Justice’s sudden illness stalls Supreme Court hearing

 

Tunde Oyesina

Abuja

 

T

he ill health of one of the seven Justices of the Supreme Court billed to hear appeals emanating from Imo, Bauchi, Sokoto, Kano, Benue and Plateau governorship elections, yesterday, stalled further hearing of the said appeals.

The development forced the apex court to adjourn the appeals till today for hearing.

The Supreme Court had listed a total of 13 political cases, which includes eight appeals and five cross appeals, for hearing and possibly determination, owing to the time bound nature of the cases.

Among the appeals listed for yesterday were that of Abba Yusuf against the election of Governor Abdullahi Ganduje of Kano State; Ahmed Aliyu against Governor Aminu Tambuwal of Sokoto State, and Mohammed Abubakar against the election of Governor Bala Mohammed of Bauchi State.

 

Others are the appeals of Ifeanyi Ararume, Hope Uzodinma and Uche Nwosu against the election of Governor Emeka Ihedioha of Imo State: Senator Jeremiah Useni against Governor Simon Lalong of Plateau State and Emmauel Jime against election of Governor Samuel Ortom of Benue State.

 

However, with the exception of Bauchi Governor, all other governors whose elections were being challenged filed cross appeals also in the matter at the apex court.

The full panel of the court, led by the Chief Justice of Nigeria (CJN), Justice Tanko Muhammad, came in at about 9a.m. to meet an almost uncontrollable crowd, even by the security personnel.

The CJN, however, announced that the court will rise and reconvene in a bid to reduce the noise in the courtroom.

 

Before the court rose, Justice Muhammad ordered all lawyers appearing for parties not to come in with more than five lawyers with them.

Also, people who were not direct parties to the suit were equally directed to leave the courtroom.

 

There was, however, a mild drama when the police deployed the use of dogs to decongest the court.

 

The court, however, reconvened about 10 minutes later.

However, when the court resumed again, circumstances beyond the court’s control forced a second stand down of proceedings.

 

Being a constitutional case, the various appeals must be heard and determined by a seven-member panel.

 

Shortly after Chief Adegboyega Awomolo (SAN), counsel to Abbah Yusuf of the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) adopted his written addresses as his brief of argument seeking the setting aside of the decision of the Court of Appeal which upheld the election of Ganduje as Kano State Governor, the apex court again announced a stand down of proceedings.

 

Counsel to the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC), Joseph Daudu (SAN), was on his feet to adopt his brief of argument, when the CJN cuts in: “Due to circumstances beyond control, the court has to rise,” Justice Muhammad said before adding, “A member of the panel suddenly took ill.”

 

Although the CJN did not mention the name of the Justice who suddenly took ill or the nature of the ailment, however a source at the Supreme Court gave the name of a Southern Justice in the seven-member panel hearing the various appeals.

Besides the CJN, other members of the panel include: Justice Sylvester Ngwuta, Justice Olukayode Ariwoola, Justice Kudirat Kekere-Ekun, Justice John Okoro, Justice Aminu Sanusi and Justice Uwani Aba-Aji.

 

However, after about an hour the matter was stood down, a senior official of the Supreme Court announced to the court that hearing in all the appeals slated for the day have been adjourned to the following day, Tuesday January 14, 2020 for hearing.

Meanwhile, a senior lawyer, Chief Mike Ozekhome (SAN) told journalists outside the courtroom that the adjournment would not make the cases statute barred.

 

It is expected that the Supreme Court, just like in previous governorship election cases, would hear the appeals and give its verdict same day.

 

Though the apex court was yet to sack any of the governors whose elections were brought before it for determination, however, there was strong fear that the court might spring surprises when it finally takes a decision on the matters.

 

Only last week, the apex court upheld the election of Delta State Governor, Ifeanyi Okowa and three others in four separate appeals against their elections.

 

The court had, last December, decided the cases involving eight other governors and returned all of them in its verdict.

 

The INEC had declared Governors Ihedioha (Imo), Mohammed (Bauchi), Tambuwal (Sokoto), Ganduje (Kano), Lalong (Plateau) and Ortom (Benue) as winners of governorship elections in their respective states.

However, all pending appeals are bound to expire at the end of tomorrow, putting pressure on the panel to hear and deliver judgement on the seven appeals on today.

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