- Says it doubts panel members’ credibility and integrity
Following the sweeping nullification of the election of lawmakers of the Peoples Democratic Party, PDP in the Rivers State House of Assembly by the Court of Appeal last week, the party has petitioned the President of the Court of Appeal, Honourable Justice Zainab Bulkachuwa to urgently change the panel of Justices already constituted to hear and determine the case.
In the letter dated December 12, 2015 and signed by its legal adviser, Barrister Stanley Israel Eke, also copied to the panel Justices: Hon. Justice Ali Abubakar Babandi Gumel (Presiding), Hon. Justice Ridwan Maiwada Abdullahi and Hon. Justice Nonyerem Okoronkwo, the party mentioned alleged interference in the proceedings of the Court of Appeal ahead of the nullification of the election of all National Assembly members elected under the platform of the Peoples Democratic Party on 10/12/2015 and 11/12/2015 by the panel.
The petition reads: “The Peoples Democratic Party is respectively Appellants and Respondents in the above listed Appeals which are yet to be determined by the Court of Appeal. We demand respectfully, for an urgent change in the Panel of Justices who should hear and determine our Appeals now pending in the Court of Appeal, Abuja Division. The reasons for the demand are as follows:
“We have great doubts in the credibility and integrity of the Panel to dispense Justice as it is presently constituted. The Panel consists of Hon. Justice Ali Abubakar Babandi Gumel (Presiding), Hon. Justice Ridwan Maiwada Abdullahi and Hon. Justice Nonyerem Okoronkwo.
“Two weeks ago, Hon. Justice Ali Abubakar Babandi Gumel was seen with the former Governor of Rivers State, now Minister of Transport and a strong member of the All Progressives Congress, Rt. Hon. Chibuike Rotimi Amaechi, at the latter’s Residence in Asokoro, Abuja. The former’s visit to Amaechi a fortnight ago was however treated with levity by us. Only recently again, on 10/12/2015 at 10.00am, Hon. Justice Ali Abubakar Babandi Gumel, this time was with his members; Hon. Justice Ridwan Maiwada Abdullahi and Hon. Justice Nonyerem Okoronkwo at same Rt. Hon. Chibuike Rotimi Amaechi’s Residence at Asokoro. The purpose of the visit of course should rather be imagined than told: to procure victory for the All Progressives Congress at the Court of Appeal, which in fact they did. This accounted for the commencement of the sitting of the Court later than 4pm on 10/12/2015. The Senior Advocates after waiting endlessly had to go and meet the Justices in Chambers before they came out to sit.
“The result of the meeting between Rt. Hon. Chibuike Rotimi Amaechi and the said Justices is now history: nullification of the election of all National Assembly members elected under the platform of the Peoples Democratic Party on 10/12/2015 and 11/12/2015 by the panel: further instruction to rush all Rivers State House of Assembly Appeals and nullify same with the sole intention of creating crisis in the state.”
Drawing inferences from the Supreme Court ruling of 2003 in the case of Dalhatu vs Turaki, among several others, the party stated that its confidence in the ability of the three Justices to do justice to their cases at the appellate court was already in doubt.
“We have no confidence in the ability of the present panel to dispense justice; our lawyers prepared and argued our cases on the assumption that the decisions of the Supreme Court of Nigeria on any point or issue of law are binding on all Courts in Nigeria. We are aware of occasions when the Supreme Court has admonished all Courts in Nigeria to obey and follow the decisions of the Supreme Court on all points and issues which the final court has already pronounced on,” the PDP argued.
On the Appeal court’s ruling on December 10 and 11, 2015 sacking the state’s PDP lawmakers, the party argued in the letter that: “In spite of these binding pronouncements by the Supreme Court in 2014 and 2015, their Lordships of the Panel still proceeded and held that once the Petitioners alleged that there was substantial non – compliance, the burden is on INEC and the other Respondents to prove that there was substantial compliance. We are unable to understand how this can be.”
Citing appeals already decided by their Lordships in which they refused to follow the Supreme Court’s position, the PDP said it regrettably, has no right of further appeal to the Supreme Court “so that we can give the Supreme Court an opportunity of now changing the law as this panel has done or they retain their existing consistent decisions.”
Arguing that there are many features in the judgments of Appeal Court panel which manifested deliberate refusal by the Justices to obey and follow the decisions of the Supreme Court on any point at all let alone the Evidence Act or the Electoral Act, 2010, the PDP declared that; “the impression which is now left in our minds is that their Lordships of this Panel of the Court of Appeal think nothing in terms of respect for the decision of the Supreme Court on any issue or point of law,” adding; “as Nigerians, we are not willing to submit ourselves to any Judgment by any panel of any Court who have no respect for and who will not base their Judgment in our appeals on the decisions of the Supreme Court when those decisions are copiously brought to their attention in the appeals.”