Posted by News Express | 3 November 2015 | 2,663 times
The executive arm of government influenced the recent verdicts of the Akwa Ibom and Rivers governorship election petition tribunals, a frontline rights group has alleged. In a petition addressed to Hon Justice Mahmud Mohammed, Chairman of the National Judicial Council & Chief Justice of Nigeria (CJN), and Hon Justice Zainab Adamu Bulkachuwa, President of the Court of Appeal (PCA), the International Society for Civil Liberties & the Rule of Law (intersociety) said there was enough evidence to show that the tribunals did not enjoy the required freedom to do their work impartially.
“Recall, Your Lordships, that the Akwa Ibom and Rivers States’ Governorship Petitions Tribunals had on 22nd and 24th October 2015 respectively, annulled the two governorship election petitions under circumstances considered by many as controversial and federal executive influenced. While the entire Governorship election of Rivers State was annulled, that of Akwa Ibom State affected 18, out of the State’s 31 Local Government Areas. Events leading to the two nullifications were far from being devoid of controversy and executive brigandage. The basis upon which the nullifications was premised has also raised serious controversies with formidable and independent legal pundits pointing out gross incoherence or inconsistencies of the two verdicts with the relevant provisions of the Electoral Act of 2010 and most recent decided cases such as legality of the electoral card readers and their basis for nullification of election by an electoral tribunal,” Intersociety said in the petition dated Novermber 2, 2015.
“Be that as it may, there are enough safeguards yet to be exploited to factually, validly and finally lay the two matters to final judicial rest. In respect of Governorship election petitions decided at the election tribunals, they are appealable at the Court of Appeal in accordance with Section 246 (1)(c) of the 1999 Constitution and in regard to those decided at the appellate courts, they are further appealable at the Supreme Court in accordance with Section 233 (2) (e) of the same Constitution. It is hoped that these two safeguards will correct real or perceived anomalies inherent in the lower court judgments provided rapacious federal executive interferences are effectively checkmated by Your Lordships’ hallowed offices,” the group said in the petition signed by Board Chairman Emeka Umeagbalasi; Head, Campaign & Publicity Department, Uzochukwu Oguejiofor-Nwonu, Esq.; and Head, Civil Liberties & Rule of Law Programme, Obianuju Igboeli, Esq.
The petition was copied President Muhammadu Buhari, Senate President Bukola Saraki, House Speaker Yakubu Dogara, National Security Adviser, Retired Major Gen Babagana Monguno, and Chairman, Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC), Prof. Mahmud Yakubu. In it, Intersociety justified its allegation as follows:
Hon Justice Muazu Pindigi’s Ordeal in the Hands of DSS: Hon Justice Muazu Pindigi was the second sacked Chairman of the Rivers State Governorship Tribunal. He was widely quoted in the media recently to have said the following statement, which has not been denied or recanted by him or by the DSS till date. “Two weeks before I was removed as chairman of the Tribunal, I got a call from an unknown number, asking for an appointment for us to meet in Kaduna.
And I asked, what for? And the caller said, it’s on a need to know basis that the details of the meeting would be made known to me in Kaduna. And I declined. The next was a call from the DSS, saying they were all expecting me at meeting in Kaduna and demanded why I turned down the appointment”. “And I said, I'm a chairman of a Tribunal, and do not have the luxury to attend meetings especially one without an agenda. And the caller from DSS said there was a petition of fraud against me, in a case I handled in Kaduna in 2009. And I asked him to charge me accordingly, in line with the extant laws. I was called again by another caller; who apologized to me, on behalf of the DSS and offered to compensate me for the harassment I received from the DSS, and rescheduled another meeting, in Kaduna. And I declined again. And the next was a letter removing me as the Chairman of the Rivers State governorship petitions tribunal, and replacing me with Justice Ambrosa”.
“As is the practice, I offered to brief Justice Ambrosa, on the proceedings so far, but he said that won’t be necessary that he has been following the case. Now, on the judgment delivered by Justice Ambrosa; it will be unethical and unprofessional to denigrate, or condemn the judgment of a contemporary colleague. However, the Supreme Court has said, that for an election to be annulled, the petitioner has to prove that elections didn't hold at the polling units, where the winner was returned elected. And I'm not sure that the Ambrosa's judgment arrived through that route.”(See http://www.elombah.com/index.php/special-reports/breaking-news/1976-i-was-offered-bribe-threatened-removed-as-chairman-of-rivers-tribunal-justice-pindigi).
Arrest & Detention of INEC RECs & Ors By DSS: Mr. Austin Okojie, Resident Electoral Commissioner (REC) for Akwa Ibom State and his Head of Legal Department, Mr. Uche Okorie were arrested by the DSS on July 16, 2015, detained and tortured (according to the REC) for 13 days (till 29th July) at the peak of performance of their statutory functions at the State Governorship Election Petition. They were conditionally released amidst further threats and intimidation and directed to report daily at the DSS office (See http://www.thebreakingtimes.com/akwa-ibom-inec-rec-tortured-for-13-days-in-dss-custody/)
On July22, 2015, the Rivers State Resident Electoral Commissioner, Mrs. Gesila Khan and other top officers of the Commission in the State honoured an oral invitation given to them on July 21st by the DSS from Abuja and they were clamped into detention till about 10pm of July 23, 2015, when they were conditionally released and instructed to report daily at the DSS office. The DSS later said during its DG’s appearance before the Senate Committee on Ethics & Public Petitions that it acted based on APC petitions complaining of denial of access to electoral materials used in the two polls and attempts to destroy same. Till date, no prosecutorial charges known to the 1999 Constitution and its subsidiary laws have been preferred against them in a lawful court.
Intersociety faulted the executive’s alleged use of the DSS (Department of State Security) to intimidate judges to render judgment in favour of the ruling Al Progressives Congress (APC), declaring it unconstitutional.
Said the group: “As Your Lordships are aware, the statutory duties and powers of the DSS are unambiguously spelt out in Section 2 (3)(a)(b)(c) of the National Security Agencies Act Cap 74, Laws of the Federation 2004, to include: prevention and detection within Nigeria of any crime against internal security of Nigeria, the protection and preservation of all non-military classified matters concerning the internal security of Nigeria; and such other responsibilities affecting the internal security within Nigeria as the National Assembly or the President, as case may be, may deem necessary. As Your Lordships are further aware, both the spirit and letters of the National Security Agencies Act of 2004 are subject to the provisions of the 1999 Constitution and principles of the rule of law.
“Further, Your Lordships, the DSS (SSS), statutorily, is directly responsible to the President or is directly controlled by the President through his National Coordinator on Security (NSA). This is according to Section 3 (2) (a) of the National Security Agencies Act Cap 74 of 2004.
“Consequently, Your Lordships, the DSS acted ultra vires and unconstitutional by interfering or meddling into judicial affairs under complaint (harassment and threatening of electoral tribunal judges and arrest, harassment, detention and torture of senior INEC officials including Resident Electoral Commissioners). As Your Lordships are aware, issues of election petitions cases and their handling are purely judicial affair involving the plaintiffs, respondents and INEC officials who are constitutionally and statutorily protected from coercive harassment and threats of any kind by security agencies including the DSS. The DSS has no moral and legal justifications to involve in such matters even if invited by a desperate ruling or opposition party. It is morally, legally and constitutionally abominable!”
The petition contained open questions for PCA President, Hon Justice Bulkachuwa, in her constitutional capacity as the appointing authority of the chairmen and members of the Elections Petitions Tribunals (Governorship, National and State Assemblies) in Nigeria in accordance with Paragraph 1 (3) of the Sixth Schedule to the 1999 Constitution, pursuant to Section 285 of the same Constitution.
The questions, according to Intersociety, are: “Were there partiality, favoritism and nepotism involving President Muhammadu Buhari’s wife (Aisha) and Governor Rochas Okorocha in the appointments of Justice Mrs. Anwukah (of Imo State Customary Court of Appeal) and Justice Suleiman Ambrosa of the Kaduna State High Court, as heads of the Rivers State Governorship/Assembly Election Petitions Tribunals? Is it true that Justice Mrs. Anwukah was Gov Okorocha’s nominee for Election Petitions Tribunals for 2015? If it is true, is it part of judiciary independence and protection of its integrity for a State Governor to nominate a judge to seat in post electoral judicial reviews in which he or his party is an interested party? Is it true that Justice Mrs. Anwukah is Governor Okorocha’s Mother-in-law to his daughter (Uju)? Is it true that she sat in the Lagos State Governorship Tribunal from where she was ferried to Rivers State Governorship/Assembly Tribunal to continue “her good job” leading to her recent incredible nullification of 20 State Assembly seats? Is it true that the same Justice Mrs. Anwukah’s husband (Prof Anwukah) was recently nominated and cleared as a minister of the Federal Republic of Nigeria? Is it also true that Justice Suleiman Ambrosa that chaired and controversially annulled the Rivers State Governorship poll is the husband of the younger sister of the wife (Aisha) of President Muhammadu Buhari?”
Intersociety prayed the CJN and PCA “to carefully watch over the appellate and apex proceedings of 2015 elections petitions particularly those of the Rivers and Akwa Ibom State Governorship Petitions and ensure that they are handled impartially and credibly.”
“We also demand from and call upon Your Lordships to cause a firm and stern inter-arms protest letter to be openly or administratively addressed to the head of the federal executive arm, President Muhammadu Buhari, advising him to call his coercive establishments particularly the DSS to order and desist from meddling into the independence and affairs of the Judiciary particularly as they affect the judicial handling of election petitions in Nigeria or any part thereof,” the group added.
•Photo shows Umeagbalasi.
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