On December 24, 2008, Leadership Newspaper named the trio of former Chief Justice of Nigeria (CJN), Justice Aloma Mariam Mukhtar, former Justice of the Supreme Court, Justice Oguntade and the current CJN, Justice Walter Nkanu Onnoghen as the ‘’Leadership Persons of the Year’’, with the following comments:
‘’In a period of uncertainty and palpable loss of political faith, they struck a courageous blow for truth that captured and galvanized the popular imagination of Nigerians.
‘’In the face of contrived siege, they defied creeping authoritarianism and chose the road less traveled. For their fearless, judicial reaffirmation that justice is the 21st century’s most powerful idea; for lighting a candle in darkness to show the way forward, Justices Alooma Mariam-Mukhtar, George Oguntade, and Walter Onnoghen are the LEADERSHIP Persons Of The Year 2008.
Another anonymous commentator also stated; ‘’described variously as being a liberal but highly principled; calm but very fearless, quiet but very cerebral with strong aversion to acts inimical to due process and the course of justice, Justice Muhktar exhibited part of her attributes when, alongside Justices George Adesola Oguntade and Walter Onnoghen, voided the 2007 electoral victory of late President Musa Yar’Adua and his then Vice, Goodluck Jonathan and sacked them from office by their epochal minority judgment.
The trio, in their dissenting judgment, held that the allegation of substantial non-compliance with the Electoral Act 2006 was proved by the petitioner. The Supreme Court had on December 12, 2008 in a split of 4-3 laid to rest the dispute over April 21, 2007, presidential poll by dismissing petitions brought before it by President Muhammadu Buhari, the then-candidate of the All Nigeria Peoples Party (ANPP) and ex-Vice President, Alhaji Atiku Abubakar of the Action Congress (AC). The Supreme Court, in dismissing the petitions said both lacked merit.
The then CJN, Idris Legbo Kutigi, Aloysius Iyorger Kastina-Alu, Niki Tobi, and Dahiru Musdapher dismissed the Buhari appeal and upheld the election of Yar’Adua and Jonathan.
Justice Niki Tobi who read the lead judgment held thus; “In my view, the most important complaint in an election petition is the disenfranchisement of eligible voters who reported within the statutory time to cast their votes but could not for reasons of violation of the Electoral Act,” Tobi read from the judgment.
“If there is evidence that despite all the non-compliance with the Electoral Act, the result of the election was not substantially affected, the petition must fail. In other words, Election Tribunal must, as a matter of law dismiss the petition, and that accords with section 146 (1) of the Electoral Act.”
Tobi berated the lead counsel to Buhari, Mike Ahamba (SAN) over what he termed his inability to properly lead evidence, although the latter in a reaction minutes after the judge rejected the indictment and recalled how the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) and the Appeal Court had frustrated his efforts to bring forward evidence.
Tobi continued: “For the avoidance of doubt, I am not saying by this judgment that all was well with the conduct of the Presidential election conducted in 2007. What I am saying is that there was no evidence before the Court of Appeal to dislodge section 146 of the Electoral Act. In the sum, the appeal fails and it is dismissed. Accordingly, Umaru Yar’Adua and Goodluck Jonathan are the President and Vice President of the Federal Republic of Nigeria.”
Justice Oguntade who read the lead dissenting judgment differed with Tobi and his co-travelers and insisted alongside his co-dissenters that failure by the electoral commission to use serialized ballot papers bound in a booklet meant that the election was not conducted substantially in tandem with the Electoral Act 2006.
“The inevitable conclusion I arrived at is that the failure of the 1st respondent (INEC) and the Chief National Electoral Officer, Maurice Iwu, to use serialised ballot papers bound in a booklet is clearly a non-compliance, which shows that the 2007 presidential elections were not conducted substantially in accordance with the principles of the Electoral Act 2006,” Oguntade said in the dissenting judgment.
“The court below should have nullified the said elections for this reason. The court below went on to say that the petitioner/appellant did not show that the failure to use serialized ballot and have same bound in booklet substantially affected the result of the result of the election. With due respect to their lordships of the court below, they were wrong in their view. They failed to bear in mind that the printing of serialized ballot papers and bound in booklets were an act to be performed before the elections were conducted.
“When a provision of the law requires an act to be performed before taking any further steps and that act is not performed, the further steps taken may amount in law to a nullity. “Even on the supposition that the burden to prove that the failure to use the ballot papers, which did not conform to the law did not substantially affect the result of the result of the election was on the petitioner/appellant, it is my firm view that the petitioner/appellant discharged the ballot. A ballot paper not in conformity with section 45 (2) is a prima facie act of non-compliance. It is, therefore, an invalid ballot paper.
“Since it is the same invalid ballot paper that converts later in the process of an election into a vote, the resulting vote must also become an invalid vote. It was never the case of the respondents that the un-serialized ballot papers were only used in some states in Nigeria. If that were their defense and the court below had found that this was truly the case, that would have placed on the court below the duty to determine what percentage of the votes cast at the election was valid and invalid.
“If the 4th and 5th respondents (Yar’Adua and Jonathan) would still have won by a majority of valid votes, the petition was liable to fail. But in this case, all the ballot papers used to cast votes for all the candidates in the election were invalid. The result is that each of the candidates in the Presidential elections 2007 scored zero or no votes. An invalid ballot paper cannot yield a valid vote. Clearly, therefore, the petitioner/appellant in my view succeeded in making the case of non-compliance with section 45 (1) of the Electoral Act.
“In the final conclusion, this appeal succeeds, I hold the view that the failure of the 1st and 2nd respondents to comply with section 42 (2) of the Electoral Act which is that ballot papers be serialised and bound in booklets for the purpose of the Presidential elections held on April 21, 2007, is so grave that the said elections ought to be nullified.
“I have advised myself fully that all courts in Nigeria have the duty to enforce our laws dealing with elections in order to ensure transparency, credibility, and fairness in all elections in Nigeria. I annul the Presidential Elections in Nigeria held on April 21, 2007, and order fresh elections within 90 days from today.” The above judgment focused more on the Buhari petition’’, Justice Oguntade held.
While Justices Aloma Mariam Mukhtar, George Oguntade, and Walter Nkanu Onnoghen wrote dissenting judgments in favor of President Buhari’s appeal at the Supreme Court, Justice Sylvanus Nsofor wrote a dissenting judgment at the Court of Appeal level.
A reward for Onnoghen, Oguntade, and Nsofor?
Despite all the brouhaha and noises about appointing CJN from outside and jettison the tradition appointing the next most senior Justice of the Supreme Court as CJN, President Buhari stood his ground and appointed Justice Walter Onnoghen as acting CJN on November 10, 2016. And on March 7, 2017, he took his oath of office and allegiance before Acting President Yemi Osinbajo to become the substantive CJN.
President Buhari appointed retired Justice George Oguntade as new Nigerian high commissioner to the UK and assume office on October 16, 2017, taking on the new title of ambassador to St James Court.
Becoming the first substantive high commissioner since Dr. Dalhatu Tafida was recalled in 2015, Justice Oguntade has resumed duties at Nigeria House in Northumberland Avenue in central London. Over the past two years, the UK has had two acting high commissioners, with Ambassador Kunle Bamgbose serving in that capacity before handing over to Simon Ogah who occupied the seat until he was recalled earlier this year.
Born on March 10, 1940, Justice Oguntade, is a retired Nigerian jurist who served as a justice of the Supreme Court of Nigeria from May 19, 2004, to May 10, 2010. Originally from Epe in Lagos State where he completed his basic formal education, he attended Ijebu Ode Grammar School until 1958 after which he worked as a court clerk at the High Court of Justice, Ibadan between 1958 and 1961 before he left for the United Kingdom for further studies.
President Buhari appointed 82-year old Justice Sylvanus Adiewere Nsofor, a retired justice from the Court of Appeal, and consequently assumed office as ambassador to the United States on November 13, 2017.
In 2003, Nsofor was the dissenting vote in a three-justice panel in a contested presidential race between Muhammadu Buhari, presidential candidate of the All Nigeria Peoples Party (ANPP), and the incumbent Olusegun Obasanjo, a candidate of the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP). Nsofor wrote that the PDP had engaged in intimidation tactics and violence: “I find that the substantial non-compliance with the mandatory electoral law amounts to no election. I also find that there was violence perpetrated by President Obasanjo. May Nigeria never and never again see a black Saturday like April 19, 2003.” However, Obasanjo was confirmed as president for a second term despite Nsofor’s objections. Twelve years later, however, Buhari was elected president of Nigeria
ALOMA’s reward in the offing?
President Buhari is yet to decide how best to reward/engage the services of the first female CJN in the country; who the highly respected British magazine, ‘’Newsweek’’ of April 8-15, 2013 edition named the as one of the ‘’125 women of impact’’ in the world.
The magazine premised Justice Mukhtar’s nomination on her judicial cleansing reform and avowed determination to get rid of judges involved in fraudulent practices or judgment for sale. Specifically, the magazine noted that ‘’in a country notorious for its crooked officials, Nigeria’s first female CJN, Mukhtar, has built a reputation as an unwavering reformer unafraid to root out criminals.’’
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