By BASHIR ADEFAKA
Supreme Court of Nigeria, the highest judiciary level for justice delivery in world’s most populous black nation, rose on Thursday December 21, 2023 on the note that it reserved judgment on appeal of New Nigeria People’s Party (NNPP) against the controversial judgment of Friday November 17 by the Court of Appeal in Abuja sacking its candidate in the March 18 governorship election and Governor of Kano State, Alhaji Abba Kabir Yusuf.
Since it announced its reserved judgment with a promise to communicate the date for delivery of it to counsels to both parties, it has been unusually a long wait thus giving opportunity for people to carry rumours over the matter.
Recall that The DEFENDER had, in its November 20 publication, reported an alarm by the NNPP, saying that the Court of Appeal in Abuja, four days after the judgment against Yusuf and favouring the All Progressives Congress (APC)’s candidate Yusuf Nasiru Gawuna, had not released the Certified True Copy (CTC) of the judgment for the use of the dissatisfied party at the Supreme Court of Nigeria.
The judgment CTC was pivotal to the appeal being planned to push before the Supreme Court of Nigeria without which there would be no case in a nation’s judiciary system where justice is blind not to see how the fault of filing appeal outside of the stipulated period is not blamable on the aggrieved party.
NNPP had brought the complaint to notice of the Nigerian Press on Monday November 20, 2023 through a press statement issued by its Acting National Chairman, Alhaji Abba Kawu Ali.
“The leadership of the New Nigeria People’s Party (NNPP) is using this medium to register its worries over the inability of Court of Appeal to release the Certified True Copy (CTC) of the Kano judgment delivered by the Court of Appeal on Friday, November 17, 2023 to its legal team.
“This concern being expressed by the leadership of NNPP stems from the report from our Legal team that all efforts to collect the Certified True Copy (CTC) of the judgment which will aid the process of filing their appeal have not yielded any fruits, four days after the judgement was delivered in Abuja.
“It is a known fact that the issues of days and time are very germane in the preparation of processes for an appeal in such a situation. For the purpose of emphasis, it is an established fact that an Appealant only has a window of Fourteen (14) days to get his/her processes completed, and frittering away 4 days out of these 14 days is like setting a booby trap for the Appellant.
“Unfortunately, this type of scenario is creating the belief (rightly or wrongly) that there are deliberate efforts in place to frustrate the Party, and the Governor of Kano State, His Excellency, Engr. Abba Kabir Yusuf, as well as the legal team in their quest to get justice in the Kano State Governorship petition as they head for the Supreme Court.”
The Appeal Court’s judgment CTC
Having been pushed to tight corner by the NNPP’s press statement of Monday November 20, Court of Appeal on Tuesday November 21 made its judgment’s Certified True Copy available to the opposition party and the big news erupted as the CTC contradicted the open courtroom pronouncement and, instead of sacking, resolved the case in favour of the NNPP’s candidate and Governor Abba Kabir Yusuf, while setting aside the September 20 judgment by Zoom of the Kano State Governorship Election Petitions Tribunal.
According to the CTC, a fine of N1 million was also awarded against the All Progressives Congress (APC). A takeaway from the situation being that the case in court is APC versus NNPP/Governor Abba Kabir Yusuf and not Nasiru Yusuf Gawuna versus NNPC/Governor Abba Kabir Yusuf.
After the uproars locally and internationally, the Court of Appeal opened up in a statement admitting that the contradictions in the CTC was ‘clerical error’. The statement partly read, “What happened in the part of the judgment is just a mere clerical error that ought not to draw any issue. The court is empowered to correct such clerical errors and would be done as appropriate. The clerical error would be rectified once parties in the matter file formal application to that effect.”
He drew the attention of newsmen to Order 23 Rule 4 of the Court of Appeal Handbook which empowers the court to correct any clerical error once detected by the court or any of the parties in the matter. He, however, insisted that contrary to insinuations, the judgment of the court remains valid.
Court’s CTC clarification rejected
The Kano State Attorney-General and Commissioner for Justice, Alhaji Haruna Dederi, had in a Channels Television’s Good Morning Show of Thursday November 23, 2023, told the Court of Appeal that its claim of “typo error” on the Certified True Copy (CTC) of its Friday November 17 judgment on the state’s governorship election was scandalous, asking, “How can a typographical error affect whole paragraphs?”
Speaking from the Nigeria’s second economic nerve centre, the Kano State Attorney General argued that such a development was “scandalous”, adding, “What is a typographical error? Does it affect one word? Does it affect two words? Does it affect three words? How can a typographical error affect whole paragraphs? This is something that cannot be accepted by any discernible mind as I have said. This is something that is outrageously scandalous and it cannot be accepted. We are not satisfied.”
The Commissioner who said the controversy surrounding the judgment “has now been shifted to the Supreme Court,” believes “it would be resolved there”. Despite the Appeal Court’s clarification, he maintained that the trending copy of the CTC is “the only version we have as the judgment of the Court of Appeal.”
“There is no corrected version,” he argued on the breakfast show, insisting that the claims of typo error about the CTC “is not tenable. It cannot be accepted”.
On Thursday 23, 2023, counsel to the NNPP candidate, Chief Wole Olanipekun (SAN) wrote to the Court of Appeal wherein he turned down its request to retrieve the Certified True Copy of judgment on the Kano State governorship election petition for alleged errors.
Olanipekun was lawyer of President Bola Ahmed Tinubu in the presidential election petitions case that the Supreme Court of Nigeria ended without considering former President Atiku Abubakar’s United States court judgment provided as evidence of non-qualification to contest the February 25, 2023 election in the country.
In Kano, the most volatile state in terms of politics where opposition NNPP is ruling party and Olanipekun is incidentally its lawyer in the case, the Senior Advocate of Nigeria issued a strongly worded response wherein on Thursday November 24 he faulted the Court of Appeal’s attempt to recall the judgment after providing it to his client and appellant, Abba Kabir Yusuf, on Tuesday November 21.
He argued that the court became functus officio following expiry of the constitutionally mandated 60-day deadline for election appeals on November 18. Olanipekun had insisted that any correction application can only be entertained henceforth by the Supreme Court, while warning that withdrawing the judgment would inhibit Yusuf’s right to appeal within 14 days.
The lawyer also countered the claim that parties had applied for rectification of errors on the CTC, stressing that none of such claims evidently exists from their end. The erudite lawyer reiterated that Court of Appeal is bereft of powers to revisit a case after 60 days lapse. Sources disclosed Olanipekun’s refusal may indicate substantive discrepancies between the physical copy issued and what was delivered in court. There are suspicions of likely tampering.
Governor Yusuf had rejected the appellate judgment validating Nasiru Gawuna of APC as duly elected Kano governor and, from paragraphs revealed by the CTC of the Friday November 17, 2023 judgment, the court contradicted itself when it eventually released its judgment as it reversed the sack of the governor, set aside the Tribunal’s judgment declaring Gawuna as governor and went further to a award a N1 million fine in favour of Governor Abba Kabir Yusuf against APC.
Governor Abba Yusuf, NNPP headed to Supreme Court
After all the controversies, Governor Abba Kabir Yusuf and the New Nigeria Peoples Party (NNPP) headed to the Supreme Court to challenge the verdict and are hopeful of getting justice. The party challenged “the entire judgment of the Court of Appeal save and except the conclusion and orders at page 67 of the duly Certified True Copy, CTC including the order as to cost favorable to the appellant”.
The appeal court judgment has already heightened tensions in Kano state.
There were protests along the Dan Agundi area of the state during which some of the protesters said they were ready to die as they demanded justice for Governor Yusuf, who is believed is only being persecuted by those wielding the powers of the Federal Might in Abuja and will not be Godfearing enough to desist unless they (the people) show them how the power of the people is mightier.
Sowore, other pro-democracy activists
The issues of contradictory judgments and perceived manipulation of justice in particularly Kano governorship election case and Zamfara and Plateau states in general have undermined public confidence and trust in the Nigerian judiciary’s ability to deliver justice and have thus turned the hitherto integrity of courts to ridicule leading to Friday December 1, 2023 headline “KANO, OTHERS: Judiciary in Nigeria has come to judgment this year, says Sowore, as Onyeagocha’s electoral reforms type revealed”.
At a “National Seminar on Targeted Electoral Reforms and Enhanced Judicial Integrity in Post-Election Litigation”, organised by the Civil Society Legislative Advocacy Centre (CISLAC) and attended by leaders from across civil society organisations, the media and the bar among other stakeholders, former Presidential Candidate in Nigeria and pro-democracy advocate, Mr. Omoyele Sowore, and former House Representatives Member, Barr Uche Onyeagocha, separately made categorical statements about the state of the nation with issues arising from the post-2023 elections in the country, and Sowore concluded, specifically, that the judiciary in Nigeria had come to judgment.
To Sowore, who contested for president on the platform of the African Action Congress (AAC) and spoke in the conversation sharing his experience in active participation, the exposition of judicial scandal in the Kano’s governorship election judgments of both the Tribunal and the Court of Appeal is clear indication that the Nigerian political situation is beyond mere reforms but requiring that every wisher for truly better Nigeria must be ready for change.
Adding, he said it also meant that the judiciary in Nigeria has, itself, come to justice this year after having for long escaped all the blames for the evils that they perpetrated in the country. Omoyele Sowore said although because judges, who must not be seen but heard, have now become “seen finish” because the nation now have an “Owambe judiciary” where justice is for the highest bidder. The fearless, thorough and straight talking Sowore was specific and direct in his submissions.
“I want to say two more things and one of it is the judiciary. We must understand that the judiciary in Nigeria has come to judgment this year. Before, the judiciary used to escape all the blames for the evils that they perpetrated in Nigeria because judges are usually not seen but heard. But because we now have an Owambe judiciary, we have seen our judges more and we have reached a point where the judges have become from being seen to being seen finish.
“And the judgment that they have come to, if you look at it historically, at least from the contemporary history, in 1979 it was the judiciary that truncated the transition of power to a more stable in this country with their mathematical agenda the 12 2/3. It was perpetrated in this Lagos.
“In 1993 that we were involved in, it was the judiciary that truncated the freest and fairest election in this country and made sure that Abiola did not become President. A judicial officer said the election should not hold, another officer said the election was not legitimate, another judge pronounced that Abiola should stay in detention. The Supreme Court couldn’t meet. They claimed it was because Chief Gani Fawehinmi accused them of collecting Mercedes Benz from Babangida, which was true. They are all sitting on voters but they are destroying the country.
“In 2007, the judges met in this country and said ballot papers don’t need serial numbers. And you can pronounce all the elections the judiciary has mortgaged and destroyed in our democracy here. And that is why the judiciary is also very confident when in 2023 they were confronting some of their customers saying that, “When they were doing governorship, are we not the ones who rigged for you?” So the Atikus of this world did not have any respect in front of them because they were the ones arranging judgments under Obasanjo time.
“Even our brother who had two elections he won in Anambra, Peter Obi, they were telling him, “Didn’t you win before, so if you lose this one, calm down now.” That is what I am talking about ‘see finish’. And those of us here, too, that you are seeing, we have been victims of the judiciary. There was a time were expelled in this Lagos. We met one Justice Kensington, he is late now, he told us he said, “You want me to rule against the Vice Chancellor, are you mad? First he told Mayekun, “Go and cut your hair. That your Dada, I don’t want to see it. When you finish with your Berber and you are properly dressed, I will take you to and see your VC at the National Mosque on Friday.” He did not even pronounce on our case.
“A judge sent me to jail, granted a bail condition that I could never meet. When we come back and asked for variation, Justice Ogungbe said, “You mean Sowore doesn’t have N100 million?” That was what she said in an open court. Till today, they have not given me back my passport. I’m still undergoing trial for treason. The person they said I wanted to overthrow has gone back to his Katsina State, that is Buhari.
“When I reminded the judge, he was looking at me he said, “Sebi you have lawyer” and I said “I’m a lawyer too by way of how many times I have been in and out of court.”
On a more serious note the former University of Lagos Students Union President said, “The serious matter here is that, the Nigerian situation, I will say lastly, has gone beyond reforms. This is an unreformable system. Don’t let anybody deceive you. And there is no amount of conferences you can hold and seminars and workshops that can reform the electoral system in Nigeria.
“It’s impossible! Because, the system in the first place was not designed to hold elections, it was designed to select people into power from within the political class that has been holding this country to ransom since 1960 and beyond. Except we are ready, nothing will change.”
Use of judiciary?
On Saturday December 9, 2023, an Arewa movement known as Northern Coalition Youths Movement Initiative (NYMI) has accused President Bola Ahmed Tinubu led administration and the ruling All progressives Congress (APC) of an hidden agenda to destabilize the Northern commercial nerve center in order to weaken the economy of the region.
This was disclosed in an elaborate world press conference at Arewa House in Kaduna state on that Saturday. The secretary general of the movement, Comrade Ibrahim Mohammed Inuwa, pointed to series of moves being made by the government to undermine the region using judiciary to subvert the people’s mandate in Kano, Plateau and Zamfara.
He said, in recent times, they have observed with dismay, how the much esteemed judiciary has become the lapdog to the executive arm of government which they said is expected to check as an independent entity.
“Gone are the days when judges dish out logical judgments that are acceptable to the litigants in any disputes. It is however sad that the administration of Pres. Bola Tinubu and APC has resorted to using the judiciary to snatch what it has lost at the ballot.
“Under the APC, the votes of the people no longer count, this is because the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) has become an extended part of the ruling party. In a bid to do the bidding of the APC,
“judiciary has now become the rubber stamp to the massive scale of electoral robbery in the country. Where the INEC fails to award victories to APC candidate, the same courts are the avenue where the victories of the opposition parties are now only arrested but also stolen and given to the APC.”
Although denied later, the mood in town led to emergence of a reported letter published on Saturday December 23, 2023 purportedly written to Chief Justice of Nigeria (CJN), Mr. Olukayode Ariwoola, by prominent Islamic cleric in Northern Nigeria, Sheikh Dahiru Usman-Bauchi warning him against allowing himself to be used to pervert the course of justice in the now glaring political plots to unjustifiably sack Governor Abba Kabir Yusuf of Kano State.
Takeaways from the letter, as fact-checked by The DEFENDER on Sunday December 24, were highlighted that:
“On the long run, it has been said that controversy notwithstanding, the Chief Justice of Nigeria, Olukayode Ariwoola, has a moral responsibility to see the letter with him as a clarion call to allow the smooth sail for justice as his Supreme Court of Nigeria is expected to deliver its final judgment on Kano State governorship election appeal any time from now.
“Ariwoola should see the letter beyond the claim that it is certain political group trying to intimidate the judiciary because, there can be no intimidation bigger and worse than attempt by the judiciary to use untenable invalidation of purportedly 165,000 unstamped ballot papers and pre-election matter of party membership, which the Supreme Court itself has never allowed to come before it, to upturn the mandate of millions of Kano State people. It can only lead to civil war, for real, as envisaged by the Sheikh Dahiru Usman-Bauchi’s letter.
“Reason the mood of the very charged Kano State society is that, “We do not need to wait until anyone tells us before we know who we voted for. We decided to give our votes in its over a million to Engr Abba Kabir Yusuf of the NNPP on Saturday March 18, 2023 to be our governkr and we did. Any attempt to deny us this mandate through court of any level is, like Sheikh Dahiru Usman-Bauchi said, an invitation to chaos,” this is popular saying among people of Kano State amidst conversations generated by those who tried to deny the letter to the CJN.
“More instructively, Yoruba communities in Northern Nigeria Kano State Branch hold the same position when in their recent rally address and press conference statements they called on Yoruba Obas in South West states to prevail on President Bola Ahmed Tinubu to desist from whatever manipulation of justice as witnessed in the Court of Appeal’s evident judgment scam sacking Governor Abba Yusuf after over a million votes had chosen him.”
Supreme Court reserves judgment
The Supreme Court of Nigeria had, on Thursday December 21, 2023, reserved judgment in the appeal filed by the Kano State Governor, Abba Yusuf, challenging the verdict of the Court of Appeal which removed him as governor of the state.
Hearing on the appeal of Abba Yusuf of the New Nigeria People’s Party (NNPP) commenced with the five-member panel of justices headed by Justice John Okoro stating that there are nine pending appeals before it.
The court, therefore, urged counsels involved in the matter to meet and agree on which of the nine appeals and cross-appeals that should be heard, with the outcome binding on the remaining eight.
When the panel resumed after a brief recess, a consensus was reached to make the main appeal, that of Yusuf challenging the election, while the cross-appeals such as that questioning the membership of Abba Yusuf, will abide with the outcome of the main appeal.
Wole Olanipekun, counsel for appellant, asked the five-man apex court panel led by Justice Inyang Okoro to determine whether or not, the guidelines of INEC will be a basis for nullifying the election victory of his candidate who won the election by a margin of over 100,000, noting that this is the first time in the annals of electoral jurisprudence where an election was nullified on the grounds that ballot papers were not signed or stamped at the back.
Olanipekun stated that INEC guidelines does not envisage that the courts would nullify an election on the basis of INEC purportedly failing to stamp ballot papers on the back.
Olanipekun also averred that Yusuf’s membership of the NNPP is a pre-election matter and authentic and the appellate court lacked jurisdiction to entertain the matter.
The counsel for APC, Akin Olujimi however, maintained that the Electoral Act mandates INEC presiding officers to sign the back of ballot papers after the conclusion of the election, stating that the findings of the tribunal were simply that the ballot papers were not signed at the back, and not dated.
On the issue of party membership, Olujinmi argued that the NNPP membership register did not show the name of Abba Yusuf on it.
Counsel for INEC, Abubakar Mahmoud, supported the arguments of Olanipekun, submitting that the decisions of the lower courts were flawed, as the testimony of a subpoenaed witness (PW32) which the tribunal relied on to sack Abba Yusuf, were not frontloaded along with the petition at the tribunal, contrary to the Electoral Act.
Mahmoud stated that it was not the duty of a voter to check if ballot papers were signed or not, but that of the party agents, noting that the tribunal went far beyond its powers in vetting each of the ballot papers in their chambers and not in open court.
Mahmoud contended that membership is clearly an internal affairs of a political party and Abba Yusuf’s name was forwarded to INEC prior to the election while his party membership card was tendered in evidence at the tribunal.
Counsel for the NNPP, Adegboyega Awomolo, noted that ballot papers were actually cast at the polling units but the APC legal team did not specify the polling units affected at the Tribunal in line with rules of court, stating that ballot papers not signed ought not to affect the validity of an election.
Awomolo insisted that the Tribunal was wrong to recount the ballots in its chambers, as not a single witness told the Tribunal that ballot papers were not stamped
He, however, urged the apex court to restore the 165,165 cancelled votes of Abba Yusuf and affirm his election.
After listening to parties, the apex court reserved its judgement on the governor’s appeal.
Cause of rumours
The allegedly unusual prolonged fixing of date for the delivering of judgment of the Supreme Court on the matter of Kano has led to rumours from several quarters among which claimed President Bola Ahmed Tinubu met with the Governor of Kano State, Abba Kabir Yusuf, on how to reach compromise on the matter of Kano so that he could be allowed to continue to operate the mandate given to him in a democratic election process on March 18, 2023 by over a million Kano voters.
That rumour, plus or minus, led to questions such “what is APC afraid of about Kano? Why is Tinubu so obsessed with playing politics of four years from the present that is concerning himself in 2023 with 2027 presidential election that only Allah can decide who will be alive till then? Why is it that Ganduje, a Fulani man, cares less about whether Nigeria’s second largest economy goes off in flame by his continued lack of attention to the warnings of the Kano electorate asking him to desist or face the consequences? What is the business of Governor of Imo State, Hope Uzodinma, an Igbo, in the politics of Kano and what does Maj-Gen Aliyu Gusau, a Zamfara born former Nigeria’s Minister of Defence, want to achieve by accepting to team up with Ganduje, Uzodinma and, now, Nuhu Ribadu, in burning a state as much important to Nigeria’s corporate existence as Kano by not wanting to allow the will of the over one million voters, who voted for Governor Abba Kabir Yusuf to have their way and mandate work for them?”
Questions of this nature, triggered by the rumoured meeting of Tinubu with Governor Yusuf, formed part of the reasons the prolonged fixing of date for delivery of judgment in the Kano State governorship election case is beginning to generate issues of bothering on distrust and lack of confidence. Those who are complaining say each time Tinubu has intervenes, it must be along how to favour his personal political interest, considering the yet to be resolved Rivers State impasse, and they are not disposed to that.
Report of Tinubu, Gov Yusuf meeting denied by APC
The Kano chapter of All Progressives Congress on Sunday December 31 dismissed a viral report that it had a clandestine meeting with President Bola Tinubu and the leadership of the party to influence the outcome of the Supreme Court appeal filed by the New Nigerian People’s Party.
The development was coming two months after Governor Abba Yusuf and the NNPP vowed to seek redress at the Supreme Court after Kano APC candidate, Nasir Gawuna was affirmed as the winner of the contentious March 18 governorship election.
The three-member panel of the Appeal Court led by Justice M. A. Adumeh held that Yusuf was not in the membership register of his political party. Citing a provision of the electoral act, he said a party must have the names of its registered members both in hard and soft copies.
The NNPP’s National Spokesman, Mr. Ladipo Johnson, had however since said, although the matter being ruled over by the court is pre-election and party’s internal affairs matter that should not come before the court, that the register the court used to arrive at his decision was a made-up by mischief persons with the APC and that all the truths were presented before the court but the court chose to ignore them.
In a statement issued to newsmen in Abuja on Sunday December 31, Kano APC Chairman, Abdullahi Abbas, dismissed the rumoured Tinub and Yusuf meeting, saying it was the figment of the imagination of those peddling it.
He said, “There is nowhere such a meeting was held with either Mr President or any leader of the party. President Bola Tinubu is a Democrat and strongly believes in the rule of law and the right thing to be done therefore will not be part of any arrangement or reconciliation to subvert justice and support people who have stolen votes or breach the electoral act to emerge as leaders.”
Continuing, Abbas reiterated that the party was not aware of such an arrangement and would rather intensify efforts to pursue its case at the Supreme Court to a logical conclusion.
The Kano APC chair said that there was no tension in Kano, stressing that the people are happy with the outcome of both the tribunal and appeal court judgments.
Abbas assured that the party will continue to ensure harmonious and peaceful relationships with ethnic groups and nationalities in the state despite occasional provocations from the governing party.
Nigerians are now using the Kano election case as testrun for whether political leaders of Nigeria are truly prepared to let nation’s system work or collapse. The only body in the country that has the sole responsibility to decide on which way is the Supreme Court and, therefore, all eyes are on the judiciary once again for the last time.