Rochas Okorocha, governor of Imo state, says the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) is setting a bad precedent by withholding his certificate of return after he had been declared winner of the Imo west senatorial election.
Okorocha said since the election had been concluded and a winner announced, INEC had no right not to issue him a certificate of return according to the laws governing elections the country.
In a petition he filed at the commission’s head office, Okorocha advised Mahmood Yakubu, INEC chairman, not to reduce the commission to “a willing tool in the hands of political manipulators”.
INEC had refused to issue a certificate of return to Okorocha despite being announced the winner of the election because Francis Ibeawuchi, the returning officer for the election, said the declaration of Okorocha as winner of the election was made under duress.
But Okorocha argued that if there were issues with the election after the announcement of a winner, recourse ought to be made to election tribunals.
“Section 285 (1) of the 1999 Constitution, states that there shall be established for the Federation one or more elections tribunal to be known as the National Assembly Elections Tribunal which shall, to the exclusion of any court or tribunal, have original jurisdiction to hear and determine petitions as to whether (a) any person has been validly elected as a member of the national Assembly,” he wrote.
“Section 133 of the Electoral Act 2010 (as amended) provides that No election and return at an election under this Act shall be questioned in a manner other than by a petition complaining of an undue election or an undue return presented to the competent tribunal or court in accordance with the provisions of the Constitution or of this Act, and in which the person elected or returned is joined as a party.”
Okorocha asked where INEC derived the power to withhold certificate of return after a winner in an election had been announced.
He argued that the step taken by INEC is not known to law and advised the commission to seek redress in the law court rather than taking laws “into its own hands”.
Okorocha also said that INEC, in its counter-affidavit to the suit he filed at the federal high court to compel it to issue him his certificate of return, did not mention any allegation to the fact that his declaration was made under duress.
“In the replies filed by INEC to the petitions filed against me by Osita Izuanso, Jones Onyeyeri, Peoples Democratic Party and Uche Onyeoma Ibeh at the Election Tribunal in Owerri, INEC actually stated that my election was duly conducted and that the declaration and return made in my favour by the Returning Officer was voluntary and not due to any duress or coercion exerted on the Returning Officer,” he said.
Atiku’s motion rejected as court president quits panel
The President of the Court of Appeal and Chairman of the Presidential Election Petitions Tribunal (PEPT), Justice Zainab Bulkachuwa, withdrew yesterday from the petiton filed by Atiku Abubakar and his Peoples Democratic Party (PDP).
Atiku and the PDP are challenging the outcome of the February 23 election won by President Muhammadu Buhari of the All Progressives Congress (APC).
They alleged, in a motion, that Justice Bulkachuwa was likely to be biased because her husband and son are members of the APC.
In a ruling, the five-man PEPT rejected Atiku’s and his party’s motion for being unmeritorious.
But, Justice Bulkachuwa elected to exclude herself from the tribunal on personal grounds.
In the lead ruling, Justice Olabisi Ige was of the view that the relationship between Justice Bulkachuwa and her husband, Adamu Bulkachuwa, who is a senator-elect, and her son Aliyu Abubakar, a governorship aspirant (both as members of the APC) was not sufficient to conclude that she would be biased in the handling of the case.
Justice Ige held that no inference of likelihood of bias could be made from the speech delivered by Justice Bulkachuwa at the inaugural sitting of the tribunal on May 8, to conclude that she had pre-judged the petitioners’ petition.
The judge noted that neither the husband nor the son was joined as a party to the petition and that neither of them was accused of any wrong doing in the petition filed by Atiku and his party.
Justice Ige equally noted that neither of the two men had been listed as part of APC’s witnesses in the petition.
He added: “To the petitioners/applicants, the above remark appears to them that the President of this court and Presiding Justice of this panel had already pre-judged the presidential election as well-conducted and that this petition is one of the complaints that come up, no matter how well election is conducted.
“I am of the solemn view that no such inference is discernible from the above quoted statement. The entire speech ought to be read as a whole in order to truly discover what the content of the inaugural speech portrayed.
“Concerning the complaints of the petitioners/applicants to the extent that the affinity between the Honourable President of this court will engender a likelihood of bias on the part of the Honourable President of this court, if she remains the Presiding Justice, I am of the firm view, that enough materials have not been placed before this court to show that the Presiding Justice of this panel is likely to be biased against the petitioners/applicants in the hearing and determination of the petition.
“I am of the view that the fact that the Honourable President of this court is the wife of Honourable Adamu Mohammed Bulkachuwa and the mother of Aliyu Haidir Abubakar are not weighty enough to impute likelihood of bias against the President of the Court of Appeal.
“The two of them are not parties to the petition before us, and have not shown to be listed as witnesses of the 3rd respondent (APC) in the petition before us.
“There is no allegation made against the spouse or the son of the Honourable President of this court in the petition of the petitioners/applicants. Their relationship with the Presiding Justice of this panel is not at all capable of causing likelihood of bias against any of the parties in the petition.
“The full court has been empanelled consisting of five Justices of this court, in full appreciation of the importance of due process and just dispensation of justice in the hearing and determination of this case relating to the presidential election, notwithstanding that the court will be duly constituted if it consists at least three Justices of the Court of Appeal.
“I have deeply ruminated over the affidavit evidence filed in support and against the application of the petitioners/applicants and the various submissions of the various learned counsel to the parties in this petition and I am of the view that the petitioners/applicants have not been able to positively establish the need for the Honourable President of this court and the Presiding Justice of this panel to recuse herself from further sitting or participating in the proceedings in this petition.
“Consequently, the petitioners’ application fails and it is hereby dismissed,” Justice Ige said.
Other members of the tribunal, including Justice Bulkachuwa, agreed with Justice Ige’s position in the lead ruling.
Shortly after the tribunal’s ruling was concluded, Justice Bulkachuwa said: “I am recusing myself from the panel for personal reasons”.
Justice Bulkachuwa said it was gratifying that the issue was resolved “based on the facts and the law” so that “another female judge will no longer have to face what I have faced”.
The President of the Court of Appeal assured all that a new presiding Justice would be appointed for the panel, but that the four remaining members would continue with the hearing of the preliminary applications pending the appointment of the new head of the panel.
No date was however chosen for further proceedings. The court’s registry will issue a fresh hearing notice on parties.
Lawyers in the case, including Livy Uzoukwu (SAN) for the petitoners; Wole Olanipekun (SAN) for the Buhari, Lateef Fagbemi (SAN) for the APC, and Yunus Usman (SAN) for the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC), praised Justice Bulkachuwa for her decision.
Olanipekun said the decision had saved the judiciary from an embarrassment.
Uzokuwku said his team filed the application interest to protect the right of their clients.
He added that the application was “never personal”, adding that it was carefully done “to respect the institution”.
Buhari and the APC had, in their separate responses to the motion filed by the PDP and Atiku, argued that the decision about whether or not Justice Bulkachuwa should withdraw her membership of the five-man panel set up to hear the petition by Atiku and the PDP was not for them to make.
In court documents they filed, in response to the motion by Atiku and the PDP, seeking Justice Bulkachuwa’s withdrawal from the case, Buhari and the APC argued that the decision was entirely that of the Court of Appeal President.
In the document filed for Buhari by his team of lawyers,led by Olanipekun (SAN), it was argued that although Justice Bulkachuwa, as the Court of Appeal President, reserves the constitutional powers to determine the composition of all election tribunals nationwide, the choice was for her to make whether or not to accede to the request by Atiku and the PDP that she recuse herself.
In the document filed for the APC by its Fagbemi-led legal team, it was argued that the reasons given by Atiku and the PDP to demand Justice Bulkachuwa’s withdrawal were mere blackmail.
The APC, however, urged Justice Bulkachuwa to protect her name and integrity by withdrawing her further participation in the hearing of the petitions by Atiku and PDP.
Fagbemi, APC’s lead lawyer, noted that it was fast becoming the norm to litigants to query the integrity of any judge they are not comfortable with.
He said: “As it is fast becoming the norm, and regrettably so, this is another havoc wreaked on the finest Nigerian jury.
“This is not the first time this is happening. Just recently, Justice Oyewole, whose immortal contribution was acknowledged by the counsel for the applicants a while ago, was written against not to be allowed to sit on the appeal panel on the Osun State governorship election petition.
“Nebulous as ‘likelihood of bias’ is, it has its own boundaries. The exhortation in all the authorities that have been cited recognise that each case will have to be dealt with on its own merit.
“The matter before the court has nothing to do with governorship or National Assembly elections. Whatever the constitution of a political party is, it is the Constitution of the country that is supreme.
“And nowhere in the Nigerian Constitution that the President is allowed to remove a governor or a member of the National Assembly.
“My conclusion, with respect, is that the application is blackmail. On the facts and the law, the application is most unmeritorious.
“But, with respect, next year, your lordship, the President of the Court of Appeal, will be bowing out gloriously by God’s grace.
“Your name, either the one you acquired before you got married or the one you acquired after you got married, none is for you alone.
“You hold them in trust and you have been blessed – being the first female President of the Court of Appeal in Nigeria.
“My lord, your youthful look may confuse one. You are old enough to be my mother. My lord, if you are standing in as my parent, I will say, Mum, leave the matter,” Fagbemi said.
EFCC interrogates Kwara SSG, Assembly Clerk over N400m ‘suspicious payments’, investigates content of four trucks from Govt House to ‘unknown destination’
The Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC), Ilorin Zonal Office, has commenced investigations into the alleged illegal payment of about N400 million to some members of the Kwara State House of Assembly and the State Executive Council members before the expiration of their tenures.
To this end, the anti-graft agency is currently interrogating the Secretary to the State Government (SSG), Sola Isiaka Gold, and the Clerk of the State House of Assembly, Kperogi Halimat Jummai, over the alleged payment which did not follow due process.
It was gathered that all the 25 lawmakers and some members of the State Executive Council two weeks ago received about N400 million severance gratuity before the expiration of their tenure despite the fact that the State is owing workers about three months salaries.
The petitioner said even though the Lawmakers and members of the State Executive Council are entitled to severance payment, it was the next administration that was supposed to pay the money.
It was further alleged that the State Government with selfish intent, swiftly paid the money before the expiration of their terms.
More worrisome was the issue of furniture allowance running to hundreds of millions of naira according to the petitioner, which they wanted paid along with severance gratuity.
In a letter written by the Speaker, Kwara State House of Assembly, Dr. Ali Ahmed to the State Governor, it was confirmed that the Lawmakers were entitled to severance gratuity at the end of their tenure due to terminate on June 7, 2019.
The letter further stated that: “In accordance with the provisions of the Revenue Mobilization, Allocation and Fiscal Commission (RMA & FC) Honourable Members are entitled to 200 percent of their annual basic salaries as their severance gratuity allowance at the end of their tenure of Office.”
Kperogi, who confirmed that the Lawmakers have received their severance gratuity, told EFCC operatives that the payment was approved by Governor Abdulfatah Ahmed.
Kperogi said: “In a meeting of the Principal Officers of the Kwara House of Assembly wherein I am scheduled to be the Secretary, held on 8th of May 2019, Issue of Severance Gratuity to the Honourable Members was raised, the principal officers were informed that the State Governor has approved the payment of the Severance Gratuity.
“At the meeting, I informed the House that his Excellency had approved the payment, adding that members were expected to be paid after the expiration of their tenure of Office. The House debated it and they overruled me.”
On the other hand, Gold wrote and sought for the approval of the severance gratuity and furniture allowances amounting to about N300 million of some members of the State Executive Council.
In a letter to the State Governor, dated May 8, 2019 Gold said: “Your Excellency, by virtue of the provisions of Kwara State remuneration of political and Public Office holders law, certain category of political and public office holders are entitled to severance and furniture allowances of their basic salaries respectively upon successful completion of tenure.”
According to the SSG, while the Lawmakers have received their monies, members of the State Executive Council are yet to receive their gratuity.
Meanwhile, the Commission is also investigating the pictures circulating in the social media which claimed that the government officials are packing four trucks full of loads to an unknown destination.
The store keeper of the State is being interrogated as at the time of this report.
Businessman sues acting CJN over ‘falsification’ of age
Tochi Michael, a 46-year-old businessman, has sued Ibrahim Muhammad, acting chief justice of Nigeria (CJN), over alleged age falsification.
In a suit filed at a federal capital territory (FCT) high court in Abuja in April, Michael alleged that the acting CJN intentionally doctored his date of birth from December 31, 1950, as stated in all his official records, to December 31, 1953 after he became a judicial officer.
In the case with suit no. FCT/HC/BW/CV/79/2019, the businessman asked the court to determine whether such act did not constitute a criminal act of perjury, falsification and forgery.
Michael asked the court to determine if by allegedly falsifying his date of birth as a judicial officer, Muhammad has not violated the constitution of country.
He also asked the court to determine if the acting CJN has not violated the code of conduct for judicial officers and as as a result reduced the image of the judiciary to a state of disrepute and odium.
The petitioner also asked the court to declare that Muhammad falsified his date of birth and has consequently breached the constitution of the country.
Michael’s prayers also include an order for the inspector-general of police (IGP) to prosecute the acting CJN for perjury.
Sam Ologunorisa, counsel to Muhammad, told the court that Michael and his counsel were absent, asking the court to dismiss the suit.
“We on our part filed a notice of preliminary objection, a counter affidavit and a written address. We urge the court to deem it fit that the originating summon has been argued,” Ologunorisa said.
“We urge the court to dismiss the suit. The case is meant to scandalise the CJN.”
Danlami Senchi, the presiding judge, said another opportunity would be given for the businessman to appear before the court to prove the allegation.
Senchi, therefore, adjourned the case till Friday and ordered hearing notices be served on the plaintiff.
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