Is it accidental or coincidence that almost all the Appeal Court judgements as regards governorship elections in the PDP states have been controversial and contradictory when compared with the judgements the same Appellate Court delivered in APC states?
“Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere” – Martin Luther King, Jr.
Anyone that describes the recent judgment of Appeal Court in the Abia State Governorship election tussle as travesty and miscarriage of justice is only stating the obvious. It is a pity and cause of worry to all men and women of goodwill that Appeal Court that used to be beacon of justice and dispenser of sound and irrefutable judgements has succumbed to overwhelming pressures of political desperados, who now sees Court of Appeal Justices as pawns in political chessboard that could be used to thwart the will and mandate of the people especially when their antics failed to deliver them via ballot papers.
On the December 31st, 2015, Appeal Court Panel ruled that the election, return and declaration of Dr Okezie Victor Ikpeazu of Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) stand nullified and ordered Alex Otti of All Progressives Grand Alliance (APGA) being the first Appellant to be sworn-in as governor of Abia State. To the chagrin and bewilderment of political watchers and informed legal minds, this perverse and ill-logical decision that runs contrary to the antecedents of Supreme Court—where the Appellate Court supposed to borrow a leaf from, and Electoral Acts cum 1999 Constitution, was reached after the panel unilaterally cancelled the election results of three Local Government Areas of Obingwa (Dr Okezie Ikpeazu’s LGA), Isiala North and Osisioma with a voting strength of over two hundred thousand registered voters.
With the cancellation of the results in the three local government areas, the scores of the first Appellant and first Respondent are as follows: Dr Alex Otti of APGA has 164, 332 votes, while Okezie Ikpeazu of the PDP left with 115, 444 votes against the earlier numbers as declared by INEC. It is very unfortunate and disheartening that the Appeal Panel based its biased decision on this faulty foundation of electoral rape of peoples mandate to declare Dr Otti winner of the election. A naïve first year law student would have argument that the best option left for the Appeal Court panel was to nullify the election and order for re-run in these controversial local government areas instead of trampling on electoral rights of Abians to vote and be voted for by outright cancellation of thousands of votes gotten from these LGAs.
The ill-conceived total nullification of elections held in these local government areas, where the rights to vote and be voted for of the citizens of these local government areas including the incumbent Governor Ikpeazu, were inhumanly disenfranchised by this five-man panel of Appeal Court, who used the ink in their pens not only to murder justice and fairness but took away the voting rights of more than two hundred registered voters in God’s Own State of Abia, is mostly regrettable.
In a highly compromised judgement that saw the Appeal Court’s declared winner—Dr Alex Otti of APGA leading INEC’s declared winner—Dr Okezie Ikpeazu of PDP with less than fifty thousand votes were the Panel had already disenfranchised over two hundred thousand voters is simply dubious, malicious, vindictive, provocative and pathetic. This is height of judiciary robbery, rascality and hallmark of travesty of justice cum stealing of people’s mandate!
For clarity of purpose and incorruptible spirit of objectivity, my sympathy does not belong to either of the candidates representing the two major political parties of Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) and All Progressives Grand Alliance (APGA) but Abians who toiled day and night to exercise their franchise against all odds. If the five-man panel of Appeal Court could sit down in the comfort of their air-conditioned offices to blindly upturn and truncate the verdict of the people of Abia State as expressed via ballot papers under scorching sun and excruciating pains they went through just to enforce their constitutional rights, what is the need of subjecting the masses, aspirants and political parties to months of campaigns and electioneering by the INEC if the final decision on who governs the people will be left in the hands of aliens that does not respect the spirit and intents of the law or the sensibilities of electorates (Abians)?
Where is the rule of law in this day-light judiciary extremism orchestrated by five-man panel of Appeal Court, who are undeniably doing hatchet job for powers that be in Abuja? Has judiciary as represented by Appeal Court become the abattoir of justice and electoral mandate instead of arbiter of landmark judgements? If Appeal Court has degenerated so low to this flabbergasting level of partisanship, where rests the hope of the common man on the streets of Abia State? Who will protect the voting rights of Obingwa, Isiala North and Osisioma people, who have be conspicuously denied the un-negotiable franchise to determine who governs them as governor and deputy-governor, respectively? Will Supreme Court redeem already battered image of judiciary as regards this controversial judgement by Appeal Court panel? Time shall tell.
Another issue that begs the question is the Appeal panel’s non recognition of the power of the State Returning Officer to cancel the elections of the aforementioned three LGAs in the first place, and his purported reversal of the action! In fact, the Respondents had rightly argued that the Returning Officer acted ultra-vires powers. But the panel went further to state that it didn’t also recognize the supplementary election of April 25, 2015 so ordered by the Returning Officer, because according to its evil genius mathematical computation, Dr Alex Otti had already won based on the offence or mortal sin as it were committed by the three LGAs on April 11, warranting cancellation of their results.
To further puncture the balloon of legal fallacy presented as argument by Appeal panel to substantiate its jaundiced judgement, which is in total contradiction to the spirit and letter of Electoral Acts. The ill-informed decision of the panel not to acknowledge the powers of Returning Officer to cancel elections in areas marred by violence and irregularities as seen in the recent concluded governorship elections in Kogi and Bayelsa States goes to prove again that the judgement was pre-determined before the commencement of the Appeal panel’s proceedings.
Is it accidental or coincidence that almost all the Appeal Court judgements as regards governorship elections in the PDP-controlled States have been controversial and contradictory when compared with the judgements the same Appellate Court delivered in APC-controlled States? The PDP raised alarm and even petitioned President of Appeal Court Hon. Justice Zainab Bulkachuwa when this five-man panel was constituted to expose the lop-sidedness in nominating four Justices out of five from Lagos division of Appeal Court against age-long and universal practice of members of Appeal panels, in election litigations to be drawn from different divisions of the Court of Appeal.
It is instructive to note that there are sixteen Divisions of the Court of Appeal with over sixty-four Justices in the country. It is therefore quite curious and highly suspicious that four out of five members of the Appeal panel constituted to hear the appeal from the petition Tribunal in Abia State were drawn from the Lagos division, considering the fact that the first Appellant, Dr Alex Otti lives and has worked in Lagos all through his banking career and is allegedly known close friend of the presiding Justice of the Lagos division of the Court of Appeal.
This lends credence to the allegation that Dr Alex Otti sealed agreement with a National leader of the APC to defect to the ruling party once he is sworn-in as Governor of Abia State as pay back to the National leader of the APC for assisting him to penetrate the rank and file of judiciary. This conspiracy allegedly began immediately his appeal was thrown out by Abia State Governorship Election Tribunal which upheld the election of Dr Okezie Ikpeazu as duly elected governor of the state.
There has never being time like this when independence and objectivity of Judiciary were eroded to almost zero level in the political annals of Nigeria than now via controversial judgements emanating from the Appellate Court. It is now left for the Supreme Court to take a critical look at these very unpopular judgements, not only to restore the trust of electorates in the judiciary but save it from the shackles of political extremists who abhors opposing views.
Nwobodo Chidiebere writes from Abuja. email@example.com