Ondo Elections: Supreme Courts Tells Appeal Court To Deliver Judgment
The Supreme Court on Tuesday gave the Justice Ibrahim Saulawa panel of the Court of Appeal in Abuja, which is handling the various cases relating to the dispute over the Peoples Democratic Party’s governorship ticket in the forthcoming election in Ondo State, the nod to continue with its proceedings.
In two separate rulings, the five-man panel of the apex court led by the Acting Chief Justice of Nigeria, Justice Walter Onnoghen, unanimously dismissed the motions asking for stay of the appeal court’s proceedings and others seeking an order disbanding the Justice Saulawa-led panel.
The two categories of motions dismissed by the apex court on Tuesday were filed by nine applicants led by Biyi Poroye, who is the chairman of the Ali Modu Sheriff-led faction of the party in Ondo State that is backing business mogul, Mr. Jimoh Ibrahim, as the party’s governorship candidate in the forthcoming poll.
The apex court arrived at the decisions when 14 separate appeals relating to the dispute over the PDP’s governorship ticket for the forthcoming election in Ondo State came up for hearing on Tuesday.
Other members of the Supreme Court’s panel – Justice Tanko Muhammad, Kumai Akaahs, Kudirat Kekereekun and Ejembi Eko – all agreed with the lead rulings read by Justice Onnoghen.
With the two rulings of the apex court, the Justice Saulawa panel could now go ahead to deliver its reserved judgments on the appeals filed by Eyitayo Jegede and a factional National Chairman of the PDP, Ahmed Makarfi, challenging Jegede’s replacement by the Independent National Electoral Commission as the party’s governorship candidate for the election scheduled to take place on November 26.
Jegede and Makarfi had appealed before the Court of Appeal challenging the orders of Justice Okon Abang of the Federal High Court in Abuja made on June 29 and October 14, 2016, directing INEC to drop Jegede and substitute him with Ibrahim as the authentic governorship candidate of the party in Ondo State in the election slated to hold on Saturday.
Incensed by the motions filed by the applicants, the Supreme Court after dismissing them, awarded cumulative cost of over N10m against Poroye’s group and their lawyer, Mr. Beluolisa Nwofor (SAN), for filing the applications adjudged to have constituted an abuse of court process.
The Justice Saulawa panel had earlier on November 18, 2016, suspended the plan to deliver its reserved judgments on the pre-election dispute in order to await the decision of the Supreme Court on the motions for stay of proceedings filed before the apex court by Poroye and others.
But ruling on Tuesday, the Justice Walter Onnoghen panel of the apex court dismissed the 10 consolidated motions for stay of proceedings filed by the Poroye group, paving the way for the appeal court to go ahead to deliver its reserved judgment.
The Supreme Court dismissed the applications for stay of proceedings after the lawyer to the applicants, Nwofor, on his own withdrew the motions without any objection from opposing lawyers.
The Justice Onnoghen panel also dismissed the motion in which the applicants had asked the apex court to disqualify the Justice Saulawa panel from going ahead to hear the appeals filed by Jegede and Makarfi while the motions seeking a stay of proceedings were pending before the apex court.
The applicants had, as part of their prayers, urged the apex court to invoke its “disciplinary jurisdiction” against the three Justices of the appeal court and order the disbandment of the panel.
They had also asked the Supreme Court to set aside the proceedings conducted by the appeal court while the motions for stay of proceedings were pending before the apex court.
But the Supreme Court, in its ruling, dismissed the motions for lacking in merit.
‘‘The court below (Court of Appeal) is, hereby, ordered to continue with its proceedings forthwith,’’ Justice Onnoghen said.
The apex court ruled that since the motions for stay of proceedings had earlier been struck out, three of the prayers predicated on them had become academic “and liable to being discountenanced”.
The apex court ruled that the joining of the Justices of the Court of Appeal who were not parties to the dispute before the appeal court, as respondents to the motion, was an attempt to intimidate the Justices of the Appeal court.
Justice Onnoghen said in his lead ruling, “Whatever they (the Justices of the Court of Appeal) did before the lower court was in their official capacities.
“The joining of the Justices of the Court of Appeal was designed to intimidate them. Put mildly, it is a conduct that must be discouraged.
“Judicial officers enjoy immunity in the performance of their duties and are not liable to be subjected to this kind of intimidation.”
Justice Onnoghen also noted that there was an earlier panel of the Court of Appeal led by Justice Jumai Sankey, which withdrew from further presiding over the dispute relating to the PDP ticket, on account of the petition written against the panel members.
Justice Onnoghen ruled, “If the applicants are allowed to continue with these pranks, there will be no end in sight and it will not augur well for our democracy. I find no merit in the motion and it is hereby dismissed.”
The Supreme Court awarded N1m each (in three separate cases) in favour of each of the Justices of the Court of Appeal joined as parties in the appeal.This amounts to N9m.
Justice Onnoghen directed that the cost awarded in favour of the Justices of the Court of Appeal is to be personally paid by the applicants’ counsel, Nwofor.
The apex court also awarded N500,000 in favour of each set of respondents who were represented by Chief Wole Olanipekun (SAN), and Robert Emukpero.
The cost is to be paid by the applicants.
Earlier, in its ruling dismissing the motion for stay of proceedings, the Supreme Court awarded N250,000 against the applicants in each of the 10 motions for stay of proceedings withdrawn by the applicants.
The applicants were directed to pay a cumulative N2.5m to the respondents.
The court fixed Thursday for hearing of the substantive appeals challenging the leave granted Eyitayo Jegede and others to file an appeal before the appeal court to challenge his substitution with Jimoh Ibrahim as the authentic governorship candidate of the party in the forthcoming election in Ondo State.