By Alex Enumah
The Supreme Court on Tuesday suspended hearing indefinitely of an appeal filed by a candidate of the All Progressives Congress (APC), Mr Francis Ibezim, against his disqualification in the December 5, 2020, Imo North Senatorial by-election.
The presiding justice of a five-man panel, Justice Musa Datijo Mohammed, who announced the suspension, said the apex court’s action was predicated on a petition against him and three of his other colleagues by the Acting Chairman of the APC, Mr Mai Mala Buni.
Ibezim had approached the apex court to upturn two judgments of the lower courts that disqualified him in the December 5 senatorial by-election for the vacant seat of the Imo North Senatorial District at the National Assembly.
Both the Court of Appeal, Abuja and Federal High Court, Abuja in two separate judgments had held that Ibezim supplied false information to the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) in aid of his qualification for the by-elction and accordingly ordered his disqualification from the poll.
Dissatisfied, he approached the apex court to set the two judgments aside and hold that he was qualified to participate in the poll.
Ibezim and another candidate of the APC, Senator Ifeanyi Ararume, are currently laying claim to the candidacy of the APC for the December 5 by-election.
Although INEC had declared APC as the winner of the by-election, it however refused to announce any person as the authentic candidate of the party on the grounds of conflicting court orders for and against the two major contenders.
When the matter came up on Tuesday, Justice Mohammed told lawyers in the matter that hearing will not go on as earlier scheduled because of a petition by the leadership of the APC.
According to the presiding justice, Buni had accused him and two other Justices — Helen Ogunwumiju and Abdu Aboki — of having a meeting with members of the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) to subvert justice in the case.
Mohammed stated that the APC, in the petition, said: “My humble self had led my two brothers to attend a meeting with members of the PDP to strategize how to subvert the outcome of this case.”
While describing the development as most unfortunate, the apex court justice said his heart bleeds for Nigeria.
“If people as highly placed as the interim chairperson of the APC would open his mouth and make this weighty statement against innocent justices of this court, then I say my heart bleeds,” he said.
While stressing that the apex court justices do not have interest in matters brought before them, the presiding justice challenged Buni and the APC to substantiate their allegation that he attended a meeting with members of the PDP with a view to subverting the interest of the APC.
“This is a reckless and irresponsible statement. That is how these useless statements were made in the past and that is why we are not taking it likely.
“If they have honour, let them substantiate their allegations and I will not live a day longer in this court.
“So, this matter is adjourned sine die, and parties should approach the Chief Justice of the Federation,” he said.
Responding, Ararume’s lawyer, Mallam Ahmed Raji (SAN) said: “This is very shocking. I swear with my last day in this court that I, Ahmed Raji knows nothing about this issue and I condemn it with all the strength in me.
“I sympathise with your lordships and whatever measure your lordship deems appropriate, we are fully in support.”
Similarly, APC’s lawyer, Umeh Kalu, who claimed he was hearing the petition for the first time, said: “I am taken aback by this. I have never in my life met with the interim chairman of the APC.
“In matters of this nature, we normally deal with the legal adviser.
“In the first place, PDP is not a party in this matter.”
Meanwhile, Justice Taiwo Taiwo of a Federal High Court in Abuja, had on March 18, ordered INEC to issue Ararume with the certificate of return based on Ibezim’s disqualification from the December 5 by-election.