Revealed: How Supreme Court hurriedly sat and delivered judgment on Imo-North senatorial bye-election appeal despite JUSUN strike

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•Senator Frank Ibezim

By Our Reporter 

(Sundiata Post) – Barely two weeks into strike embarked upon by Judiciary Staff Union of Nigeria (JUSUN), Supreme Court suddenly called on all lawyers involved in two pre-election appeals against the judgments of the Federal High Court and the Court of Appeal, disqualifying candidate of All Congress (APC), Ibezim Francis Chukwuma as being unfit to contest Imo-North Senatorial Bye Election as a result of submission to INEC of questionable Certificates which have different entries and results even though they all contain same examination number and year. He also submitted questionable age declaration certificates and credentials having conflicting and irreconcilable names.

Sundiata Post findings indicate the two appeals SC/182/2021 – between Chukwuma Francis Ibezim v. Asomugha Tony Elebeke & 3 ors and SC/183/2021 – between All Congress v. Asomugha Tony Elebeke & 3 ors all arose from the same judgment of the Federal High Court down to the Court of Appeal and then the Supreme Court relating to the same issues and facts.

The Federal High Court per Coram Ekwo J. had on the 4th of December, 2020 in No: FHC/ABJ/CS/1229/2020 disqualified Chukwuma Francis Ibezim from contesting the Imo-North Senatorial Bye Election fixed for the 5th December, 2020. Chukwu Francis Ibezim and APC in two separate appeals, appealed to the Court of Appeal, challenging the judgment of the Federal High Court. The Court of Appeal had on the 6th and 8th of February, 2021 respectively dismissed the two appeals leading to further appeals to the Supreme Court.

The appeals came up for hearing at the Supreme Court on the 23rd March 2021 but were disrupted on the basis of an alleged petition written by the Acting of the APC and the Current Governor of Yobe State, Mai Mala Buni, against three members of the Supreme Court panel headed by Musa Dantijo Muhammad. This forced the Supreme Court to adjourn the matter sine die until a new panel was reconstituted. 

However, before anything could be done, the JUSUN strike started with no hope of resumption in sight and everyone gave up on the appeals considering the fact the appeals were meant to lapse naturally on the 17th of March, 2021 and also bearing in mind the controversy of the petition against the three justices of the Supreme Court were on the earlier panel. 

A source told Sundiata Post there came a surprise when on the 13th of April, 2021 all lawyers in the matter were called upon to appear at the Supreme Court to hear the appeals the following day being the 14th April, 2021. Lawyers were left with no choice but to appear before the Supreme Court on that day to argue the appeal before a five-man panel of the court presided over by Hon. Olukayode Ariwoola. Other members of the supreme court panel are Justices Amina Augie, Uwani Musa Abbaji, Garba Mohammed and Emmanuel Akomaye Agim delivered the lead judgment. 

The appeals were argued and the judgments were adjourned to be delivered via zoom on the 16th April 2021 where the Supreme Court technically against its previous decisions allowed the appeal on the grounds that the action was statute barred. The Supreme Court then set a new precedent while interpreting Section 31(5) of the Electoral Act, 2010 (as amended) and Section 65(1) of the Constitution to hold that the 1st respondent ought to have brought the action within 14 days after the nomination or primaries of the held on the 3rd September, 2020 and not the 13th September, 2020 when the All Progressive Congress forwarded the name of its candidate to INEC. This is contrary to a plethora of Supreme Court decisions, in that nomination is complete when the name of the candidate is forwarded to INEC.

Mr. Asomugha Tony Elebeke had approached the Federal High Court lawyers O. J. Onoja, SAN & Associates seeking disqualification of the appellant, Chukwuma Francis Ibezim, based on the questionable documents forwarded to INEC on the 13th September, 2020. The action was taken on the 23rd of September, 2020 which is a period of 10 days from the day the name was forwarded to INEC which he claimed was well within the 14 days provided in Section 285(9) of the constitution but the Supreme Court stated otherwise.

At the Supreme Court, the various parties were represented by counsel such as Robert Emukpoeruo, SAN & for Chukwuma Francis Ibezim; George Ibrahim & appeared for Asomugha Tony Elebeke while Kalu Umeh, SAN and Valentine Offia appeared for the APC. 

Hassan Mohammed, SAN & appeared for INEC and Ahmed Raj, SAN appeared with Gordy Uche, SAN & for Senator Ifeanyi Araraume sued as the 4th Respondent in both appeals.

What remains a surprise, however, is the manner in which the new panel was constituted to hear the appeal at a time when all courts were shut down by the JUSUN strike which is ongoing. Despite the denial by the acting chairman of the All Progressive Congress, Governor Bala Buni,  that he did not write any petition against the three justices of the earlier panel constituted by the of Nigeria, the Supreme Court went ahead to reconstitute a new panel during the JUSUN strike but did not deem fit to debunk the denial of Mai Mala Buni that he did not write any petition, neither was the alleged petition made public.

As stands, Chukwuma Francis Ibezim, said to be the anointed candidate of Governor for the Imo North Senatorial District,  has escaped with questionable credentials being examined by the Supreme Court as reflected in the concurrent findings by the two lower courts that the credentials presented to INEC contained false information upon which the two lower courts disqualified him.