The Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) has asked the President of the Court of Appeal (PCA), Justice Zainab Bulkachuwa, to disqualify a member of the Rivers State legislative election petition tribunal, sitting in Abuja.
The judge, Justice Victor Uchenna Okorie, who was initially the Chairman of Panel one of the tribunal, was redeployed as a member of Panel three after the PDP wrote the PCA, complaining that the judge, who is of the Customary Court of Appeal, Imo State, was not qualified to act as chairman of a tribunal under Paragraph 1(1) and (2) of the Sixth Schedule to the Constitution.
In a fresh letter to the PCA, dated August 12, 2015, lawyer to the PDP, Godwin Obla (SAN), argued that it would be detrimental to his client’s interest should Justice Okorie be retained in any capacity where he could play any role in the determination of other petitions in which the PDP was a defendant, in view of the party’s role in his removal as tribunal, chairman.
A copy of the letter which was obtained by our correspondent reads: “We write to express our grave concern that immediately after the reconstitution of Panel one, which removed him (Justice Okorie) as Chairman, the latter was constituted into Panel three, before whom PDP will appear in all pending petitions before it.
“The net effect of the above is that PDP will continue to appear before the very one, against whom it had successfully raised objection in respect of his capacity as chairman in the earlier panel.
“There is no gainsaying the fact that his present position as member of Panel three is a ‘demotion’ as it were, from his earlier exalted position of ‘Chairman’ of Panel one, a fact that will definitely continue to play out in his mind.
Needless to further point out the inevitable or likelihood of human passions of bias and prejudice awaiting the PDP as a party.
“It therefore stands to reason from the above that the continued inclusion of Justice Okorie in the panel where PDP is appearing as a party against another adversary, will inexorably compromise the integrity of the structure of justice system before whom our client has been made to appear in defence of its mandate in the electoral process.”
He consequently urged the PCA, as the appointing authority, “to take the necessary step to address our concern and that of the PDP and remove Justice Victor Okorie from all the election petitions tribunals currently sitting nationwide, in which the PDP is a party, seeing that he is not ready to disqualify himself.”
Obla said his client’s challenge of Justice Okorie’s competence as a member of the election tribunals was not a challenge to his competence as a judge in other capacities.