Reports have emerged as to how the controversial judgement of the Court of Appeal on the National Assembly Elections Petitions of Rivers State which nullified all elected National Representatives of the PDP in Rivers State was procured by the Minister of Transport and former Governor of the State, Mr. Chibuike Rotimi Amaechi.
Based on available evidence, between the 9th and 10th of December, 2015, prior to the delivery of the controversial judgment, the Abuja home of the former Governor repeatedly hosted the Chairman of the Court of Appeal Panel on Rivers State National Assembly Election, Hon. Justice A. B. Gumel, of the Court of Appeal Ibadan Division.
Justice Gumel was appointed to superintend over the Rivers State National Assembly Elections Appeal Panel by the President of the Court of Appeal, Justice Zainab Adamu Bulkachuwa, wife to a founding member of both the CPC and the APC, Alhaji Adamu Bulkachuwa. Justice Bulkachuwa, since the commencement of sittings of the Election Petitions Tribunals has come under severe national criticism over what many term her Pro-APC leaning.
In a particular instance, in Calabar of Cross River State, anti-Bulkachuwa protesters who carried placards and green leaves, dumped an empty coffin in the front of the tribunal venue, singing and shouting anti-tribunal and anti-Bulkachuwa slogans around the casket. The protesters said they were expressing their displeasure at the manner in which the National/State Assemblies Election Petitions Tribunal (Panel 1) was “deliberately” constituted to ensure that the petitions against the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) candidates never got justice. The rejectionists were of the Cross River State Diocese of Wesley Synod International African Foundation, and the Cross Rivers State Chapter of the College of Clergies in Politics. They protested “alleged crafty and wicked legal academic blunders” perfected during the tribunal’s six months sitting in Calabar and called for the cancellation of all illegalities.
It is the same crafty and legal blunders that have also characterised the judgment of the Court of Appeal in the Rivers State National Assembly Elections Petitions appeal in which the elections of members of the National Assembly from Rivers State who were elected on the platform of the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) were annulled on the basis of noncompliance with the electoral guidelines, chief among which was the non-use of the controversial card readers.
It would be interesting to note that the same Court of Appeal in the case of Agbaje vs. Ambode and in a well-reasoned judgment delivered by Justice Obande Festus Ogbuinya held thus: “The extant Electoral Act (2010) which predates the concept (of card reader) is not its parent or progenitor. Since it is not the progeny of the Electoral Act, fronting it as a ground to challenge any election does not have its (the Electoral Act’s) blessing, nay Section 138 (1) of it. Put simply, a petitioner cannot project the non-presence or improper use of smart card reader as a ground for questioning an election. It does not qualify as one.”
On the strength of the aforesaid, and without it adducing any basis founded in law to sustain its position, it then follows that with the position of the Justice Gumel led appeal panel, the Court of Appeal has been dragged down the slippery slope of judicial partisanship and veered off the hallmark and import its sworn duty to administer justice without fear or favour.
Many jurists, lawyers and citizens have expressed worry over the fact that almost all tribunal judgments in PDP controlled States, especially in the South-South, have been reasonably skewed to undermine clear provisions of the law and for the benefit of the APC. Apart from the established discrepancies and conflict of judgment within the same Court of Appeal on the issue of the non-use of Card Readers, the Bulkachuwa led Appeal Court, which constituted the Tribunals is also faced with conflicting positions on the issue of 21 days compulsory notice to the Independent National Electoral Commission before the conduct of any Primary Election as mandated in S. 85(1) of the Electoral Act 2010.
S. 85 (1) of the Electoral Act 2010 provides as follows: “A registered political shall give the Commission at least 21 days notice of any convention, congress, conference or meeting convened for the purpose of electing members of its executive committees, other governing bodies or nominating candidates for any elective offices specified under this Act.”
The fundamental basis for nullifying Darius Ishyaku’s election of Taraba State was that Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) didn’t comply with Section 85 of the Electoral Act, 2010, in notifying the Independent National Electoral Commission of its primaries. But on the same issue, the Appeal Court ruled differently in the appeal brought by the APC against the PDP National Assembly Candidates in Rivers State claiming that a notice served before a change in date for the Primary and without another notice served to INEC of the new date, amounted to a proper notice of the new date. Where in the world does that happen?
Does this action by Justice Gumel not amount to toppling the law and turning it on its head in every material particular, and writing a judgment that is legally laughable and in the service of his President, Justice Bulkachuwa, wife to an APC chieftain, Adamu Bulkachuwa and Rotimi Amaechi, the chief financier of the APC, rather than to serve the cause of justice? Does the fragile polity deserve the combustible heat being generated by the judiciary and by effect the APC? What good does it serve to continuously dash the confidence of the people in democracy? Why should the judiciary make itself the tool to undermine justice and democracy? Are the authorities deaf and dumb and blind to these atrocities?
Why do we have sacred cows who weigh down the judiciary with the burden of their corrupt practices and undermine the progress of our democracy? Why does the Adamawa-born SAN, who has been serially fingered in countless corrupt deals within the judiciary continue to go scot free? Is he higher in rank or superior to the SANs who have been debarred in the past for conducts such as his? Is this the new face of the judiciary where anything goes; the hallmark of the so-called anti-corruption government?
Nigerians around the country and diplomats alike expressed disappointment with rewarding Mr. Amaechi with a ministerial appointment in spite of his being a man burdened with corruption and having cases to answer in court. With the inducement of Judges, right inside his home, the Minister for Transport has elevated the art of corruption to statecraft. What remains to be seen is a decisive action by the President to distance himself from such actions rather than endorse them with his silence.
Justice Gumel is already pestering the Court of Appeal panel empaneled with the Appeal of Governor Wike and the Rivers State House of Assembly to undermine the cause of justice. How far will this riotous deviation from the norm be allowed to go? Why is the Nigerian government deliberately creating an atmosphere in which the people themselves in upholding democracy should find themselves in a situation where they are faced with the choice of resorting to self-help? Never in the history of Nigeria have we had a challenged judiciary as we currently do; and, in truth, the challenge to self-correct and remedy itself is entirely its and to its advantage.
In the entire travesty that Nigeria has become, one thing has become clear, in rewarding corruption as in the case of Mr. Chibuike Rotimi Amaechi, he has been empowered to expand on his enterprise and the unfortunate consequence is that this path can only lead to the destruction of our most cherished values as a people if allowed to fester. Nigerians must take back their country or there shall be none in no time.
Gift Jackson is a freelance journalist based in Abuja. He can be reached via email HERE.