Imo: Ignoring S’Court Principle, PDP Asks CJN, Six Others to Step Aside

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Uche Secondus

•Demands reconstitution of panel to hear Ihedioha’s application

Chuks Okocha in Abuja

Ahead of today’s hearing of the application by the sacked governor of Imo State, Hon. Emeka Ihedioha, for the Supreme Court to review its judgment on the 2019 governorship election, the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) has written to the Chief Justice of Nigeria (CJN), Justice Tanko Ibrahim Muhammad, demanding his recusal along with six other justices of the  court from the case.

In a letter signed by the National Chairman of the party, Prince Uche Secondus and National Secretary, Alhaji Umar Ibrahim Tsauri, the main opposition party demanded that a new panel be set up to hear Ihedioha’s application.

Should the CJN agree to the request, the Supreme Court, which presently has only 13 justices, will be short of personnel to hear the case.

Going by the principle of the Supreme Court, reconstituting the panel will require seven justices of the apex court to hear the case; one justice short of the six that would be left after seven of their colleagues might have recused themselves from the case as being demanded by the PDP.

In the letter dated February 14, 2020, the party said it feared “likelihood of bias” and “denial of right to fair hearing.”

The other justices the party asked to recuse themselves along with Justice Muhammad are: Justice Nwah Sylvester Ngwuta, Justice Olukayode Ariwola, Justice Kudirat Kekere-Ekun, Justice Amina Adamu Augie and  Justice Uwani Musa Abba Aji.

The party said the seven justices, including  the CJN, should recuse themselves from participating in hearing the application for setting aside their earlier judgment in the above case, on grounds of likelihood of bias.

PDP added that there are judicial precedents obtained in other climes and Nigeria to back up its demands. 

 “Further note that there are judicial precedents in Nigeria, Great Britain and United States of America in support of our request for the reconstitution of a different panel to handle the current application before the court,” the party said.

The Supreme Court, in a unanimous judgment read by Justice Kekere-Ekun on January 14, 2020, had sacked Ihedioha as the governor of Imo State and  directed the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) to issue a certificate of return to Senator Hope Uzodinma, candidate of the All Progressives Congress (APC) to replace the PDP candidate.

PDP said it had become  imperative that the CJN and the other justices who served in the panel that sacked Ihedioha be replaced to ensure that fairness and justice were not only done, but seen to have been done.

“They should recuse themselves from participating in hearing the application for setting aside their earlier judgment in the above case on grounds of likelihood of bias, that is, fair hearing,” the party said.

According to the PDP, which had earlier asked the seven justices to recuse themselves at a press conference, “as a follow-up to our earlier call on all members of the panel to recuse themselves, we have now sought to formalise that request or demand.

“We hereby request that the seven persons that heard the case earlier should recuse themselves from participating in the consideration of this new application. We are not unmindful of the fact that a litigant cannot dictate to the court the panel that should hear its case. However, due to the extraordinary circumstances and the nature of this case, we think that our request is a fair one that meets the justice of the case.

“Consequently, we feel it as our patriotic duty to hereby humbly request that your Lordship constitute a different panel of this great Court (other than the one that delivered the judgment) for the purpose of hearing this application.

“If a judge had handled a kindred suit, a related suit earlier, the law recognises that he may not hear a case arising from the earlier one, as the likelihood of bias will be high,” PDP stated.

The party cited the case of Dr. Nnamdi  Eriobuna Vs. Ikechukwu Obiorah, where the late Justice Niki Tobi, JCA, as he then was, said:

“Etymologically, bias means slant, personal inclination or preference; a one-sided inclination. It also means a pre-conceived opinion, a pre-disposition to decide a cause or an issue in a certain way, which does not leave the mind perfectly open to conviction. Bias creates a condition of mind which sways judgment and renders a judge unable to exercise his functions impartially in a particular case. There is another expression and it is likelihood of bias.

“When a party in an action contends that there is likelihood of bias, he is anticipating that the judge will be biased in the judicial process. The act of bias is not formalised. The act of bias is not concretised, but by the generality of the conduct of the judge, the possibility of bias is overt. And the possibility is substantial. ….. The law recognises quite a number of causes of bias. I should confine myself to only one and that is the one relevant to this appeal. It is fore-knowledge or previous knowledge of the case. This arises when the judge at one time or the other, had done something in the matter to the extent that he cannot be said to be a completely neutral person or stranger to it.”

PDP told the CJN that Section 36(1) of the Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria, guarantees fair hearing to every citizen or entity in the determination of his rights or obligation and guarantees an independent and impartial body for such determination.