Ondo PDP Candidacy: S’Court Orders Appeal Court to Determine All Appeals

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• A’Court likely to sit tomorrow

•Imposes punitive fines on Jimoh Ibrahim’s lawyers

•No reason to shift poll, INEC insists, as police deploy 26,000 men •Afikuyomi refutes Lalong’s claim, says Tinubu is hale and hearty

Tobi Soniyi in Abuja and James Sowole in Akure

The Supreme Court yesterday ordered the Court of Appeal to immediately resume hearing of all cases relating to the candidacy of the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) for Saturday’s governorship election in Ondo State.

The Supreme Court also rejected the plea for an order to stop the appellate court from further hearing of the cases by the Jimoh Ibrahim faction of the party.

With the ruling by the Supreme Court, the justices of the Appeal Court would most likely sit tomorrow to decide on the governorship candidate for the Ondo election.

The acting Chief Justice of Nigeria (CJN), Justice Samuel Nkanu Walter Onnoghen, who presided over a panel of the Supreme Court, cleared the coast for the Appeal Court following the dramatic withdrawal of the 10 different applications by the Ibrahim faction praying the Supreme Court to stop the Court of Appeal from hearing all the appeals relating to the dispute.

The Ibrahim faction, which is an offshoot of the Ali Modu Sheriff faction of the PDP and is led by one Prince Biyi Poroye in Ondo State, last Friday filed a motion against the three Appeal Court justices accusing them of bias and betrayal of their oath of office in the way and manner they were handling the appeals.

The motion in which the justices led by Justice Ibrahim Saulawa were joined as parties and filed at the Supreme Court forced the appellate court to stay all proceedings on the appeal.

The judgment billed for delivery last Friday in the appeal filed by the factional governorship candidate of the PDP, Mr. Eyitayo Jegede (SAN), was also aborted as a result of the contents of the motion in which the justices were castigated.

When the motions were about to be moved by the counsel to Poroye, Mr. Beluolisa Nwofor (SAN), in a dramatic U-turn, he announced the withdrawal of the motions, prompting Justice Onnoghen who presided over the proceedings to dismiss the motions and awarded the cost of N250,000 against those who filed them.

Justice Onnoghen then ordered the Appeal Court to resume hearing of the cases forthwith because they are pre-election matters and owing to the urgency they deserve.

Although Nwofor, who earlier served the lower court with all the motions, had asked the Supreme Court to strike them out, the Supreme Court instead dismissed them for lacking in merit.

In another ruling delivered by Justice Onnoghen, the Supreme Court refused to disqualify the Appeal Court justices from hearing the appeals relating to Ondo PDP governorship candidacy tussle.

Justice Onnoghen, who was furious with the manner the Appeal Court justices were turned to defendants in a matter before them, stated that the appellants or anyone had no right to box a court into a corner and turn around to scandalise the same court.

Onnoghen said that the prayer of the Ibrahim faction brought before the Supreme Court was in bad taste, as it was aimed at scandalising, criminalising and intimidating the justices in the course of doing their job.

The acting CJN said that it was unprofessional and unethical for the counsel of the applicants to have joined the justices as defendants in the motion when the law forbids such or for the justices to be made parties in a matter they are handling.

He held that the type of practice of scandalising the judges was irritating, as it could bring anarchy to the country’s democracy. He consequently dismissed the appeal.

Justice Onnoghen said: “Nwofor, you are a Senior Advocate of Nigeria, abi (Pidgin English for ‘is that right’). Where is the record of proceedings of the Court of Appeal you are questioning in your frivolous appeals?”

Responding, Nwofor said: “My Lord forgive me, I did not file them.”

An irate Justice Onnoghen then said: “You are a disgrace to the legal profession and you call yourself a senior advocate.”

Adding to Justice Onnoghen’s tirade, Justice Tanko said: “Nwofor, you and your people have blackmailed all the justices that have handled this matter at the Court of Appeal. Now, if all other lawyers behave like you, what will become of the legal profession?”

Interjecting, Justice Onnoghen said: “Nwofor, there was only one judgment by your Justice Okon Abang. How come you now so many generated appeals – appeals of children and appeals of grandchildren – coming to a total of 14 appeals to the Supreme Court.

“Nwofor, your intention is to cause confusion and rubbish the judiciary. God will judge you.”

As punishment for the antics employed by the applicants, the acting CJN ordered Nwofor to personally pay the sum of N1 million for each of the appeals in which the appeal court justices were unlawfully joined as defendants and another sum of N500,000 to other respondents in the appeal.

While the hearing was ongoing, Modu Sheriff was seen storming out of the court.

The Supreme Court adjourned to November 24 to hear the substantive suit.

INEC: Poll to Go Ahead

Meanwhile, the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) yesterday restated that Saturday’s governorship election in Ondo State would hold as scheduled.

INEC’s Chairman, Prof Mahmood Yakubu, stated this at the stakeholders’ meeting on the election.

“We are fully prepared. We see no reason to activate the provisions of Section EF or Section 36 of the Electoral Act and there are no other grounds in law to postpone an election,” he said.

The declaration of the INEC chairman came as the Inspector General of Police (IG) Ibrahim Idris said the Force, in conjunction with other security agencies, were ready to ensure the security of personnel and materials during the poll.

Yakubu said the commission had taken all the steps necessary for the conduct of the election, adding that the stage was now set for eligible voters to choose their next governor of the state from the list of 28 political parties participating in the election.

Speaking on the processes for the election, the chairman stated that the commission would not tolerate any willful disregard for the use of the smart card reader or its circumvention for accreditation.

He further stated that the security agents would not escort any voter on the election day, no matter the status of the voter in the society.

“Police orderlies may accompany high profile voters but must never bear arms. Similarly, high profile politicians or their agents should not be seen moving from one area to the other on election day or engage in any other violation of the Electoral Act such as vote-buying,” he said.

The INEC chairman appealed to the political parties and their supporters to eschew violence and the culture of intimidation of electoral officers and “the desperate resort to vote buying, ballot box snatching, abduction of electoral officials and other violations of the Electoral Act and INEC guidelines”.

He warned that anybody caught in acts of violence or violating electoral laws would be dealt with in accordance with the law.

Similarly, the IG called on politicians and residents of the state to cooperate with the security agencies that would be deployed in the state to maintain law and order during the governorship election.

Idris disclosed that the police had set up elaborate arrangements to ensure that the election is conducted under a peaceful atmosphere.

According to him, there would be restriction of movement from 12 a.m. to 8 p.m. on Saturday (election day), reiterating that all policemen attached to some persons would be withdrawn while more police officers would be redeployed in the state for the election.

The IG said 26,000 officers and men would be deployed, while five policemen would be at each polling unit across the state, adding that three commissioners from the Force headquarters would be deployed to the three senatorial districts of the state.

He added that 20 gunboats would be in the waterways while dogs and horses would also be used for security at the INEC office during the election period, further disclosing that 300 vehicles, 12 additional armoured personnel carriers (APCs) and 12 armoured Hilux vans would be available for effective operation.

In addition, Idris said three helicopters would be deployed to the three senatorial districts of the state for surveillance on election day.

He said other than the policemen, other security agencies would be deployed for the poll.

Afikuyomi: Tinubu’s Hale and Hearty

In a related issue, Senator Tokunbo Afikuyomi, a close ally of the National Leader of the All Progressives Congress (APC), Bola Ahmed Tinubu, has refuted the claim by Plateau State Governor Solomon Lalong that the conspicuous absence of Tinubu at last Saturday’s Ondo State APC governorship rally was as a result of the former Lagos State governor’s ill-health.

In statement yesterday in Lagos, Afikuyomi described the claim credited to the Plateau State governor as absolutely incorrect.

According to Afikuyomi, “I travelled to the United States of America with Senator Bola Ahmed Tinubu to witness the recent US elections. We traversed a number of cities together where we engaged with a number of Nigerians who are genuinely concerned about the state of affairs in our dear country.

“Jagaban (Tinubu’s traditional title) was in a remarkable state of mental and physical wellness. When we ended our trip, I saw him off to the airport in Chicago from where he headed for Europe again. I still met with him in Europe thereafter.

“It is therefore absolutely incorrect and most embarrassing for anyone to attempt to invent such a laughable reason for Senator Bola Tinubu’s absence at the rally.

“The fact that somebody went for medical check up does not mean he is ill. In the likely event that Senator Tinubu, like all mortals, was ill at all, I doubt if Mr. Lalong would be the first to know by reason of relationship, proximity and trust.

“Prominent politicians like Ogun State Governor, Ibikunle Amosun have been speaking with Jagaban Tinubu. Governor Amosun particularly communicated with him a day before the Ondo rally and he can never claim not to have spoken with him.

“I have also remained in constant touch with Senator Tinubu since my arrival in Nigeria. We speak daily as a matter of fact.

“I have been inundated with calls by friends, associates and other well-meaning Nigerians trying to ascertain the veracity of this ludicrous claim. I hereby ask all friends and lovers of Senator Tinubu to discountenance the claim and know that he is hale and hearty.”

Lalong had in his capacity as the Chairman of the Ondo State governorship campaign explained that Tinubu was absent at the rally due to ill health.