By Willy Eya
At a time when some Supreme Court justices and Federal High Court judges are under investigation, following their arrest by the Department of State Security (DSS) on allegation of corruption, the case of a member of the All Progressives Grand Alliance (APBA), who contested the Arochukwu/Ohafia Federal Constituency elections into the House of Representatives, is germane.
The APGA candidate in Abia, in the House of Representatives election, Nnamdi Iro Oji, had petitioned the Disciplinary and Investigative Panel of the National Judicial Council (NJC) against four justices of the Court of Appeal. It was based on his petition that one of the justices was recommended for retirement for allegedly demanding N200 million bribe.
Now that the justice is facing punishment for demanding bribe, the question is: If a judge demanded bribe, which he, eventually, did not get, but went ahead to deliver judgment, which did not favour the person that refused to offer gratification, what happens to the verdict? Is the judgment supposed to stand when the justice has been found guilty of misconduct?
This is the question agitating the mind of Iro Oji and his supporters. He did not give the justice N200 million so demanded. He lost the case. But the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) candidate, who was declared winner of the election and whom the court also pronounced winner, is in the House of Representatives.
Iro Oji had in the petition dated January 7, 2016 to the Chief Justice of Nigeria, Mahmud Mohammed, alleged that the Court of Appeal justices took conflicting decisions with regard to the 2015 elections for the Arochukwu/Federal Constituency. The Justices mentioned in the petition include Hon. Justice Mohammed Ladan Tsamiya, Hon. Justice H. Mukhtar, Hon. Justice F. O. Akinbami and Hon. Justice J. Y Tukur.
According to the petitioner, the conflicting decision was that the Court of Appeal, in relation to the judgments in “Exhibit R3,” did not intervene to ensure that all the exhibits in relation to the agents’ copies of election results were duly considered and evidential weight ascribed to them, contrary to the decision of the same panel of the Court of Appeal in Exhibit R4.
He had said that the Court of Appeal rather shifted the burden of proof in respect of the agents’ copies of election results on the appellant (petitioner), contrary to the decision of the same panel of the Court of Appeal in Exhibit R4.
Iro Oji noted that even though he proved mutilation of results, the same justices of the Court of Appeal, who delivered judgments in Exhibit R4, in relation to mutilation, cancellation and alteration of election results, refused to render any decision on the issue. The same panel, he said, refused to follow earlier decision on the issue of mutilation.
The 2015 House of Representatives candidate said the judgment of the Court of Appeal on the issue of mutilation and alteration of election results in Exhibit R4 did not tally with the decision of the same panel in the judgment contained in Exhibit R3.
Another area where the Court of Appeal took conflicting decision, he stated in the petition, was on the issue of undue allocation or inflation of votes to one party while correspondingly reducing or deflating the vote of the other party.
Part of the petition read: “While the Court of Appeal in Exhibit R4 held that undue allocation and deflation of results has the effect of proportionately multiplying and widening of the gap between the victor and victim and proceeded to nullify the election and ordered a rerun election. However, when the same panel of the Court of Appeal delivered its judgment in Exhibit R3, the panel shut her eyes on this very important issue and also failed to hold that undue allocation and inflation of votes has the effect of proportionately widening of the gap between the victor and the victim.
“Surprisingly, the same panel of the Court of Appeal, in her judgment in Exhibit R3, did not nullify the election and neither did the court order a rerun election since the facts, circumstances and issues of undue allocation and deflation of votes in Exhibit R4 also arose in Exhibit R3.
“The Court of Appeal, in Exhibit R4, meticulously did the evaluation without having the opportunity of seeing and studying the demeanor of witnesses. The Court of Appeal then nullified the election and ordered a rerun election.
“However, the same panel of the Court of Appeal was invited by the senior counsel of the petitioner to re-evaluate the evidence tendered at the lower tribunal, particularly, on the issue of the inflation and deflation of votes. But the Court of Appeal gave a conflicting judgment on this issue and refused to do the evaluation, but surprisingly held that since they had no opportunity of seeing and studying the demeanor of witnesses, the lower tribunal was on a firmer ground to do the evaluation.”
Iro had also stated in his petition and supporting affidavits that the 1st Respondent (Justice Tsamiya) demanded a bribe of N200 million. He stated that he was never cross examined on this vital piece of evidence, saying: “It is trite that any vital pieces of evidence not cross examined is deemed admitted and we urge this honourable panel to so hold and consequently resolve the issue in favour of the petitioner.”
He asked whether, in view of the evidence adduced in the petition, the 1st Respondent did not demand a bribe of N200 million from him, stating: “My lords, the refusal of the 1st Respondent to accompany his response to the petition with verifying affidavit implies that all the allegations contained in the petition against the 1st Respondent are unchallenged, particularly, as the NJC regulation makes it mandatory for a verifying affidavit to be filed by the 1st Respondent alongside his response to the petition.”
The NJC had acted on Iro Oji’s petition, as it recommended Justice Tsamiya, for sack from office, with two other judges. The affected judges, who presided in the Court of Appeal, Ilorin Division, are Tsamiya, and Chief Judge of Enugu State, Justice I. A. Umezulike, and Justice Kabiru M. Auta of the High Court of Justice, Kano State.
In first suspending the judges, the NJC recommended Justice Auta’s dismissal from service with immediate effect and to be handed over to the Assistant Inspector-General of Police, Zone 1, Kano, for prosecution.
The NJC had stated in a statement: “The council, in the exercise of its disciplinary powers under the 1999 Constitution as amended, has suspended Justices Tsamiya, Umezulike and Auta from office with immediate effect, pending the approval of the recommendations of the council for their compulsory retirement and dismissal respectively, from office by the President Muhammadu Buhari, Governor Ifeanyi Ugwuanyi of Enugu State and Governor Abdullahi Umar Ganduje, of Kano State, respectively.”
The council recommended Justice Tsamiya for compulsory retirement based on the findings over the petition written by Nnamdi Iro Oji against him.
The NJC had found that there was evidence that the petitioner met with Justice Tsamiya thrice, in his residence in Sokoto, Abuja and Owerri, where on each occasion, he demanded from him N200 million to influence the Court of Appeal panel in Owerri or risk losing the case.
True to the threat, Iro Oji lost the case. Now his lawyers are demanding review of the case. They are hoping the report that the United States of America and the European Union (EU) may put pressure on the Federal Government to order review of some judgment of election petition tribunals, Court of Appeal and Supreme Court.
Daily Sun had reported that some Nigerians in the US and Canada were mounting pressure on the US Congress to resolve to ask the Nigerian government to look at judgments from election cases, following allegations of bribery against some judges.
The groups, it was learnt, had petitioned some committees of the US Congress on the need to use a window created by the investigation of allegations of corruption in the judiciary to cause a review of the cases.
Also, the group reportedly reached out to the US Under Secretary for African Affairs with signed petitions, pressing for an inquest into past judicial decisions, especially those affecting election petitions.
Though it was not disclosed how the US Under Secretary for African Affairs and the Congress committees intend to approach the matter, sources said the petitions had been received with firm promises that they would be acted upon.