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2011 Akwa Ibom primaries: How Supreme Court delayed justice

*As Appellants push for justice six years later

*Matter still not listed yet despite miscarriage of justice

Former Akwa Ibom State Commissioner for Youth and Sports, Hon. Imo Udo, who ran against Governor Godswill Akpabio during the 2011 governorship primaries, has asked the National Judicial Council (NJC) to direct the Supreme Court to re-list his case challenging Akpabio’s qualification to participate in the primaries after it was allegedly “dismissed” without being heard.

We were taught that justice delayed is justice denied. In this case, where the highest court is involved, it smirks that justice can rust. When it rusts and you refuse to concede, judgment time will come. It is so sad that 2011 primaries is still before the Supreme Court which acted like a drunk damsel under the influence of some factors which corrupts the senses.

Six long years, the appellants are still asking for justice. They took the matter to the National Judicial Council (NJC) and they’ve been waiting for almost a year for the Supreme Court to relist and hear the matter!

One of the burning questions lawyers and watchers of the nation’s Supreme Court are asking is, why has it taken the court to decide the issues at stake? Can the Supreme Court validly dismiss a case when it has not been formally argued by parties in the matter?

That is the situation in a gubernatorial issue which the Supreme Court was expected to deliver judgment. Hon. Imo Udo, a gubernatorial aspirant in Akwa Ibom State, had petitioned the National Judicial Council (NJC) praying that his dismissed case be heard on its merit.

He challenged former governor Godswill Obot Akpabio’s qualification to run for the 2011 governorship primaries. Udo’s case was “dismissed” on the 20th April 2014 without the parties adopting their written arguments.

The former Akwa Ibom State House of Assembly member served as Commissioner for Youths and Sports and Special Adviser on Political and Legislative Matters to former Governor Victor Attah.

In 2011, he aspired to run for governor of the oil-rich state. But, his problems began when he was asked by the screening panel to prove his membership of the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP). It took the intervention of the PDP Screening Appeal Panel in Abuja to clear him to contest for the primaries.

Nigerian Supreme Court...will it right its own wrong quickly?
Nigerian Supreme Court…will it right its own wrong quickly?

Schemes punctured as they come: On the day of the primaries, he was told by the state chapter that only Akpabio was cleared to contest. He again petitioned the PDP national secretariat, which ordered another primary election, in which Udo scored only one vote.

Udo alleged that Akpabio was not qualified to contest the primary election because he did not pay tax for the three previous years in line with the PDP’s guideline that an aspirant must have paid tax to be qualified to contest, except where exempted.

Udo sued Akpabio at the Federal High Court, claiming that the defendant did not show proof of tax payment, nor was there evidence that he had been exempted from the payment of personal income tax.

As the case was being heard, the judge withdrew, claiming that he was accused of being Udo’s “friend.” A new judge took over and held that the court had no jurisdiction to determine the case.

From the Court of Appeal: Dissatisfied, Udo appealed to the Court of Appeal, Calabar. But Akpabio raised three grounds of objection: that Udo had no locus standi; that the matter was not justiceable because it was not within the provisions of Section 251(1) of the 1999 Constitution; and that the issues were pre-primary election matters and therefore within the domestic capacity of the party to resolve.

The appeal court resolved two issues in Udo’s favour and one in Akpabio’s.

Resolving one of the issues against Udo, the court held that for his complaint to be justiceable, it ought to have occurred the day the primary election was held.

Meanwhile, the Supreme Court, in the case of Ukachukwu vs PDP, held on the 31st January that the issue of eligibility is justiceable under the Electoral Act 2010, and that the whole exercise of a primary election was not an event but a process; therefore wherever there was a contentious issue, the court could hear it.

Looking for justice in the Supreme Court: With this precedence in mind, Udo took his case to the Supreme Court on the 24th January, praying the court to disqualify Akpabio and to overrule the Court of Appeal.

However, the case was not listed for hearing until about a year later despite several requests by Udo’s lawyer that it be listed.

When the case came up on the 17th December, the court adjourned it till 20th April with parties agreeing that a bench judgment would be delivered that day after arguments by counsel on both sides.

Udo said he was shocked when, on 20th April, a new panel was set up to hear the case. No reason was given for disbanding of the previous panel.

Petition to National Judicial Council: In the petition to the NJC, which he also copied the President-elect, Muhammadu Buhari, Udo said the new panel allegedly refused to hear the case, but instead dismissed it without arguments being taken.

“The case was not heard on merit but was dismissed by coercion,” the petitioner alleged.

He urged the NJC to cause a review of the Supreme Court decision of 20th April “that dismissed my case through coercion, intimidation, undue interference and without being heard.”

He prayed the NJC to cause his case to be heard and decided on its merit and in the interest of justice.

Udo added: “The decision to review the unexplained dismissal of my case be done by the first panel dismantled without complaint and/or petition from either of the parties or by another panel of justices who were not in the first or second panel.

“The would-be panel decision should be deemed and relied upon as if it was taken on the 20th day of April 2015 – a decision of the Supreme Court of the 17th December 2014.”

The appellant wondered why the case was delayed from last January till 17th December, and why the panel of justices would suddenly be changed on the morning of 20th April, a date fixed for adoption of written addresses.

“Was it legally tenable for two panels to consider one case, when no petition or protest greeted the first panel led by Justice Walter N. Onnogen? What is the remedy for the appellant whose case was dismissed without being heard on merit?” Udo sought a response.

Asking the NJC to revisit the case, he said: “It may be safe to restore the public confidence in judiciary through appropriate steps being taken in the instant injustice inflicted on me, the appellant.”

The then Chief Justice of Nigeria (CJN), Justice Mahmud Mohammed, in his official response to Udom’s request that the case be heard earlier than 20th April, expressed his “inability to overrule or otherwise interfere with a determination of any panel sitting at the Supreme Court.”

The letter, signed by the CJN’s Senior Special Assistant Hadiza Sa’eed, urged Udo’s lawyer to apply for an accelerated hearing.

Udo said it came as a surprise to him that a new panel could be set up to hear the same case.

Prayers before the Supreme Court: The appellant’s prayers at the Supreme Court were: “A declaration that the First Defendant (Akpabio) is not qualified to contest the re-run primary election of the Second Defendant (PDP) held in Akwa Ibom State on 15th January, 2011 for the purpose of electing the party’s candidate for the office of the Governor of Akwa-Ibom State having regard to the provisions of Article 17.1 of the Constitution of the Peoples Democratic Party and paragraphs 14, 15 and 16 of its Electoral Guidelines for Primary Elections, Electoral Act, 2010 (as amended) and the Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria, 1999 (as amended).

“A declaration that the submission of the name of the first defendant to the third defendant by the second defendant as its candidate for the office of Governor of Akwa-Ibom State during the gubernatorial election held in April, 2011 is in flagrant violation of Article 17.1 of the Constitution of the PDP and paragraphs 14, 15 and 16 of its Electoral Guidelines for Primary Elections, Electoral Act, 2010 (as amended) and the Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria, 1999 (as amended) and is null and void.

“A declaration that the plaintiff is the only candidate validly nominated to contest the governorship election of April, 2011 on the platform of the second defendant for the office of the Governor of Akwa-Ibom State having regard to the provisions of Article 17.1 of the Constitution of the PDP and paragraphs 14, 15 and 16 of its Electoral Guidelines for Primary Elections, Electoral Act, 2010 (as amended) and the Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria, 1999 (as amended).

“An order declaring/returning the plaintiff as the winner of the January 15th 2011 re-run Akwa Ibom State Primary Election of the Second Defendant, and aforitiori the legitimate candidate of the Peoples Democratic Party for the Governorship election of 26th April, 2011 in Akwa Ibom State having regard to the provisions of Article 17.1 of the Constitution of the Peoples Democratic Party and paragraphs 14, 15 and 16 of its Electoral Guidelines for Primary Elections, Electoral Act, 2010 (as amended) and the Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria, 1999 (as amended).

“An order setting aside the purported nomination of the first defendant by the second defendant and the acceptance of the nomination of the first defendant by the third defendant as governorship candidate of the second defendant for Akwa Ibom State…”

Anchor leg: Will the Supreme Court be moral and responsible enough to relist the matter, hear the parties out and give justice. Here, it is justice delayed but must it also be denied? Must the highest bidder be able to pay for justice to be denied? That is the logical conclusion of the developments in the Supreme Court so far. Who will save the poor and common man from the jaws of the rich who can buy justice?

Will Justice Walter Onnoghen in the face of his clearance in the Senate where he promised to fight corruption in the judiciary be bold and courageous enough to revisit this matter, bring it to currency and give judgment wherever it ought to be? Will the Supreme Court use this window to correct its own errors? Will…Willl…Willl???

 

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