Okoro’s Illness Delays S’Court Judgments in Six Govs’ Election Appeals

Alex Enumah in Abuja

But for the sudden illness of Justice John Okoro, the Supreme Court would have yesterday decided the fate of the six governors whose elections are currently being challenged at the apex court in Abuja.

The Supreme Court had listed 13 political cases, which included 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 Monday were that of Alhaji Abba Yusuf against the election of Kano State Governor, Alhaji Abdullahi Ganduje; Alhaji Ahmed Aliyu against Governor Aminu Tambuwal of Sokoto State; and Alhaji Mohamed Abubakar against the election of Governor Bala Mohammed of Bauchi State.

Others are the appeals of Senator Ifeanyi Ararume, Senator Hope Uzodinma and Mr. Uche Nwosu against the election of Governor Emeka Ihedioha of Imo State; Senator Jeremiah Useni against Governor Simon Lalong of Plateau State and Mr. 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.
Early signs that the matters might not go as scheduled emerged when the court rose few minutes after it commenced sitting for the day’s proceedings.

Chairman of the seven-member panel and Chief Justice of Nigeria (CJN), Justice Ibrahim Muhammad, had announced a stand down of the cases, to bring sanity into the courtroom, which at the time had been virtually taken over by politicians and their supporters.

It took the intervention of policemen attached to the Supreme Court to bring the court’s population to a bearable size.
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), lawyer to Abbah Yusuf 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.

But this time, it was due to the ill-health of a member of the panel, Justice Okoro.
Counsel to the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC), Chief Joseph Daudu (SAN), was on his feet to adopt his brief of argument, when the CJN cut in, saying: “Due to circumstances beyond control, the court has to rise,” adding, “a member of the panel suddenly took ill.”

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, about an hour after 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 had been adjourned to today for hearing.

Sources close to the apex court informed THISDAY that should the illness of Justice Okoro persist, he might be replaced by Justice Amina Adamu Augie.

A senior lawyer, Chief Mike Ozekhome (SAN), however, 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 gives it verdict same day.

Though the apex court was yet to sack any of the governors whose elections were brought before it for determination, there was fear that the court might spring surprises in deciding the matters.

Only last week, the apex court upheld the election of Delta State Governor, Senator 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 verdicts.

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