Tony Osauzo, Benin
A federal judge, Justice Mohammed Umar, has been accused of bias in his handling of a suit before him seeking to stop the conduct of the Edo State All Progressives Congress (APC) governorship primary scheduled for Monday, June 22.
The high court judge has been requested by a group, “Justice for All, Edo State”, to immediately recuse himself from the case.
‘It is on this basis that we, therefore, demand that Justice Mohammed Umar immediately recuse himself from the case to give way to a neutral presiding judge whose interest shall be only to establish the truth with available facts,’ the group said in a statement.
The judge had on June 8 restrained the APC, its National Chairman, Adams Oshiomhole, Pastor Osagie Ize-Iyamu, the Inspector-General of Police and the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) from carrying out the exercise pending the determination of a suit filed by factional Edo State Vice Chairman of the party, Pastor Kenneth Asekhome and Hon Matthew Iduoriyekemwen, a disqualified governorship aspirant.
The plaintiffs were expelled last week from the APC for violating the constitution of the party by going to court without first exhausting the party’s internal mechanism for conflict resolution.
Following judge Umar’s ruling, the APC appealed the decision to the Court of Appeal which last Thursday set the ruling aside and remitted the suit back to the federal high court for the continuation of trial which resumed last Friday, June 19.
The Court of Appeal had in its judgment delivered by Justice Morenike Ogunwomiju said: ‘The trial judge (Justice Umar) gave a problematic order that was not sought by the parties to the suit. As at the date (June 8) the order was given, the political party (APC in Edo State) had 14 days to organize its governorship primary election. Every judge must be a democrat.
‘The appellant (APC) was not given an opportunity to be heard by the trial court. The injunctive order of the trial court of June 8 is hereby set aside. The administrative orders subsist and the issue of jurisdiction should be determined by the trial court.’
But yesterday, “Justice for All, Edo State” drew the attention of Edo people and Nigerians to what happened in court last Friday, saying that ‘It was after this Appeal Court chastisement to Justice Mohammed Umar to uphold democracy and the rule of law and the resumption of hearing of the case at the Federal High Court last Friday that the Justice Umar served an embarrassing drama which solidified doubts on his integrity and moral competence to preside over the matter.
’Justice Mohammed Umar appeared in the courtroom visibly combative and vindictive, querying why the legal counsel of the APC and its leading aspirant went to the Appeal Court to set aside his undemocratic restraining order.
‘As far as we know, the law allows for the appeal of unsatisfactory judgments and it is curious why Justice Mohammed Umar, who is not expected to be ignorant of the law, is taking umbrage at what is a due judicial process. The only way this can be explained is that Justice Mohammed Umar has an interest that goes beyond professional and judicial in the matter.
‘Continuing in his perversion of due process of Friday, Justice Mohammed Umar refused pleas from the Counsel to the APC and Pastor Osagie Ize-Iyamu who had the backing of the counsel of both the IGP and INEC, to wait for the summary of the Appeal Court ruling which had a direct bearing on the hearing before proceeding to try the case as required by law.
‘Instead, Justice Mohammed Umar exploded in anger and irritation, before making thinly-veiled remarks on his bias for a hurried hearing, even without examining the facts, with the apparent objective of issuing another ruling that would see the APC Primary placed on hold,’ the ‘Justice for All, Edo State’ statement said.
The statement signed by the group’s president, Barrister Osayande Osasuwa, said efforts by legal representatives of Dr Pius Odubu and Hon Osaro Obazee to move an application to join the suit given their position as both members of the party and aspirants screened and cleared to participate in the internal primary which mode of conduct is the subject of the court case was dismissed by Justice Mohammed Umar without letting the counsel complete their sentences for the submission of the motion.
‘His excuse that both Dr Pius Odubu and Hon. Osaro Obazee are not relevant parties to the case is a claim in conflict with basic logic and common sense, especially when it is considered that those who filed the suit that formed the basis of the hearing are neither members of the APC, nor participants in the primary which mode they are questioning.
‘For the entire duration of the hearing, Justice Mohammed Umar offered a long rope to the plaintiffs who by all intents and purposes are all allies of the Governor Godwin Obaseki of Edo State seeking to destabilize the APC and halt its primary, while displaying unrestrained aggression towards the defendants, the All Progressives Congress and Pastor Osagie Ize-Iyamu.
‘Although he was eventually forced into taking the common sense decision of adjourning the case for Monday, June 22, which is the date of the APC primary after it became clear that continuing the case without all the needed facts would amount to nothing but an indefensible charade, it has become clear to all, including independent observers, that Justice Mohammed Umar is not interested in objectivity, fair hearing, or conducting a trial that would hold up the integrity of the judiciary.
‘We do not wish to be a party to a trial that mocks the integrity of the judiciary or be at the receiving end of acerbic comments from a Justice who is not covert in his bias, but openly boasts of his willingness to pronounce another problematic ruling,’ the statement added.