Finally, Supreme Court Rests Zamfara Governorship Matter

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Justice Ibrahim Tanko Mohammed

The Supreme Court, last Friday, thwarted another attempt to make it reserve itself, by foreclosing the issue the Zamfara State governorship debacle. Davidson Iriekpen writes

The Supreme Court, last Friday, again made it clear that no amount of antics and trickery by politicians and counsel would ever make it to revisit a case it had earlier decided. The court demonstrated this when it ruled on an application by the Abdulaziz Yari faction of the All Progressives Congress (APC) for a review of its May 24, 2019 judgment on the intra-party dispute in the Zamfara State APC

The court had, in the judgment, held among others, that the APC did not hold valid primaries preparatory to the 2019 general election, voided its (the party’s) victory in the elections and made a consequential order, directing the party with the second highest scores in the election to claim the victory.

The Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) in Zamfara State benefited from the effect of the consequential order, with its candidate taking over all the elective positions in both the executive and legislative arms of government in the state.
Dissatisfied with the apex court’s judgment, the Yari faction of APC, through their lawyer, Chief Robert Clarke (SAN), filed an application on June 17, 2019, asking the apex court to “review, amend, correct and/or set aside the consequential orders” contained in the May 24, 2019 judgment.

While arguing the application on March 17, 2020, Clarke prayed the court to review the consequential order on the grounds that it was wrongly made. He argued that the order the Supreme Court ought to make was directing the APC and INEC to conduct fresh primaries and elections in Zamfara State, instead of voiding the party’s victory.
Clarke argued that by the consequential order, the Supreme Court made it possible for the PDP, which was not a party in the Zamfara APC’s intra-party dispute, to benefit from the outcome of the dispute. He contended that when the Supreme Court sat on the date it gave the judgment, the case was purely a pre-election matter, not an appeal from the lower court, flowing from the tribunal.

“There was no tribunal in place to hear post-election matters, because election had not been held. The Supreme Court was sitting, at that time, as a court of first instance.

“We are saying that the consequential order was made out of jurisdiction. The consequential order that would have been made was to order INEC to conduct fresh primaries and elections. Section 235 of the Constitution, says only the tribunal that can decide electoral dispute, in this case, there was no appeal on election dispute.

“The consequential order allowed non-parties to benefit from the outcome of the intra-party dispute between members of the APC. The other party that benefited from the consequential order (the PDP) was never a party to the Zamfara APC’s intra-party pre-election dispute. The court should grant the application in the interest of justice,” Clarke said.
In a counter-argument, lawyer to the Senator Kabir Marafa faction of the APC in Zamfara, Mike Ozekhome (SAN), urged the court to dismiss the application with punitive cost. He argued that, not only is the application without merit, it constitutes an abuse of the process of the court.

Ozekhome added that with the recent two decisions of the Supreme Court, in the governorship disputes in Bayelsa and Imo states, the applicant ought to have quietly withdrawn the application.

He added that the court rejected the current appellants’ application, because the matter complained about was a pre-election matter, which had been overtaken by Section 285(12) of the Constitution, which prescribed 60 days from the day of filing of notice of appeal.

Ozakhome said, “On June 17, 2019 the same applicant made similar application that was struck out by this court on July 22, 2019, the two main reasons given by the court included that ‘because the applicant did not comply with Order 8 Rule 16 of the Court of Appeal Rules. Nothing has changed since the last ruling of the court for them to come back with the same application.”

He urged the court to dismiss the application with punitive cost, and noted that the application constituted a gross abuse of the process of the court of the land.

Ozekhome added: “This pre-election matter died on the 4th of June 2019, because the notice of appeal was filed on March 4, 2019, and the court said so in its judgment of May 24, 2019.” The court missed the application.
Surprisingly, still not satisfied, the APC faction last month, filed another application before the court. But in a majority judgment, four members of a five-member panel, led by the Chief Justice of Nigeria (CJN), Justice Ibrahim Muhammad, dismissed the application on the grounds that it was without merit.

Justice Inyang Okoro, in the lead judgment, held that the application was vexatious and a gross abuse of the process of the court. He said the apex court lacked the jurisdiction to review its own judgment. The court re-emphasised its finality, saying it is sealed.

“The finality of the Supreme Court is sealed. The application is a gross abuse of court process; it is frivolous. The application is hereby dismissed,” he held.

Justice Okoro consequently awarded the cost of N2 million against the appellant to be paid to the 1st –140th respondents.
But in a dissenting judgment, Justice Centus Nweze held that the court ought to have reviewed the judgment by setting aside the consequential order, which made the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) the ultimate beneficiary of the intra-party crisis in the Zamfara APC.

Justice Nweze was of the view that, if the court believed it was not a Father Christmas, it ought not to make the consequential order, which was grounded on reliefs, not sought and which made a non-party to the litigation the beneficiary.

He noted that the Supreme Court has reviewed its decision before and should be bold enough to admit where there are errors that ought to be rectified. He dismissed the objection raised by the respondents, upheld the application and granted the prayers sought.

Since the enthronement of democracy, the Supreme Court has remained steadfast by not reviewing its judgments whenever an application to that effect brought before it by politicians. From Andy Uba, Celestine Omehia, Great Ogboru, Emeka Ihedioha to David Lyon, the Supreme Court had disappointed them.

While in some cases the court had verbally reprimanded the applicants for daring to bring such applications, it had also on several occasions, embarrassed and fined senior lawyers for not properly guiding and advising their clients.
This is why many have reservations with the court for the needless suspense and false hope it gave the APC in the Zamfara case. They feel that after hearing the case on March 17, it should have immediately dismissed the application with a strong warning and huge fine instead of reserving for judgment and keeping the country in suspense on the matter.
Those who spoke to THISDAY, referred to the court’s summary dismissal of the application for the review of the governorship tussle in Bayelsa State and the huge fine imposed on Chief Afe Babalola (SAN) and Chief Wole Olanipekun (SAN).

The court had last February excoriated Babalola and Olanipekun for daring to file an application for a review of its February 13, 2020 judgment that nullified the victory of the APC candidate in the governorship election in Bayelsa State. It did not only describe the application as vexatious but frivolous. An emotional Justice Amina Augie, who delivered lead judgment, described the action of Babalola and Olanipekun as regrettable and a deliberate desecration of the judiciary.
“I feel like shedding tears that senior counsel in this case would ever bring this kind of frivolous applications during my life time. This court is not authorised and indeed lacked jurisdiction to review any judgment delivered on merit, more so when the applicants have not pointed out any accidental error or slip in the judgment.

“There must be an end to every litigation. It is settled that the decision of this court is final. This is final court and its decisions are final for all ages,” Justice Augie said in an emotion-laden voice.

In the ruling that lasted about 30 minutes, Justice Augie ordered Babalola and Olanipekun to pay N10 million each to each of the three respondents as fine. She held that by Order 8, Rule 16 of the Supreme Court, the court has no powers or authority to review any judgment delivered on merit safe for clerical error.

According to her, it is only a legislation that can alter the decision of the apex court once a matter has been fully heard and an order made.