DOES JUSTICE OGEBE MERIT ELEVATION TO SUPREME COURT?
There is no doubting the fact that the Federal Court of Appeal headed by
Justice James Ogebe that looked into the petitions of the Presidential
candidates of the Action Congress, AC and the All Nigeria Peoples Party,
ANPP, Alhaji Atiku Abubakar and Alhaji Muhammadu Buhari respectively will
remain a watershed in the annals of Nigeria’s political history. Justice
Ogebe’s 5-man panelist judgment in the case on February 26, 2007 will no
doubt go down in legal, political and laymen’s circles as the worst
judgment ever in the world.
Some notable Nigerians describe it as black Tuesday. Others called the
ruling a travesty of justice. Some others still say it is a doom to
democracy. Atiku Abubakar as the petitioner and his Action Congress said
that they were denied justice by the tribunal in view of the glaring
evidences submitted by their lawyers. Describing the ruling as a charade,
Atiku expressed optimism that ‘as a believer in the judiciary, i will get
justice at the Supreme court’. Atiku who spoke shortly after the verdict
of the tribunal at his residence further said “justice has not been done
and the rape of our young democracy has been sustained. The future of
constitutional democracy and free and fair elections in Nigeria , nay
Africa , remains imperiled and we must redouble our efforts at
Chief Mike Ahamba, Buhari’s lawyer expressed shock with the decision of
the tribunal not to use the evidences he submitted. In a solemn and
composed voice Ahamba, a Senior Advocate of Nigeria, SAN, told the
justices to ‘search for their bags of conscience’. Buhari, on his part was
even short of words to describe the ruling but however managed to say“this is semi finals, we will go to the finals”.
A former governor of the old Kaduna state, Abdulkadir Balarabe Musa in his
views about the ruling which he described as a travesty of justice, added
that he was not surprised because the Nigerian judiciary has been part and
parcel of the negative state of the Nigerian nation. Even the Arewa
Consultative Forum, ACF was not left out. Its Secretary General, Colonel
Hamid Ali was of the view that ‘democracy is doomed in Nigeria . We can
never get it right with this judgment’. Even newspaper columnists and
radio and television producers are not left out in their condemnation of
the ruling which from all indications point to a picture of the judges
Pricewill Akpakan writing in Thisday of March 4, 2007 titled ‘judgment
without justice’ is the view that this is one case where our learned
Justices should have justified the expectations of Nigerians on the sham
of April 21 2007 but rather dwelled and decided very much on technical
rules.’ Udo Jude Ilo’s piece titled ‘major disservice to democracy’ in the
same paper said that ‘election is about free, fair and even playing
ground. Can that be the case in this situation where the electoral umpire
published to the whole country that a candidate was not eligible to run?
What remedies can such a candidate get from this last minute inclusion?’
Also, another columnist in the same paper and same day, Oziametu Akerele,
a Director of Centre of Values Leadership and whose piece was titled ‘an
end to electoral robbery’, said that the ruling raises more questions than
answers. According to him it is regrettable the Justices did not take a
swipe at INEC and its Chairman, Iwu for the shameful way they brought Nigeria
to ridicule and embarrassment in the eyes of the international community
for their conduct of the elections.
In a nutshell, the general consensus among Nigerians in the opposition and
even in the ruling PDP are of the view that in writing the ruling, the
justices have totally ignored the evidences put forward to them by Atiku’s
and Buhari’s teams of lawyers in the case.
All Nigerians are agreed that the ruling casts a big blow to the hitherto
belief by Nigerians that the judiciary has refused to be infested with
corruption since the master of corruption, former President Obasanjo came
to power in 1999. Before now, the judiciary has been singled out as the
only hope of the common man where he can go and seek redress and come out
of it a happy man.
Sahara Reporters, an online news website had a day after the ruling
revealed that the Justices of the Presidential elections Tribunal headed
by Justice Ogebe had been compromised adding that Umar Yar’adua
successfully compromised the 5 member panel to give a bizarre ruling in
which all grounds for petition were dismissed by the lead Judge, Justice
John Fabiyi. Sahara Reporters described the ruling as a four- hour comedy
rather than a serious legal delivery.
The Conference of Nigerian Political Parties, CNPP had also added its
voice to the call on the Nigerian Senate not to endorse the request of
President Yar’adua to move Justice Ogebe from the Court of Appeal to the
Supreme Court. In the thinking of CNPP, Justice Ogebe’s reputation and
integrity are in serious doubt as a result of the controversial February
26, this year judgment of the presidential elections tribunal which he
Even another columnist, Okey Ndibe in his writing titled ‘Justice James
Ogebe: Matters arising’, at the back page of Daily Sun of March 11, 2008,
explained he does not deserve a seat on the Supreme Court as that ‘it will
further exacerbate the crisis of confidence in which the judiciary is
mired’. According to Ndibe, Ogebe and his colleagues at the court of
appeal have proved that the law could be manipulated to uphold
illogicality. Their judgment was nothing short of disastrous and
Head or tail, Ogebe does not deserve elevation to the highest court of the
land. At best what he and his other four members of the tribunal deserve
is a judicial orderly room trial for dragging the name of Nigeria’s
judiciary in the mud with widely and till today, undisputed allegations of
corruption to the tribunal judges by the presidency and the PDP controlled
federal government to influence their verdict of February 26. A number of
Nigerians are of the view that his elevation to the Supreme Court was
neither timely nor morally right especially coming at a time when he was
heading a sensitive panel like the presidential elections tribunal.
Notable Nigerians and lawyers in the country have cried foul over the
judgment and the subsequent submission of Ogebe’s name to the Senate.
There is no doubt that the Nigerian Senate had a date with history to do
what is just and right in this matter by rejecting his nomination.
Unfortunately, they threw it to the dogs and approved his nomination
despite his glaring partisanship of Ogebe and very serious allegations of
corruption against him. The Senators have done a great disservice to the
people of Nigeria in particular and the Judiciary in general.
In conclusion, one can quote from the Sahara Reporters story of February
26, 2008 which says: “Justice Umaru Abdullahi, the President of the
Appeal Court earned a poor reputation for presiding over the most and
easily compromised section of Nigeria ’s judiciary. Lawyers knowledgeable
about the running of the court of Appeal said Justice Abdullahi treated
the judges as if they were mere civil servants. He controlled how
judgments were written and delivered.” If this story is true, this is a
serious indictment of the Nigerian Judiciary.
BARRISTER MUSA ABDULLAHI DUTSE
100A Ahmadu Bello Way