Anambra: Testing The Will Of Their Lordships

All eyes are again on the Judiciary, as the Supreme Court prepares to adjudicate on the application brought by Andy Uba, who on June 14, 2007 was asked by the same Court to vacate the seat of governor of Anambra State. He had spent only17 days in the saddle before the Court ordered that Peter Obi, the incumbent governor, be restored to continue with his tenure until March 2010.

Uba’s legal consultants have reasoned that a revisit of the earlier judgment by the Supreme Court could work some miracles, to facilitate his return to the Government House, Awka in 2010, without having to go through another round of election.

In other words, the election of April 14, 2007, which the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) announced Uba had won, and the subsequent oath of office, which he had taken, could be revived.

The frenzy about Anambra election is real. Politicians of all shades are paying close attention to Governor Obi’s tenure, and are not leaving anything to chance. The Uba camp is eager to hear from the Supreme Court, as quickly as possible, in order to know where next to deploy itself.

On Thursday, April 23, the apex Court announced that it would constitute a full panel of seven Justices to hear and determine Uba’s appeal, which requests the Court to set aside its judgment of June 13, 2007, that ousted him as governor.

This fresh move to persuade the Supreme Court to reverse itself on a judgment it had delivered, or better still, re-couch itself in a manner that would favour the applicant and his party – the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) – has gained some mention among well-meaning members of the public. And to the purveyors in the notorious Nigerian rumour mill, it is another grand plan by some people to unduly mystify the political system through a judicial pronouncement from the Supreme Court.

There are reports of a segment of the Justices of the apex Court favouring Andy Uba, and seeking to reverse its earlier judgment in his support. There are allegations (unconfirmed) of huge monetary inducements, the kind that would engineer the seating of the Court even when the desired quorum is not formed.

The Court, however, decided not to proceed with a piecemeal hearing of the appeal, since the parties had indicated their readiness for a full court; and Justice Aloysius Katsina-Alu, who presided, announced that a new date would be fixed for the case.

ANDY Uba’s journey to the Supreme Court began as soon as he was asked to vacate the governor’s seat. Together with his team, he lodged an appeal at the registry of the Supreme Court challenging the refusal of the Enugu Division of the Court of Appeal to set aside an alleged faulty notice of appeal, which formed the foundation of the Supreme Court judgment that nullified his governorship election.

Uba and his party filed an application asking the Supreme Court to set aside its judgment. But the Court declined the invitation and dismissed the application.

Not deterred, Uba and his party returned to the Court of Appeal in Enugu, asking it to set aside its judgment, which resulted in the appeal to the Supreme Court, upon which he was sent packing from the Anambra State Government House, Awka.

The Court of Appeal refused the application on the ground, among others, that the Supreme Court had determined the case and that the principle of stare decisis precluded the Court of Appeal, being a lower court, from inquiring into the case again.

In the new notice of appeal to the Supreme Court, Uba and PDP posit that the Justices of the Court of Appeal were wrong to have refused to set aside their judgment.

Peter Obi and his legal team’s reply to the appeal was been that the matter had been foreclosed by the June 13, 2007 judgment of the Supreme Court, and that any attempt to engineer a revisit would amount to an abuse of the Judiciary and its processes.

When Uba first made moves to apply for a review of the judgment that ousted him from office around September 2007, the idea generated some hoopla. The question then was, whether it was not an unnecessary fuss to request the Supreme Court to reverse itself, particularly on a judgment that was greeted with some national ovation.

A number of legal practitioners voiced their thoughts on the matter and the majority of opinion suggested that the Supreme Court was close to being infallible, and would very rarely reverse itself.

Mr. Olisa Agbakoba (SAN), then President of the Nigerian Bar Association (NBA), faulted Uba’s application and referred to it as an abuse of court process.

Prof. Itse Sagay (SAN) referred to Uba’s request as an exercise in futility and a mockery of the judicial process. He said, “it is a settled principle in law that you cannot go to the Supreme Court to review its judgment, except a similar case comes up in future on the basis of which you can now ask the Court to review the earlier case.”

Bamidele Aturu, a lawyer versed in election matters, had also added that the action of Uba, in seeking to ask the Supreme Court to reverse itself, was frivolous. He said: “I am surprised any lawyer should agree to take up this matter. If the Supreme Court allows this mockery to stand, it will mean that there will be no end to litigation as Obi can apply for another review if Uba wins. Lawyers should be careful and refrain from accepting brief matters capable of trivialising the Judiciary.”

Yet, another lawyer, Emeka Okpoko, remarked thus: “First, everybody has the constitutional right to appeal. If anybody feels aggrieved, he can go to court. However, the recent case at the Supreme Court is nothing short of suicide. The panel that decided Obi’s case was made up of seven seasoned Justices, who settled the issue of jurisdiction before even going into the case. The Uba camp even started kicking against the judgment when the Justices had not given their reasons, showing that they chose to be blind to the wonderful job done by the eminent jurists.

“As far as I am concerned, this would be another opportunity for the Justices of the Supreme Court to take them (appellants) to the cleaners, because what they are doing is provocative enough. They will fail.”

THESE are some of the respondents, who commented on this issue in October 2007, when Andy Uba first approached the Supreme Court for a review of that judgment. On whatever ratio, majority of respondents favoured the judgment of the Court, and were miffed at Uba’s appeal and its capacity to smear the Judiciary. They all spoke to protect the Judiciary and the eminent Justices of the Court.

One and a half years after, it sounds ludicrous, that the Justices still find it convenient to entertain this matter. But not to do so could be misinterpreted to mean a denial of justice on the part of the Uba camp. Perhaps, this is the thinking of the Court, to patiently exhaust the matter and put it to permanent rest.

It is interesting, however, that fresh arguments are being generated by the case. One argument is that, if the Supreme Court were to vacate its own judgment of June 13, 2007, it would mean that the incumbent governor, Peter Obi, would be denied his constitutional right to proceed for a second term in office. It would foreclose the idea of any election in March 2010. Meaning that Obi, who had cleverly avoided the 2007 governorship election, but decided to pitch his tent under the hallowed wings of the Judiciary, would not be entitled to a second term because the election of April 14, 2007 would have been revived.

Anambra is in the frontline of Nigeria’s politically unruly states. Since 1999, the state has refused to mature politically. The tenure of Chinwoke Mbadinuju ended abruptly, as his opportunity for a second term was traded off by the PDP. Chris Ngige courted trouble when he attempted to rescue the state from the tradition of political merchandising. He was visited with raw rage, until the Judiciary ‘rescued him’ by restoring the mandate to Obi, the man who was adjudged to be the winner of the 2003 election.

Obi calmly refused to be misled into a contest in 2007 and that paid off. It was the Supreme Court that has offered protection for his full four-year tenure. Now, what will the Court do to ensure that Anambra learns the rules of democracy?