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Election Tribunal Judges on Trial in Plateau

Recent rulings by the Plateau State Election Petition Tribunals have sparked a hornet’s nest because the populace, which has disagreed with the majority of the rulings, claims grave political involvement. Writer Seriki Adinoyi

The majority of the residents of Plateau State have disapproved of recent rulings made by the National and State Houses of Assembly Elections Tribunals, which were presided over by Justices M.B. Tukur, Omaka Elewa, and O.A. Adetujoye. These rulings quashed the majority of the election results and granted victories to candidates who the locals had voted against.

The people are protesting to the Court of Appeal to assist them restore their freedom to choice, claiming that the judgements are an infringement on their democratic mandates and that the tribunals want to force leadership on them in opposition to their decisions. Additionally, they have jointly determined to oppose any additional judgements that would go against the common will of the populace, particularly with the governorship election judgement approaching soon.

First, the judgement that resulted in the resignation of AVM Napoleon Bali and the election of Simon Lalong, the state’s previous governor who was soundly defeated, as the winner of the Plateau South senatorial zone. The majority of the state’s residents felt that this man had let them down after eight years as governor, and therefore decided to vote him out of power.

The tribunals similarly dismissed members of the House of Representatives who represented the federal constituencies of Riyom/Barkin Ladi, Jos South/Jos East, and Langtang North/Langtang South, respectively: Hon. Peter Gyendeng, Hon. Dachung Musa Bagos, and Hon. Beni Lar.

The populace expressed concern at the removal of practically all of their election choices and the imposition of new leaders, describing the situation as alarming and intolerable.

A pro-democracy organisation in the state, Peoples Mandate Protection Vanguard (PMPV), denounced and denounced the judgement, calling it arbitrary, and warned that the move portends tremendous danger for democracy.

The group claimed corruption and political meddling during a press conference in Jos, urging the National Judicial Council (NJC) and other anti-graft organisations to act right now and remove the tribunal justices from the state.

Emma Zopmal, the group’s head, declared: “Some of them (judges) have already jeopardised their jobs. All individuals involved in selling judgements, including judges, solicitors, and political figures, must be held accountable for undermining the democratic process and the integrity of the judiciary.

“As a renowned pro-democracy group in Nigeria, we strongly condemn the apparent corruption found in recent rulings by the country’s election courts over the hotly contested National Assembly election in Plateau State that took place on February 25, 2023. The unfair verdicts, which are contaminated by serious levels of corruption, highlight a depressing loss for Nigeria’s openness, justice, and democracy.

The organisation noted that ensuring fair and unbiased adjudication in electoral disputes is one of the election petitions tribunals’ main duties. “Unfortunately, the rampant influence of corruption and vested interests has compromised this sacred duty to uphold the sanctity of the democratic process as clearly manifested by the way and manner the National Assembly Election Petition Tribunal sitting in Jos has gauged the duly elected members of the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP),” the statement reads.

Zopmal urged Nigerians, members of civil society, and international organisations to band together to fight corruption and demand justice for the populace, claiming that only by upholding the rule of law and ensuring free and fair elections can Nigeria’s democracy flourish.

The PDP is even more outraged by the judgements because all of the candidates who have been fired so far were elected on its platform, leading to the assumption that the judgements have a political undertone.

The tribunals’ justification for their decisions is that the PDP in Plateau State lacks the organisation and legitimacy to nominate candidates for the elections in 2023 because the congress from which the candidates were chosen was not properly conducted.

The Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) properly oversaw the party’s congresses, and the party has rejected the tribunal’s claim, noting that two prior judgements by other tribunal panels sitting in Jos had upheld the PDP’s victories in the Plateau North senatorial election and the Bassa/Jos North Federal Constituency House of Representatives because there were sufficient proofs, including court judgements that the party believed proper.

Mr. Chris Hassan, the PDP’s state chairman, spoke to the media about the issue and stated that there had been an initial allegation of some irregularities regarding the party’s congress, which resulted in a court order urging the party to repeat the procedure, which it duly did, through a repeat congress in September 2022, and was monitored by INEC as legally required. This congress was validated by the Federal High Court in Jos, as well as the Court of Appeal in Jos.

“This same congress was affirmed by the Federal High Court Jos in a judgement delivered by Justice D. V. Agishi in the case of one Augustine Timkuk vs PDP validating the state executive of the party as duly elected. This same judgement was also unanimously affirmed by the Court of Appeal Jos in favour of the PDP by TY Hassan, Justice I. A. Andenyangtso, and Justice O. O. Goodluck delivered on February 11, 2023. The PDP still possesses a reliable and legitimate structure through which our mandate was granted.

The party declared the tribunal decisions to be without merit because it has a legitimate and strong structure in the state where the people’s mandate was granted.

“We are here to tell you that the judgement of the tribunal is a judgement that we refuse to accept because it is bereft of substantial justice and a diversion of the undiluted will and choices of the Plateau people. We take great pains to tell you that the decision of the tribunal on this matter utterly falls far short of expectation.

It is important to highlight that, despite our unhappiness with the tribunals’ decision, we will always have faith in the legal system.

“As a result, we have instructed our solicitors to interpret the Plateau people’s mandate as their right to appeal to the Court of Appeal in order to reflect the preferences of the electorate. We must respect the democratically expressed choice of the people, who chose Senator Napoleon Bali, Hon. Peter Gyendeng, and other candidates. We will use every legal tool at our disposal as a law-abiding party to restore the PDP’s victory.

Hassan asked party members, supporters, and the people of the state to be calm, describing it as a brief setback.

However, experts have cautioned the party to exercise caution while maintaining faith in the governorship tribunal, which is made up of Justices R. Irele-ifineh, Sunday Olorundahunsi, and A.Y. Joh, to preserve the will of the people of the state as they prepare to deliver their judgment on the governorship election this week.

In order to confirm his victory as the legitimate governor of the state, Governor Caleb Mutfwang has already asked the Governorship victory plea Tribunal to reject as unfounded the plea brought up by Dr. Nentawe Yilwatda of the All Progressives Congress (APC). The principal attorney for Mutfwang, Pius Akubo (SAN), made this motion at the adoption of written addresses, claiming that the APC’s appeal lacked substance and wasn’t supported by enough evidence.

In a similar vein, the attorneys for INEC and the PDP have also pleaded with the tribunal to reject Nentawe’s appeal and uphold Mutfwang’s election as the legitimate governor.

The people of the Plateau have stated that while they are confident that the tribunals’ decisions regarding the federal lawmakers would be overturned because they are illogical, they will not consent to a situation in which their governor is troubled by having to appeal a mandate that they freely and overwhelmingly gave to him.

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