Bribery scandal rocks election tribunals

1 Comment » August 11th, 2008 posted by // Categories: Elections 2007



August 5, 2008


Bribery scandal rocks election tribunals

• Imo, Osun, Delta, others draw public wrath • Aliero wired N650m — Report


IN spite of increasing positive public image which the nation’s judiciary has garnered in recent times, allegations of bribery in local and foreign currencies have continued to trail the rulings of Election Petition Tribunals across the federation.

From Ogun, Osun, Delta, Imo to Adamawa, Sokoto and Benue allegations bordering on suspected exchange of “hard cash” for favourable judgments at the tribunals by beneficiaries have mounted.

Most vocal on the alleged shortfalls of some of the tribunals across the country have been the losing parties, as well as social critics and activists. But in virtually all the instances, the exact amounts of money involved in such bribery allegations have rarely been mentioned. In a few cases, among them Imo, reports have stated bribery sums and the vendors who wired then to the accused tribunal members.

For instance, in Benue State, the Election Petition Tribunal was accused of relying on sentiments rather than points of law in arriving at its judgment in deciding the winner of the governorship election.

Similarly, the Appeal Tribunal which ruled in favour of Senator David Mark was seen by critics as “not having done a decent job as elements of double standards seemed to have applied.”

In Sokoto State, the case between Governor Aliyu Magatarkada Wamakko of the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) and Democratic Peoples Party’s (DPP) Alhaji Maigari Dingyadi was also controversial.

The Court of Appeal sitting in Kaduna on last April 11, voided the April 14, 2007 election of Wamakko on the grounds of “substantial irregularities and non-qualification.” It also ordered a fresh election within 90 days by the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC). Wamakko predictably, won that poll re-run.

This was against the lower tribunal’s ruling dismissing Dingyadi’s petition that Wamakko was not qualified to contest in the election, having defected to the PDP from the All Nigerian Peoples Party (ANNP), less than the 60 days as required by the constitution of PDP to qualify him for the election.

In Kebbi State, the Appeal Court also reversed last year’s nullification of the election of Governor Usman Dakingari by the Election Petitions Tribunal, which bore much semblance with its Sokoto counterpart.
But unlike the unanimous removal of Wamakko, the reinstatement of Dakingari was a majority decision of three to one.

Justice Bulkachuwa, while upholding Dakingari’s election, ruled that he was qualified to contest in the poll, as no case of double sponsorship, as claimed by the respondents was established.

DPP candidate in the election, Alhaji Abubakar Malam, had prayed the appeal tribunal to declare him the winner, following the nullification of the governor’s election by the lower tribunal.

The tribunal on October 20, last year, ruled that Dakingari, a son-in-law of President Umaru Yar’Adua was not qualified to run as a candidate for the ruling PDP because he was not a member when it nominated him.
“The first respondent (Dakingari) was illegally placed on the ballot paper,” Justice Aodover Kakaan ruled, and ordered a fresh election.

Similarly, the April 14, 2007 election of Governor Timipre Sylva of Bayelsa State was on April 16, this year, nullified by the Court of Appeal sitting in Port Harcourt, the Rivers state capital, contrary to the judgment of the lower tribunal. As a result of that, a fresh poll was conducted.

The tribunal had on November 5, last year dismissed Prince Timi Amgbare, of the Action Congress (AC) petition on all counts for inability to substantiate that there was no governorship election in the state on April 14, last year, thereby upholding Sylva’s election.

But, the Appeal court hinged its judgment on what it termed clear evidence that there was no election in Bayelsa, as argued by Amgbare and AC. It took a re-run election before Sylva could regain the governorship.

Little attention was paid to the case involving former Cross River State governor Liyel Imoke until the Appeal tribunal in Calabar upturned his election and upheld the appeal of the AC candidate against the lower tribunal ruling.
The nullification and setting aside of the lower court judgment was based on non-compliance with the 2006 Electoral Act and gross irregularities” during the poll.

Justice Suleiman Galadima, in the judgment, cited anomalies such as allocation of scores and non-presentation of result sheets at the polling booths. He also said the petitioners were not given a fair hearing by the lower court.
The ANPP’s candidate in the state, Paul Ukpo, Progressive Peoples Alliance’s (PPA) Iheke Awah, African Renaissance Party’s (ARP) James Ebri, and the AC had challenged Imoke’s victory at the tribunal.

The election of PDP’s Governor Sullivan Chime of Enugu State was also nullified by the election tribunal on January 19, barely 48 hours after he collapsed while laying a wreath to mark this year’s Armed Forces Remembrance Day.
Justice Samuel Otta, who read the judgment, upheld that the candidates of DPP, Oscar Egwuonwu; Labour Party (LP), Chief Okey Ezea; and Dubem Onyia of AC proved that the conduct of the election in the state did not conform with the provisions of the Electoral Act 2006.

But in a unanimous judgment read by Justice Olufunmilayo Adekeye, the Court of Appeal, Enugu Division, on Friday, July 18 upturned the lower court’s judgment and revalidated Chime’s election.

The five-member Appeal tribunal had earlier dismissed an appeal brought by another contestant, Mr. Ugochukwu Agballah, wanting the court to declare him winner, based on the valid votes he allegedly secured in the election.
The election tribunal in Delta State was also mired in controversy from the first governorship case. A simple matter of exclusion from the April 14, last year governorship election was mishandled by the tribunal. Its handling of AC’ Peter Okocha and DPP’s Great Ogboru’s petitions had been anything but encouraging.

The Justice Ayobode-Lokulo Sodipe-led Delta State Election Petition Tribunal, in August last year, ruled that disqualified AC candidate in the elections, Mr. Peter Okocha had the ”locus standi” to be at the tribunal to challenge his exclusion from the said election that produced Governor Emmanuel Uduaghan.

But the Benin Division of the Court of Appeal returned the case to the tribunal for re-trial, saying Okocha’s petition had merit. That has not been, especially as Justice Sodipe had been elevated to the higher court.

The delay in the constitution of an appeal tribunal to hear a simple case of INEC’s unlawful exclusion of Okocha from the election by the President of the Court of appeal, Justice Umaru Abdullahi remains” curious.”

The petition of Senator Ibikunle Amosun of the ANPP against the election of Governor Gbenga Daniel of Ogun State also witnessed a contradiction between the Court of Appeal sitting in Ibadan, Oyo State and the Ogun State Election Petition Tribunal in Abeokuta.

Amosun’s petition was thrown out by the tribunal on the grounds that he lacked the locus standi to file the petition, having failed to state in his petition on which party’s platform he contested the election.
But the appellate court set aside the lower court’s judgment and returned Amosun’s petition to the tribunal for re-trial, saying it should be heard on its merit.

While the tribunal also upheld the arguments of Daniel that the petition was defective, following Amosun’s claim that he was a voter and a candidate in the governorship election, saying the dual capacity was confusing, the higher counterpart after a consolidated hearing on February 21, in the lead judgment read by Justice J. B. Akaahs, ruled that said the supposed confusion in the identity of Amosun, as related to his petition, “only existed in the imagination of the tribunal members.”

While dismissing Daniel’s interlocutory appeal, Justice Akaahs held that since it had been established that there was no criminal collusion between court officials and Amosun, the appellant could not be punished for the non-issuance of receipt when payment was made.

As for the ANPP candidate’s main appeal, Justice Akaahs said he had satisfied the provisions of Section 177 of the 1999 Constitution and Section 4 (1a and 1b) of the First Schedule of the Electoral Act, 2006 to prove that he was a candidate in the election.

In a unanimous decision delivered on March 13, the five-member panel tribunal held the appeal filed by Amosun was meritorious and ordered the tribunal to hear the petition on its merit.

Daniel’s interlocutory appeal, challenging the July 16, last year decision of the tribunal that allowed the amendment of Amosun’s petition was also dismissed.

Back at the tribunal, Amosun, fearing suspected bias of the judges in the case, called for a fresh tribunal to hear his petition, and since then, it has been a ding-dong affair regarding the matter.

Justices at the Osun State First Election Petitions Tribunal seemed to have manifested suspected signs that they might have been compromised by agents and lead counsel to Governor Olagunsoye Oyinlola, Mr. Kunle Kalejaiye, and a Senior Advocate of Nigeria (SAN).

The judges have been accused of allegedly “cosying up to the lawyer, speaking regularly with him on phone and, in fact, plotting with him to ensure victory for Oyinlola at the expense of the petitioner, Engr. Rauf Aregbesola, governorship candidate of the Action Congress, in the 18 April, 2007 election.”

According to an Abuja-based lawyer, Chief Godwin Obla, “if a counsel holds a talk outside the court without giving the other parties the opportunity to participate in the discussion, the judge is guilty of prejudicing court proceedings and it is very wrong and against natural justice, as the judgment may be skewed in favour of the party he had been discussing in secret with.”

It is against this background that judges are taught not to descend into the arena of conflict.” Obla cited two cases decided by the Supreme Court in 1988: Okoduwa vs the State and Uso vs the State,” to buttress his argument.
In the two judgments, the apex court held that” it is wrong and unlawful for a judge to descend into an arena of conflict. The Supreme Court also warned judges not to be loquacious, so that they do not prejudice proceedings.”
Also recently, the embattled former governor of Kebbi State and current Senator Alhaji Adamu Aliero, has been drawn into an alleged N650 million bribery controversy involving Governor Ikedi Ohakim and the Imo State Election Petition Tribunal, for its favorable judgment on his behalf, earlier this year.

Aliero, who is currently facing prosecution by the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC) for the diversion of N10.2 billion while he was Kebbi State Chief Executive, is being suspected to have allegedly acted ”as the conduit through which the bribe money was wired.”

A document in circulation, from African Watchdog United Kingdom, an internet-based media outfit, said Aliero was Allegedly chosen for the job ” because of his suspected link to the tribunal Chairman, Hon. Justice Ibrahim Mairiga.

The Organization in the document, a copy of which was made available to the National Daily, alleged that “the total money paid to the members of the Imo State Electoral Tribunal, was N650m”.

It also alleged that “the man who negotiated this amount on behalf of members of the tribunal was Senator Adamu Aliero, the former governor of Kebbi State and a relation of the Tribunal Chairman, Justice Ibrahim Mairaga.”
The unconfirmed report further alleged that “Senator Aliero visited Imo State several times during the tribunal proceedings.”

Because of the role he allegedly played during the hearing, Ohakim was accused of suspiciously compensating Aliero through his company.

Already, one of those who have condemned the Justice Mairiga-led election tribunal in Imo state is the Governorship candidate of Action Congress (AC), Hon. Uche Onyeaguchia.

Onyeagucha who was a member of the House of Representatives between 2003 and 2007, told National Daily in Abuja last Thursday that the Mairiga-led tribunal was in the state ”to do a hatchet job for Ohakim.”

“What you call election petition or Appeal Court tribunal is nothing but operatives in the name of a tribunal. It was a hatchet team, led by Mairiga, at the lower tribunal whose antecedents are well known,” Onyeagucha said.
He made further allegations against the tribunal chairman, saying, “I know Mairiga. He was in the Federal High Court, then sitting in Lagos. It is this same hatchet job that he also did at that time, in the Failed Bank Tribunal, under Abacha.” He did not elaborate.

Asked to confirm if money must have played a role in deciding who got what at the lower tribunal, Onyeagucha said: “I have referred to both the lower tribunal and Appeal Court as a hatchet team, a Kangaroo arrangement. And a hatchet team will never do anything for free.

“Many people have bandied figures. It could be N650 million. It could even be much more than that. But I know that agents of the administration were openly bragging that if we didn’t accept to withdraw the case from the tribunal and settle out of court, that all the offers they were making, they might as well pass it onto the tribunal members,” he alleged.

Efforts made by National Daily to get Aliero’s reaction to the allegations did not yield fruitful results.
When our reporters visited his office at the National Assembly Complex, in Abuja, the senator was said to have ”gone out of town.”

His Personal Assistant (PA) who gave his name simply as ”Bash,” promised to get his boss to react. Two days later, when we called him, Bash said Aliero had” traveled out of the country.”

The alleged Imo case definitely speaks volumes of how much the desperate candidates may have dished out in obstruction of electoral justice. It raises a crucial question about the bill of health of the nation’s fledgling democracy and the battle against corruption if power is allowed to be so hijacked.

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One Response to “Bribery scandal rocks election tribunals”

  1. […] through corrupt means. And if anyone is in doubt I would recommend such to go read this report by Bribery scandal rocks election tribunals | NigerianMuse. These bribery scandals have not been well documented but they’re legion. But here are two that […]

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