- Sets up panel to hear Atiku’s appeal against Buhari
- Keeps mum over identity of panel members
The Supreme Court has fixed Wednesday, October 30, for commencement of review of the judgment of the Presidential Election Petition Tribunal which dismissed the appeal of the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) and its presidential candidate Atiku Abubakar challenging the electoral victory of President Muhammad Buhari in the last general election.
The tribunal had on September 11 dismissed Atiku and PDP’s petition for not being proved and returned President Muhammadu Buhari and the All Progressives Congress (APC) as winners of the February 23 presidential election.
The Director of Information of the Supreme Court, Dr Festus Akande, on Sunday confirmed to Bar and Bench Watch that Wednesday has been fixed for the appeal.
But he was silent on the identity of the justices empanelled to hear the appeal
Bar and Bench Watch reports that the composition of the panel had generated so much controversy in the last three weeks that the Supreme Court became a subject of attack.
Specifically, the Coalition of United Political Parties (CUPP) had demanded the use of order of seniority to constitute the panel to hear the petition but the apex court had in a statement signed by Akande insisted that constituting the panel “is the sole prerogative of the Supreme Court and it is never an issue for the court to debate on television or pages of newspapers.”
The seven most senior justices of the Supreme Court which the CUPP and particularly the PDP wanted empanelled are the Chief Justice of Nigeria (CJN), Justice Tanko Muhammad; Justices Bode Rhodes-Vivour, Mary Odili, Sylvester Ngwuta, Olukayode Ariyo, Musa Datijo Muhammad and Kumai Bayang Akaahs.
The ruling All Progressive Congress (APC) had also insisted that of the seven justices the opposition political parties wanted, it marked three of the senior justices out that should not be on the panel.
The three justices are Justice Bode Rhodes Vigour, Justice Sylvester Ngwuta and Justice Mary Odili.
But prominent lawyers and jurists including a former Chief Judge of Lagos State, Justice Omotunde Ilori have dismissed such suggestions by parties before the court, saying the CJN has the sole discretion to constitute the panel and that there is nothing like seniority of justice at the Supreme Court.
Also a senior lawyer and public affairs analyst, E.M.D. Umukoro said it is not compulsory that the CJN must follow the pattern of seniority already set in previous presidential election proceedings.
“What happens is that heads of courts usually want to be part of such panel, and constitutionally, the CJN has the powers to appoint members,” he said.
In the 66 grounds of appeal, Atiku and PDP are contending that the five-member tribunal chaired by Justice Mohammed Garba erred in law in its judgement of September 11 when it held that the claim of the existence of a server was not proved during the hearing.
Atiku and PDP also contended that the tribunal erred in law when it held that President Buhari’s WAEC and Cambridge certificates (R1 to R26, P85 and P86) were properly admitted in evidence, and that the candidate is not required “to attach his certificates to FORM CF001 before the candidate can be considered or adjudged to have the requisite educational qualifications to contest election.”
Meanwhile, CUPP has said that it will reject the composition of the panel to hear the appeal, if it did not follow the seniority of the judges at apex court.
CUPP spokesperson Ikenga Imo Ugochinyere said in Owerri yesterday that such composition would negate the rights of the opposition in the appeal against the election of President Buhari in the February 23 presidential election.
Ugochinyere said that the CUPP raised the alarm that the alleged plan to compose a panel in violation of order of seniority is still alive, threatening that the coalition will not have confidence on any panel constituted in violation of order of seniority.
He said, “The CUPP therefore calls on well-meaning Nigerians and lovers of democracy to prevail on the Supreme Court to do the needful on this matter before it is too late by ensuring that the integrity and public confidence in the Apex court is not destroyed.
“We are also reiterating our earlier call on the apex court to resist any pressure aimed at forcing it to jettison the age-long practice of constituting the panel based on seniority. We shall declare a total lack of confidence in any panel constituted in violation of the age-long order of seniority,” he said.