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Senior Lawyers Ask Nigeria’s Judicial Council  To Discipline Appeal Court Justices Involved in ‘Miscarriage of Justice’

The Plateau government has been urged to go to the Supreme Court to seek justice for sacked lawmakers.

The Friday judgments of the Supreme Court which overturned the verdicts of the Court of Appeal on the Governorship election petitions cases in Plateau, Kano and Zamfara states have sparked a crisis of confidence in the appellate court, THISDAY has learnt.

Delivering the judgments, the apex court had berated some justices of the appellate court over the quality of their judgments in the governorship election petitions brought before them.

More intriguing, it was learnt, was the Plateau State governorship petition case, which has caused outrage among some senior lawyers who lamented that the 11 national and state assembly members sacked by the appellate court’s decisions have no judicial remedy.

Outraged by the wrongful verdicts of the Court of Appeal, a former Chairman of the National Human Rights Commission (NHRC), Professor Chidi Anselm Odinkalu has called on the President of the Court of Appeal, Justice Monica Dongban-Mensem to resign her position.

While some lawyers have asked the National Judicial Council (NJC) to sanction the judges involved in the miscarriage of justice, others advised the Plateau State government to approach the Supreme Court to seek justice for the sacked lawmakers.

A panel of the Court of Appeal led by Justice Elfrieda Williams-Dawodu, had in a unanimous decision in November 2023 ruled that Governor Caleb Muftwang of Plateau State was not validly sponsored by the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) because the party had no structure in the state.

The appellate court therefore nullified his election and declared the candidate of the All Progressives Congress (APC), Dr. Nentawe Yilwadta as the governor of the state.

The Court of Appeal also nullified the victories of 11 candidates of the PDP who were elected into the state and National Assembly on the same grounds of alleged invalid nomination.

However, while the Supreme Court on Friday overturned the judgment of the Appeal Court on the governorship election and affirmed the victory of Governor Muftwang, the sacked state and federal lawmakers cannot take their appeals to the Supreme Court based on the electoral laws which terminate their appeals at the Court of Appeal.

Justice Emmanuel Agim who read 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.

Justice Agim 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.”

Reacting to the development in separate interviews with THISDAY, yesterday, some senior lawyers lamented the absence of a remedy for 11 lawmakers unjustly sacked by the Court of Appeal.

In his reaction, the former Chairman of the NHRC, Professor Odinkalu has called on the President of the Court of Appeal, Justice Dongban-Mensem to resign her position.

He described the case of Plateau State as extraordinary and a willful miscarriage of justice which requires extraordinary measures.

Odinkalu accused the President of the Court of Appeal of being either totally irresponsible or comprehensively corrupt, adding that she had no place in a credible judiciary.

On whether the affected candidates should demand 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.

“However, it is possible for the court to review its own decision in exceptional cases. 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,” he added.

Commenting on the issue, a Professor of Constitutional Law, Edoba Omoregie (SAN), who described the Court of Appeal’s judgment as judicial rascality, said the appellate court was final and could not be reversed.

According to him, if the Court of Appeal had not displayed ‘judicial rascality,’ which manifested in their unacceptable failure to follow previous Supreme Court decisions, the victories of those lawmakers would not have been nullified.

He said: “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.

“The only remedy open now is for the legislature to consider legislative action to right the wrong. This can only be by fresh legislation which will be effective in the next election cycle,” he added.

Speaking on the issue, Reverend John Baiyeshea (SAN) described the appellate court’s judgments which sacked the lawmakers as quite unfortunate.

“This is one of the ugly scenarios in our Nigerian system and one of the irreversible errors in our legal/administration of justice. It is obvious now that with the judgment of the Supreme Court affirming the election of the Governor of that state (who was removed by the Court of Appeal for the same reasons that the National Assembly members were removed), the Court of Appeal’s judgment is a complete travesty of justice to those National Assembly members,” he said.

Baiyeshea, while noting that the governor was lucky because he had his case reviewed by the apex court, regretted that the injustice done to the lawmakers is permanent and irreversible.

“There is no remedy for them now for this monumental travesty of justice to them. Our legal system should not at our present state of development, present citizens with such helpless situations where there is no remedy for such a brutal wrong done to its citizens.

“This is why those who have the privilege of presiding over the affairs of others to determine their fate should be very careful not to abuse such privilege.

“It is quite sad that before our eyes, the representatives the people of Plateau State voted for have been replaced by those ‘selected’ by the Court of Appeal. Democracy has been obliterated, bastardised and the people shortchanged.

He urged the National Assembly and other stakeholders to amend the Constitution and other laws to remedy this anomaly to avoid future recurrence.

On his part, a former Chairman of the Abuja Branch of the Nigerian Bar Association (NBA), Mr. Moses Ebute (SAN), while also sympathising with the lawmakers stated that the Court of Appeal “being a final court, its decision cannot be appealed against. It is final and binding not minding the latest decision of the Supreme Court in the governorship appeal in respect of Plateau State”.

He observed that the latest decision of the apex court was consistent with all of its earlier or previous decisions on who has the locus standi to challenge the outcome of a party primary or nomination of a candidate of a political party.

“Unfortunately, the Court of Appeal defiantly refused to follow the decision of the Supreme Court and thereby visited grave injustice on other PDP candidates involved in national and state legislative houses election in Plateau State.

“More worrisome, surprising and embarrassing is the fact that the same Court of Appeal had held and pronounced in the Presidential Election Petitions that whoever is not a member of a political party or is not an aspirant in the primary election of a political party, cannot challenge the nomination of a candidate of another party. How and why it didn’t follow its own decision leaves much to be desired.

“In a plethora of judicial authorities, the Supreme Court had held that a refusal to follow its decision as the apex court of the land on similar issues by a lower court amounted to judicial rascality. I say no more.”

Similarly, Mr. Dayo Akinlaja (SAN) noted that “there is nothing that can be done about that. Since their cases have terminated at the Court of Appeal, it is the end of the road for them”.

He pointed out that there is no room for a review or an appeal on their cases.

“As it were, the people concerned would have to bear their fates with equanimity. There has been a fait accompli here,” he added.

But for Mr. Ahmed Raji (SAN), the fate of the Plateau State’s lawmakers is similar to a situation where the law under which a person is convicted is subsequently pronounced unconstitutional.

“Will the convict continue to remain in jail or will he be set free? There are two schools of thought on the issue. Perhaps the affected parties should consult widely on the pronouncements of my noble Lord Okoro JSC against the finality of the Court of Appeal’s judgment in the state and National Assembly seats.”

In his comments, Dr. Joseph Nwobike (SAN), who commended the Supreme Court for deepening democracy in Nigeria, said: “Regarding the options open to those who lost their legislative seats on account of the judgments of the Court of Appeal, sitting in Jos, I think that it must be recognised that the Court of Appeal is the final court for the determination of that level of electoral disputes in Nigeria.  There is no clear legal or constitutional basis for them to seek judicial review of those judgments in any manner that will not create a bad precedent in our jurisprudence.”

Plateau Assembly Speaker Declares Appeal Court- ordered APC Members Illegitimate

Meanwhile, based on the Supreme Court’s nullification of the sacking of Governor Mutfwang by the Court of Appeal, the Speaker of the Plateau State House of Assembly, Gabriel Dewan, has declared that he will not grant recognition for 16 Court of Appeal-ordered APC members, stressing that he would only recognise eight members of the house out of the 24 lawmakers.

While speaking to journalists in Jos, Dewan took a swipe at the decisions of the Court of Appeal that nullified the election of PDP members and gave their seats to APC members.

Declaring the 16 opposition APC members persona non grata outrightly, Dewan declared: “As it stands now, only eight members are recognised in the assembly.”

It would be recalled that Dewan, the sole member of the Young Peoples Party (YPP-Pankshin North), assumed the role of speaker in the he at of the Appeal Court sacking of the 16 members elected on the platform of the PDP

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