Justice Amina Augie, of the Supreme Court, yesterday, withdrew as a member of the panel set up to hear the appeal case on the Abia State governorship election.
The development forced an indefinite adjournment of the case pending when the Acting Chief Justice of Nigeria (CJN), Justice Walter Onnoghen would replaced her on the panel with another Justice.
Justice Augie’s decision was based on allegations of bias levelled against her by one of the parties in the matter.
She said she could no longer sit on the panel hearing the appeal numbers 10 and 11 filed by Samson Ogah as well as the one by the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) on the ground that there was a sentiment expressed by one of the parties in a previous sister case.
Augie disclosed that a party had accused her of influencing the constitution of a four-member panel of Justices of the Court of Appeal that heard the petition challenging the election of Okezie Ikpeazu as governor of Abia State in Owerri, the Imo State capital, where she was the Presiding Justice of the Appeal Court division.
On that note, the five-man panel of justices of the Supreme Court hearing the appeals adjourned the matter to a date that will be communicated to all the parties in the matter.
Justice Bode Rhodes Vivour, who presided over the panel, said “once a Judge is accused of bias in any case, the ideal thing to do is to withdraw from the suit.”
He said a new panel would be reconstituted to hear the appeals and he would contact the acting Chief Justice of Nigeria (CJN), Justice Walter Onnoghen to get a date that would not be too far, so as to dispense with the appeal as soon as possible.
Earlier, the court had struck out the application dated December 30, 2016, filed by Friday Nwosu, through his counsel, A. C Ozioko, on the ground that the, “application appeared to be partially overtaken by event”.
The said application prayed the court to hear and determine the appeal based on the appellant’s brief only.
The Court of Appeal in Abuja had, in August last year, set aside the judgment by Justice Okon Abang of the Federal High Court in Abuja, which sacked Governor Ikpeazu of Abia State from office over alleged false tax information.
The court, in a unanimous decision vacated the June 27, 2016 verdict of Justice Abang and held that the court erred in law and occasioned a miscarriage of justice against Ikpeazu.
In a related development, hearing of the election petition filed by the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) and its governorship candidate, Pastor Osagie Ize-Iyamu, challenging the victory of Mr. Godwin Obaseki at the September 28, 2016, Edo governorship polls was also stalled, yesterday, following disagreement by Counsel to the parties on tendering documents at the election tribunal.
At the commencement of hearing of the petition, Counsel to the petitioners, Mallam Yusuf Alli (SAN), leading other lawyers, told the tribunal he would start his case by tendering the non-contentious certified electoral documents common to all the parties in the petition, adding that some of the documents, Form EC8 E would be tendered in batches, according to polling units.
His opening remarks was objected to by counsel to the respondents, who disagreed on the mode of tendering the documents, insisting that they had no knowledge of the documents. This forced the tribunal to adjourn for over one hour to enable the parties sort the documents and reach agreement.
When the tribunal resumed, the petitioners’ Counsel, Yusuf Alli (SAN) tendered Forms EC8 E, EC8 D, and at the point of tendering Forms EC8 C (results for 17 local government areas), respondents’ counsel objected, insisting they only examined the result for Akoko-Edo and were yet to examine those for the seven other local governments.
Although the tribunal ruled that the documents be examined by respondents’ counsel before tendering them, much progress was not made in the hearing, forcing INEC lead Counsel, Hassan Liman (SAN) to propose that petitioners and respondents’ counsel should liaise with the tribunals’ Registrar to sort out the documents before full trial should commence.
Consequently, the Chairman of the tribunal, Ahmed Badamasi ruled that the parties should meet with the Tribunal Registrar to sort out the documents and, then, adjourned hearing on the petition to Monday January16, 2016.