Controversy over Supreme Court

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Legal fireworks will on Wednesday shift to the Supreme Court where the appeal filed by the presidential candidate of the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP), Atiku Abubakar, against the judgment of the Presidential Election Petition Tribunal (PEPT) in favour of President Muhammadu Buhari is being challenged.

The major controversy will be issues bordering on  composition of the panel of Justices to adjudicate on the appeal

There have been allegations and counter allegations  by the different parties to the appeal.

The PDP had announced on its official Twitter page yesterday: “Breaking News! The Supreme Court of Nigeria has scheduled to hear the Appeal of the @OfficialPDPNig and @atiku/@PeterObi, arising from the judgment of the Appeal Court, on Wednesday, October 30, 2019. It’s time to #RescueNigeria.”

In the 66 grounds of appeal, Atiku and his political party have asked the apex court to reverse the decision of the tribunal which upheld the victory of President Buhari.

It is their contention that the tribunal erred in law in its resolution of the five issues it identified for the determination of the petition.

This is  coming days after Atiku Abubakar, presidential candidate of the PDP, and his legal team expressed worries over the delay in naming justices to preside over their appeal.

Also, the CUPP  had at a press conference in Abuja, had alleged that the APC-led Federal Government has been mounting undue pressure on the Chief Justice of Nigeria (CJN), Tanko Muhammad, to accept a list of some persons allegedly selected to be members of the presidential election petition appeal tribunal.

Its spokesman, Ikenga Imo Ugochinyere, said the over 45 opposition political parties would not have confidence in a handpicked panel of justices to hear Atiku’s appeal in violation of the seniority tradition except it follows the laid down precedence.

Trouble started last June, when President Buhari directed the CJN, Justice Ibrahim Muhammad to appoint new Justices for the Supreme Court to meet the constitutional requirements of 21 justices on the bench of the Supreme Court.

The directive by the president stirred controversy especially in the camp of the opposition party and Civil society groups.

Responding to the development, an advocacy group, Access to Justice (A2Justice), described it as worrisome.

Convener of the group, Joseph Otteh, in a statement, said the process, which saw the CJN accepting the request by asking Supreme Court Justices to nominate “suitable candidates for consideration for appointment as justices of the Supreme Court” was a mockery of the judiciary.

But the Supreme Court, in a statement by its spokesman, Mr. Festus Akande, said CUPP’s serial attacks on it over Atiku’s appeal would not deter it from performing its arbitration function without fear or favour. It stated that the apex court and by extension, the judiciary is an independent arm of government that can never be intimidated or dictated to by anybody.

The court said being an independent body peopled by diligent minds, it remains focused on its goal of always ensuring justice irrespective of the individuals behind any case.

But the PDP caucus in the House of Representatives to join the fray. The caucus in a statement has suggested that Justices Ibrahim Tanko, Rhodes-Vivour, Mary Odili, Sylvester Ngwuta, Olukayode Ariwoola, Musa Mohammed and Kumai Akaahs be appointed to hear and determine the appeal.

The caucus backed by the PDP leadership accused the leadership of the Supreme Court of trying to subvert the convention of selecting the most senior justices of the Supreme Court to hear and determine the appeal. They said the Supreme Court and the CJN must stick to set precedent and resist the pressure being brought to bear on him to appoint justices, who are likely to favour the ruling APC and President Buhari in deciding the appeal.

In a statement signed by Kingsley Chinda (PDP Caucus Leader),  Chukwuma Onyema (deputy leader), Umar Barde (Caucus Whip) and Muraina Ajibola (deputy caucus whip), the PDP caucus said the Chief Justices of Nigeria since 1979, has set the precedent of appointing the most senior justices to hear the presidential election appeal.

They believe that the first seven senior justices should be appointed to hear the appeal and listed them to be Justices Muhammad, Justice Rhodes Vivour, Justice Mary Odili, Justice Syvester Ngwata, Justice Olukayode Ariwoola, Justice Musa Mohammed and Justice Kumai Akaahs.

Meanhile, the apex court will today begin fresh hearing in an appeal filed by the Hope Democratic Party(HDP) challenging the declaration of President Buhari as winner of the February 23 presidential election.

This is sequel to a motion by the party asking the apex court to reverse itself in the judgment delivered on October 3, which dismissed its appeal. It is the contention of  the party that the judgment was based on technicality rather than merit of law.

Already, the Supreme Court has issued hearing notices to parties in the matter notifying them of the October 28 date for fresh hearing.

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