Onyebuchi Ezigbo in Abuja
The Minister of State for Labour and Employment, Mr. Festus Keyamo (SAN) has disagreed with an elder statesman and constitutional lawyer, Prof. Ben Nwabueze (SAN) on the way the Supreme Court handled the presidential election petition filed by the presidential candidate of the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP), Atiku Abubakar.
In a statement issued wednesday, Keyamo said that the respected lawyer could not reasonably fault the action of the Supreme Court since it was guided by the constitution.
On the question raised by Nwabueze as to whether the parties in the matter were given opportunity to be heard, Keyamo said there was enough evidence to show that such important requirement of the law was complied with.
Furthermore, Keyamo said Nwabueze’s assertion that the Supreme Court went on a recess on October 30, 2019 during the hearing of the presidential election petition appeal whereupon they reconstituted the panel was not correct.
He said: “The purpose of that recess was, as widely reported, was to enable the counsel to the appellant decide on consolidating the seven interlocutory appeals with the main appeal pursuant to an application by the appellants’ lead counsel who asked the court to allow all counsel to adopt their briefs, both in the main appeal and in seven other interlocutory appeal,” he said.
Nwabueze had reasoned that the decision dismissing the appeal as lacking in merit was not taken at the sitting of the Supreme Court on 30 October, 2019 and that the decision had been taken during an examination of all the briefs of argument and exhibits for over two weeks before the sitting on October 30, 2019.
While reacting to what he referred to as the learned Professor’s “rhetorical inquiry” as to the makeup of the panel in question and the timeline of the appointment of its members, Keyamo said the Supreme Court is under no legal obligation, to publish or disclose the identities its justices chosen to hear an appeal.
“It is important to note that the Supreme Court is under no legal obligation, neither has it been the practice, to publish or furnish the names of members of the panel to hear an appeal to the parties before the hearing of the appeal. The practice of keeping the identity of members of such an important panel anonymous has ostensibly been put in place to encourage neutrality and also to discourage contesting parties or members of the public from attempting to reach or compromise the Honourable Justices.”
“What is more, each Justice of the Supreme Court is entitled to a case file and copies of all the briefs filed by the parties in any matter, a practice which is defined by the filing of sufficient copies of processes at the registry of the Court to ensure that all the Justices of the Supreme Court are afforded copies of the processes filed in all matters upon the filing of same,” he said.
Keyamo added that the logical inference from the foregoing is that each and every Justice of the Supreme Court is sufficiently equipped to serve in any panel as constituted by the Chief Justice of the Federation, adding that it is not out of place for the Justices to hold conferences over matters in Chambers, having read the briefs, and express their opinions on such matters, even before the sitting in open court.
“Therefore, there cannot be any question mark about what happened at the Supreme Court on 30th October, 2019. When the Chief Justice of Nigeria had earlier announced, days before, that no panel had been constituted to hear the Appeal, it could not have meant that all the justices were not with the case files and were not studying same. The seven-man panel that eventually heard the appeal could have been constituted that morning and could have met even one hour before the sitting in open court to express their opinion on what they have read in the briefs two weeks before then,” said Keyamo.
The minister noted that rather than crucifying the Justices at the apex court for hearing the appeal on October 30, 2019 and deciding same on the same date, they ought to be commended for coming to court prepared and hearing and dismissing the appeal with dispatch.