• Wednesday, April 17, 2024
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Meet the judges that may decide Atiku, Obi, Tinubu’s case

Nigeria needs patriotic, God-fearing judges. Sadly, they are hard to find

Ahead of a formal inauguration of Bola Tinubu as Nigeria’s next president this month, focus is shifting to the six senior Supreme Court judges that are expected to decide on disputes arising from the 2023 presidential election that saw the former Lagos State governor emerge winner.

The country’s main opposition parties, Labour Party and Peoples Democratic Party (PDP), are challenging the election of the ruling party’s Tinubu as the president-elect.

Tinubu, in February, triumphed with the lowest popular votes of a Nigerian president since 1979.

According to Section 132 subsection 7 and 8 of the 2022 Electoral Act, the presidential election tribunal is expected to deliver a judgment in writing within 180 days from the date of the filing of the petition.

Currently, the opposition parties, led by Peter Obi of the Labour Party and Abubakar Atiku of PDP, have filed a petition against Tinubu within the time allowed by the law.

Prayers of Atiku and Obi

The prayers presented by Obi and Atiku in their petitions against Tinubu were quite similar, with both men seeking a declaration of victory in the election.

Atiku and Obi listed several issues, alleging that Tinubu manipulated technology to his advantage, did not score at least 25 percent of votes in the Federal Capital Territory, and was not qualified to run.

Atiku argues that Tinubu was not qualified to contest the election in the first place but did not provide any further details on this.

Some lawyers are of the view that the move might be deliberate due to the possibility that Atiku and his legal team plan to expose Tinubu’s drug case in the United States, certificate forgery, and age inconsistency in court.

Obi, on the other hand, boldly referred to the narcotics trafficking fine imposed by the United States District Court on Tinubu as evidence to support his position that Tinubu was not qualified to be on the ballot.

Both Atiku and Obi requested that the court order a rerun of the election in the event that their first prayer is not answered in their favour. Atiku specifically requested a rerun between himself and Tinubu, while Obi requested a rerun that does not include Tinubu.

Both men asked that in the absence of a favourable ruling on their previous requests, the court should order the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) to conduct a fresh election for all candidates.

Antecedents of judges that will determine prayers

Findings showed legal challenges are common features in Nigeria’s presidential elections, most especially by outgoing President Muhammadu Buhari, who has been at the epicentre of challenging results since 2003.

Precedents have shown that the membership of the presidential election appeal panel of the Supreme Court is always according to seniority, except on rare occasions when a senior would have to give way for a junior.

By convention, the Chief Justice of Nigeria, Kayode Ariwoola, is expected to head the panel, with seven others, according to seniority, joining him.

The other seven most senior justices expected to sit with him are Musa Muhammed, Kudirat Kekere-Ekun, John Inyang Okoro, Chima Nweze, Amina Augie, Uwani Aji and Lawal Garba.

Here are a breakdown of the judges and some of the most notable cases they have handled.

Olukayode Ariwoola

Kayode Ariwoola, who was born on August 22, 1958, is the Supreme Court’s most senior justice.

Before his appointment to the Supreme Court on November 22, 2011, Justice Ariwoola was appointed to the Oyo State High Court in 1992 and later to the Court of Appeal in November 2005.

He later served as a Justice of the Court of Appeal in the divisions of Kaduna, Enugu, and Lagos.

Ariwoola was a member of the Supreme Court’s seven-member panel that upheld the outcome of the 2019 presidential election, which was declared in favour of Buhari and the All Progressives Congress (APC).

He was also part of the seven-man panel that delivered the judgement of the Supreme Court that sacked Emeka Ihedioha of the PDP as Imo State governor and replaced him with Hope Uzodinma of APC on January 14, 2020.

The same panel, of which Ariwoola was a part, delivered the Supreme Court’s judgement on January 20, 2020, affirming the victories of Governors Abdullahi Ganduje of Kano State, and Aminu Tambuwal of Sokoto State in the 2019 governorship elections.

Again, on March 3, 2020, he delivered the lead majority decision of six of the seven judges on the court’s panel, which dismissed Ihedioha’s request for a review of the earlier verdict.

Musa Dattijo Muhammad

Musa Dattijo Muhammad was born on October 27, 1953 in Chanchaga Local Government Area in Minna.

He started his basic education at Native Authority School, Minna, 1960-1966; secondary school education at Shelkh Sabbah College (now Sardauna Memorial Secondary School), Kaduna, 1971, and he proceeded to Abdullahi Bayero College (now Bayero University) Kano 1972-1973 for a pre-degree certificate.

In July 2012, he was appointed to the bench of the Supreme Court of Nigeria as Justice.

He presided over the ruling of the Supreme Court that affirmed Gbenga Kaka as the senator-elect of Ogun East Senatorial District in the April 2, 2011 senatorial election.

Kudirat Kekere-Ekun

Kudirat Kekere-Ekun is the fifth and youngest female to be appointed as a Justice of the Supreme Court of Nigeria, according to the Institute for African Women in Law.

She delivered a judgement on December 10, 2021 that affirmed a Court of Appeal, Calabar division, ruling that barred Michael Aondoakaa, a former attorney-general of the federation and minister of Justice, from holding public office in the country for life.

In 2020, Kekere-Ekun was on the seven-member panel that sacked Imo State Governor Ihedioha and declared that the winning candidate was Uzodinma of the APC.

Last February, a five-member panel, led by Kekere-Ekun, nullified the nomination of Emmanuel Bwacha as the governorship candidate of the APC in Taraba State.

John Inyang Okoro

John Okoro was born on July 11, 1959 in Nung Ukim, Ikono Local Government Area of Akwa Ibom State.

He attended Methodist School, Nung Ukim from 1965-1972, Boys High School, Oron from 1973 to 1977, School of Arts & Science, Uyo (1979-1981) and the University of Lagos (1981-1984). He attended the Nigerian Law School, Lagos and was called to the Nigerian Bar in 1985.

Justice Okoro started his legal career as Magistrate Grade 11 in 1986 and rose through the Magisterial Cadre, culminating in his promotion to the post of Chief Magistrate Grade 1 in 1996.

He was then appointed a Judge of the High Court of Akwa Ibom State from 1998 to 2006. His Lordship was elevated to the Court of Appeal in 2006 and served in that capacity up to 2013.

He was sworn in on November 15, 2014 by Justice Aloma Mariam Mukhtar, the former Chief Justice of Nigeria.

He was arrested by the Department of State Service (DSS) on October 8, 2016 on allegations of bribery and corruption.

After investigations, he was exonerated and recalled as a judge of the Supreme Court. He was later cleared by the DSS in December 2019 and never faced trial for the crimes he was charged with.

Chima Nweze

Justice Nweze stood out during the ruling on the application filed by Ihedioha, a former governor of Imo. Ihedioha had asked the apex court to review its judgement on his removal from office but while majority of the seven-man panel disagreed with him, Nweze found merit in the application.

In his dissenting judgment, he asked the court to set aside the January 14 judgment that removed Ihedioha from office, describing it as a nullity and in bad faith.

He also nullified the declaration of Uzodinma of APC as governor on account of “wrong declaration” and held that Uzodinma misled the court into an unjust conclusion with the unverified votes in 388 polling units.

“This decision of the Supreme Court will continue to hunt our electoral jurisprudence for a long time to come,” he said at the time.

Nweze was part of the Supreme Court panel that refused the request of Atiku, the PDP presidential candidate, to inspect the servers of INEC.

At the time, Atiku was challenging the declaration of Buhari as winner of the 2019 presidential election.

“I see no reason for departing from the reasoning of the lower court. I find that this appeal is without merit, and it is accordingly dismissed,” Nweze had held in the ruling that was unanimous.

Atiku finally lost the appeal.

He has served as chairman of Ogun State Governorship and Legislative House Election Petition Tribunal in 1999; chairman, robbery and firearms tribunal, Nsukka, 1998 and 1999; and member, Ondo State Local Government Election Petition Tribunal in 1999.

Read also: Technology can make election petitions be concluded in 14 or 21 days says Falana

Amina Augie

Justice Augie was elevated to the Court of Appeal Bench in 2002 and consequently rose to become a Supreme Court justice on November 7, 2016.

She was among the eight-man Supreme Court justices who removed the PDP’s Ihedioha and declared Uzodinma, a serving senator whom INEC said came fourth in the 2019 governorship election, as winner.

She was among the five-man justices that unanimously nullified the election of APC candidate David Lyon and his deputy, Biobarakuma Degi-Eremieoyo, in Bayelsa State in February 2020.

Justice Augie was also part of the seven-man justices who declared Yahaya Bello of APC the winner of the 2019 Kogi governorship election and dismissed the appeal of PDP’s Musa Wada.

Uwani Aji

Justice Aji was part of the five justices that ruled on the nullification of all votes that the APC got in Zamfara State in the 2019 election because the party did not conduct a valid primary.

He was among the eight-man Supreme Court justices who removed Ihedioha and declared Uzodinma the 2019 Imo State governorship election winner.

She was among the seven-man justices who declared Bello the winner of the 2019 Kogi governorship election and dismissed Wada’s appeal.

Lawal Garba

Mohammed Lawal Garba was born on November 16, 1958. He hails from Gusau Local Government Area of Zamfara State.

He cut his teeth at the Sokoto State Judiciary from 1982-1986. He was appointed a Judge of the High Court of Justice, Sokoto State, from 1993 to 1996, before his elevation to the Court of Appeal, where he served at various times as the presiding justice at Abuja, Calabar, Port Harcourt and Lagos Divisions of the Court from 2010-2020.

He was among the five-man judges who declared Ahmed Lawan, the Senate president, winner of the Yobe North senatorial ticket of the APC.