Association of Nigeria, HURIWA described the alleged political injustice by the Court of Appeal as a willfully staged judicial coup ‘d tat against voters in Plateau State, unconstitutionally replacing validly elected PDP legislators at both the National Assembly and Plateau State House of Assembly with APC legislators. The Rights Group made this assertion recently in a statement signed by Comrade Emmanuel Onwubiko, National Coordinator.

HURIWA and Prof. Chidi Anselm Odinkalu, former Chairman of the National Human Rights Commission (NHRC), called on the President of the Court of Appeal, Justice Monica Dongban-Mensem to resign her position. Describing the case of Plateau State as extraordinary and a wilful miscarriage of justice, Prof. Odinkalu said he smelt a rat. He indicted the President of the Court of Appeal of being either totally irresponsible or comprehensively corrupt, stressing that she had no place in a credible judiciary. Odinkalu said, “The scale of the wilful miscarriage in Plateau State is extraordinary.

It calls for extraordinary measures. I personally believe that the current President of the Court of Appeal who is from Plateau State is complicit in the injustice. She comes from the same LGA – Shendam – as the immediate past governor whom they have now installed as Senator for Plateau Central. I would go as far as to say she has been privy to everything that happened in these Court of Appeal violations. “But there is a way for her to show she is not: She can constitute a different panel of the Court of Appeal to hear applications for review of the decisions.

That is the least she can do.” Contributing his views on the possibility of the affected candidates acquiring a judicial review, he said: “Well, judicial review, strictly speaking, is a term of art that is inapplicable in this case. It applies to the review of administrative action or actions of lower courts. You don’t have judicial review of the decision of a final court which the Court of Appeal is in parliamentary election disputes.” A senior lawyer, Edoba Omoregie, a Professor of Constitutional Law, (SAN), who described the Court of Appeal’s judgement as ‘judicial rascality’, opined that the appellate court was final and could not be reversed. In his words, “The Court of Appeal decision cannot be reversed, unfortunately.

This is because the court is the final forum in such matters. “The bigger issue raised by the entire scenario relates to the problem of judicial rascality being displayed by the Court of Appeal and the lower courts or tribunals which manifest in their unacceptable failure to follow previous Supreme Court decisions such as in Jegede v. APC. Lower courts are obliged to follow previous decisions of the Supreme Court in similar circumstances. In the particular issue at stake, those previous decisions had made it categorically clear that matters of the nomination of candidates by political parties are internal affairs of political parties outside the concern of other political parties.”

However, the National Working Committee (NWC) of Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) has sent petitions to the National Judicial Council NJC) and Federal Judicial Service Commission over its members in the Senate, House of Representatives, and Plateau State House of Assembly sacked by the Court of Appeal last year. Nonetheless, prominent lawyers have continued to insist that PDP’s petition to the judicial council is not viable because NJC cannot reverse the judgement.

 


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