Fate of six govs hanging, as sick justice forces S-Court panel to adjourn

Fate of six Governors is currently hanging in the balance, as the Supreme Court, on Monday, abruptly adjourned 13 appeals that arose from governorship elections that held in the states on March 9. The apex court, which had in its cause-list for Monday, okayed hearing on appeals seeking to nullify the outcome of governorship elections in Kano, Imo, Sokoto, Plateau, Bauchi and Benue State, suddenly suspended its proceedings after one of the Justices developed an undisclosed sickness.

The Chief Justice of Nigeria, CJN, Justice Tanko Muhammad who led a seven-man panel of Justices, announced a stand-down of all the appeals, midway into hearing on the case challenging the election of governor Ganduje of Kano State. The appeal against Ganduje marked SC/1450/2019, was lodged before the court by the governorship candidate of the Peoples Democratic Party, PDP, Abba Yusuf. Yusuf’s lawyer, Chief Adegboyega Awomolo, SAN, had after the matter was called up, identified and adopted all the processes his client filed against Ganduje of the All Progressives Congress, APC, and the Independent National Electoral Commission, INEC. After Awomolo adopted his brief of argument and urged the apex court to allow the appeal and nullify Ganduje’s re-election, the CJN, notified all the parties that a member of the panel was “seriously sick”.

He said: “Due to unforeseen circumstances, please the court will abruptly rise because one of us is seriously sick”. The CJN declined to disclose the identity of the ailing jurist. However, the announcement by the CJN marked the second time the apex court panel vacated the court room for their chambers on Monday morning. The CJN had at about 9:02am when the court commenced sitting, led other Justices out of the courtroom, citing “excessive noise”.

He warned that the court would not resume until the noise volume which was occasioned by mammoth crowd that struggled for standing space in the court room, was brought down. Consequently, senior lawyers were restricted to appear with only five juniors, even as security operatives reduced the number of non lawyers in the court. The crowd had defied heavy security presence around the court premises that included sniffer dogs, to push their way inside the courtroom. Meanwhile, when the court resumed at about 9:20am, Yusuf’s lawyer, Awomolo, SAN, apologised to the panel for the noisy atmosphere which he blamed on non lawyers. Responding, the CJN said: “It is alright, but we went out for a different purpose, and when the purpose was achieved, we came back”.

At about 20 minutes after the CJN stood-down all the appeals owing to the sudden sickness of a member of the panel, a clerk of the court subsequently announced that all the appeals would be adjourned till Tuesday. Aside Ganduje, others awaiting decision of the apex court on appeals against their election are governors Emeka Ihedioha of Imo State, Aminu Tambuwal of Sokoto, Simon Lalong of Plateau, Samuel Ortom of Benue and Bala Mohammed of Bauchi state. There are four separate appeals relating to the Imo state governorship dispute. While the first case marked SC/1461/19, was filed by Ifeanyi Ararume of the All Progressive Grand Alliance (APGA), the two other appeals marked SC/1462/19 and SC/1463/19, were lodged against governor Ihedioha by Senator Hope Uzodinma of the APC and Uche Nwosu of the Action Alliance (AA), respectively. Governor Ihedioha who won at both the tribunal and the Court of Appeal, equally filed a Cross-Appeal to challenge the minority judgement of the appellate court that gave victory to Senator Uzodinma of the APC.

In Sokoto State, the governorship candidate of the APC, Ahmed Sokoto, in his appeal with No. SC/1466/19, challenged the declaration of Tambuwal of the PDP as the valid winner of the gubernatorial contest in the state. In a counter move, Tambuwal who won the election with a slim margin of 342 votes after a supplementary poll, and was declared winner by both the tribunal and the appellate court, also filed his own appeal marked SC/1467/19.

Police had earlier announced that no fewer than 1,000 policemen would be deployed to Sokoto state that avert any breakdown of law and order as a result of the awaited judgement of the apex court. On the governorship dispute in Plateau state, while the candidate of the PDP, Senator Jeremiah Useni, in his appeal marked SC/1501/19, queried the election of governor Lalong on ground that election in the state was characterized by irregularities. On his own, Lalong also filed a Cross Appeal with Suit No. SC/1500/19. In Bauchi, the former governor of the state, Mohammed Abubakar who lost his re-election bid on the platform of the APC, in his appeal marked SC/1502, challenged his defeat by former Minister of the Federal Capital Territory, Bala Mohammed of the PDP. The ex-governor filed his petition after he had conceded defeat to his successor.

It will be recalled that INEC initially declared the outcome of the March 9 governorship election in the state as inconclusive as Mohammed of PDP polled 469,512 votes while the then incumbent, Abubakar of APC, garnered 465, 453 votes. Mohammed was eventually declared winner at the end of collation of a re-run poll that held in 36 polling units across 15 local government areas, including results of Tafawa Balewa LGA, on March 23, 2019.

Meantime, in Benue state, the governorship candidate of the APC, Emmanuel Jime, in his appeal marked SC/5110/19, prayed the apex court to void governor Ortom’s re-election. Likewise, governor Ortom who won at both the tribunal and the Court of Appeal, also filed a Cross-Appeal with Suit No. SC/1511/19, challenging the legal competence of the appeal against his election victory. The CJN-led apex court panel said it would hear all the appeals on Tuesday.

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