In a bid to curtail political interference in the dispensation of justice, the president of the Court of Appeal, Justice Monica Dongban-Mensem, has transferred all election petition cases pending before the court in the 36 states to Abuja and Lagos divisions of the appellate court.
Consequently, LEADERSHIP was told that all appellate cases arising from the judgement of the various election petition tribunals in the 36 states of the country would be heard and determined in Abuja and Lagos divisions of the Appeal Court.
By this action of Dongban-Mensem, only two of the 20 divisions of the court would determine all appellate cases arising from the judgements of the elections petition tribunals throughout the country.
The order affects gubernatorial, national and state assemblies’ elections, which have the court of appeal as the last court of adjudication.
One of our impeccable sources in the Court of Appeal headquarters in Abuja revealed that all appellate cases arising from the judgements of the election petitions tribunals on the 1,209 cases filed against the conduct of 2023 general elections had been assigned to Abuja and Lagos for hearing and determination.
Already, all political parties and their candidates, having pending appeal cases have been directed to comply with the order by moving to either Lagos or Abuja as the case may be to prosecute their cases.
Investigation by this newspaper revealed that Dongban-Mensem acted in response to an avalanche of petitions and protests by political parties and their candidates, who allege that the judges of the tribunals were heavily compromised by the governors during the trial stage in their respective states.
The governing party, All Progressives Congress (APC), and two opposition platforms, Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) and Labour Party (LP), and their aggrieved candidates in their various petitions and protests to the leadership of the court of appeal alleged that the judges of the tribunals became vulnerable as governors generously provided logistics and other support for them to ease the discharge of their assignments.
The aggrieved parties and the candidates protested that various judgements pronounced by some of the tribunal judges were not only fraudulent but were “outrightly purchased” by the governors in favour of their parties and candidates in the election.
This newspaper was told by one of our reliable sources that the appellants in the various cases expressed apprehension that the same fate might befall them if their cases are allowed to be determined by the other 18 divisions of the Court of Appeal domiciled in various states under the watch of the governors of the states.
Giving further insight into the unfolding development, the source said the leadership of the appellate court was persuaded to move against the governors by relocating the cases to Abuja and Lagos, where the judges could be effectively monitored by the president of the appellate court.
Perturbed by the revelations, Dongban-Mensem was reported to have launched discreet enquiries into the allegations against the governors and the judges of the trial tribunal.
It was gathered that enquiries established the veracity of the allegations to the extent that an unholy alliance was established between some governors and judges of the tribunals, which led to perversion of justice at the trial level.
Some judges of the tribunals were reportedly indicted and might face trial by the National Judicial Council (NJC).
Subsequently, LEADERSHIP further learnt that Dongban-Mensem, who was dazed by the outcome of the enquiries, ordered an immediate transfer of all election appellate cases to Abuja and Lagos.
To this end, all appellate cases in the 19 states of the country are to be heard and determined by the Abuja division of the court.
Similarly, those cases emanating from grievances over the judgement of the election petition tribunals in the 17 states of southern Nigeria are to be treated by the Lagos division of the court.
In arriving at the decision, one of our sources told our correspondent that Dongban-Mensem was bothered that the image of the judiciary could be rubbished by unsavoury activities of corrupt judges in alliance with the political class.
Besides, it was learnt that Dongban-Mensem believed that the action would guarantee the independence and integrity of the judiciary, especially the appellate court.
More importantly, one of our sources said it would renew the hope of political parties and the petitioners that they could secure fair hearing and justice, especially in those cases arising from the conduct of the national and state assembly elections, which have the Court of Appeal as the last court of instance.
Our correspondent also gathered that Dongban-Mensem was of the conviction that having a restricted and concise number of the appellate court divisions to handle the cases would pave the way for easy monitoring of the judges by the presiding officer of the appellate court.
But LEADERSHIP could not verify from official sources how the two divisions could effectively handle and cope with the volume of cases expected from the 36 states of the country.
One of our sources, however, hinted that new panels of the court could be created in addition to the existing ones in the division to handle the exigencies.
LEADERSHIP could also not ascertain if appellate cases in Lagos state would also be handled by Lagos division of the Court of Appeal in view of the protests by PDP and LP as well as their candidates in the March 2023 gubernatorial, national and state assembly elections over alleged compromise of the various election petition tribunals assigned to the state by the state government.
One of the sources told this newspaper, “The three major political parties are involved in the petition writing against the governors. In a state controlled by APC, PDP and LP parties would petition the court of appeal, alleging that the governor bribed the judges to obtain fraudulent judgements in favour of APC and its candidates.
“In the same vein, in the state where PDP and LP are in power, APC and its defeated candidates were writing petitions against the governor and the ruling party. There have been petitions and counter petitions by the three political parties but thank God that the President has resolved the imbroglio in favour of common sense.”
Meanwhile, amidst mixed feelings, appellants and their counsel have besieged Abuja and Lagos, in compliance with the order.
Some of the appellants and respondents, who spoke with our correspondent, welcomed the decision.
They, however, lamented the huge cost of prosecuting their cases, especially mobilising their counsel and few supporters outside their comfort zones in Warri and Lagos.
An unsigned statement sent to an appellant in Delta State by the appellate court notifying him of the relocation of his case to Lagos, reads, “Please take note that the venue of the election petition fixed for Monday, 16th October, 2023 is no longer Court of Appeal, Asaba. The venue has been changed to the Court of Appeal, Lagos. Thank you.”
Members of the National Assembly from Delta State, whose appeal cases are pending before the court, spoke with our correspondent yesterday. They confirmed the report on the relocation of the cases to Abuja and Lagos.
They include Senator Ede Dafinone (Delta Central) and the lawmaker representing Warri Federal Constituency in the House of Representatives, Rt. Hon. Thomas Ereyitomi, as well as his Okpe/Sapele/Uvwie Federal Constituency counterpart, Hon. Benedict Etanabene.
They confirmed receipt of relocation notice of their cases to Lagos, adding that they had moved to Lagos with their legal teams.
Ereyitomi, who welcomed the decision, however, lamented its financial implications.
“We have the notice transferring the cases from Delta State to Lagos and we have complied. Its financial implications are huge but no sacrifice is too much to get a fair and impartial judgement,” Ereyitomi said.