Fresh facts emerged at the weekend how a specially assembled panel of the Court of Appeal Justices was imposed on the Benin Division of the Federal Court of Appeal with a mandate to save Senator Ovie Omo Agege “at all costs”.
The panel was reportedly specially selected by the President of the Court of Appeal, Justice Zainab Bulkachuwa, in controversial circumstances.
On March 18, 2019, the Federal High Court sitting at Asaba Delta State and presided over by Justice Toyin Adegoke had delivered a landmark judgement that annulled the elections of Omo-Agege, Chief Great Ogboru and other candidates of the Prophet Jones Erue faction of All Progressives Congress in the crisis ridden Delta State chapter in the just concluded 2019 general elections.
The court went ahead to validate the candidates of the faction headed by Chief Cyril Ogodo, which produced Prof. Pat Utomi as the governorship candidate, Olorogun O’tega Emerhor as Delta Central Senatorial District candidate, and Chief Ima Niboro as House of Representatives Candidate for Ughelli North/South/Udu Federal Constituency, among others.
This judgement was a devastating blow to Omo-Agege who had been declared winner of the Delta Central Senatorial District seat and issued a Certificate of Return by the Independent National Electoral Commission.
This was even more so as Omo-Agege had set his eyes on the exalted position of Deputy Senate President in the 9th Senate.
Observers recall that Omo-Agege was deeply involved in the Mace snatching drama in the 8th Senate and the many attempts to oust former President of the Senate, Dr. Abubakar Bukola Saraki.
Indeed, a National Assembly investigative committee indicted him as being behind the Mace snatching saga.
However, Omo-Agege has continued to leverage on the Mace saga and his general anti-Saraki credentials as trump cards for career ascension in the Senate.
Our investigations revealed that Omo-Agege lays claims to Presidency’s support for a commitment to reward him with the Deputy Senate President’s position for the roles he played.
Sources close to him gleefully point to the fact that the Police never arrested or prosecuted him or anyone else for the Mace snatching saga even when the drama played out on live television.
One of them volunteered: “Does that not tell you he is specially favoured by the powers that be?”
Those in a position to know state that in the light of the forgoing, the Federal High Court, Asaba judgement that annulled his candidacy came as a thunderbolt to Omo-Agege’s plan to remain a senator and his ambition to vie for the Deputy Senate President’s position.
Initially, Omo-Agege dismissed the judgement rather off-handedly, claiming that since he was not a party to the suit, it had no effect on him.
However, as soon as it dawned on him that INEC was getting set to issue a Certificate of Return to Emerhor, he rushed to the Appeal Court in Benin to seek leave to be joined in the appeal filed by the APC as an interested party.
Ogboru also filed for joinder at the Appeal.
The Appeal Court in Benin on March 29, 2019 in a unanimous judgement by a resident panel headed by Justice Philomena Ekpe, with Justice Tunde Awotoye and Justice Adumein Moore as members, however, dismissed both applications to join, ruling that since APC filed the appeal, it adequately covered the interest of all candidates of the Erue faction, which included Omo-Agege and Ogboru.
The lead judgement that disallowed Omo-Agege’s joinder was read by Justice Moore.
It is believed that immediately Omo-Agege was refused the joinder, he allegedly resorted to underhand means to undermine the Appeal Court Justices in Benin.
Valentine Onojeghuo, the Delta State Legal Adviser of the Erue faction of the APC, wrote a petition against Justice Moore, accusing him of bias.
In the petition addressed to Justice Bulkachuwa, Onojeghuo specifically demanded that Justice Moore recuse himself from all matters concerning the appeal on the Federal High Court, Asaba judgement.
Not stopping at that, the Erue faction was also commissioned to fire a second petition against all the resident Benin Appeal Court Justices, again accusing them of compromise.
With the rash of petitions as his anchor, Omo-Agege went to work to ensure that the resident Benin Appeal Court Justices, who were already familiar with the Federal High Court, Asaba judgement, were dislodged from sitting over the appeal, convinced that they will not dance to his tune.
While some sources claim that Omo-Agege may have exploited his relationship with his colleague, Senator Adamu Bulkachuwa, who is the husband of Justice Bulkachuwa, to push for all eight Justices of the Appeal Court in Benin be excluded from hearing the appeal in a bid to procure a judgement favourable to him, others suggest that it was the combined office of the Chief of Staff to the President and the Attorney General of the Federation, who allegedly prevailed on Justice Bulkachuwa to save Omo-Agege as payback for previous services rendered.
Whichever was the case, Omo-Agege succeeded in ensuring that the resident Benin Appeal Court Justices were indeed forced out of the appeal on the pending suit.
This is in spite of the fact that on April 16, 2019, the resident Benin Appeal Court panel had sat and commenced the appeal, after which they adjourned to May 7, 2019 for final hearing and adoption of briefs by counsel.
However, on the said day of hearing, a brand new Special Panel of Justices was constituted by Justice Bulkachuwa to hear the suit.
Justice Jimi Bada from Ibadan Appeal Court Division as lead, Justice Mohammed Shaibu of Sokoto Division and Justice Chidi Uwa of Yola Division as members.
The three judges arrived the Benin Appeal Court premises in a commando style and took over the sitting from the resident Justices who were unaware a special panel had been specifically constituted just for the APC case.
Sources in the Benin Appeal Court who pleaded anonymity said the resident Justices were shocked at the bravado of setting up a special panel for a normal intra party pre-election matter, which is not a tribunal.
They claim this has no precedence in the history of pre-election matters, and smirked of a panel sent on a mission to secure a predetermined outcome of the case in question.
Sources close to the counsel of the Cyril Ogodo/Emerhor faction claimed they were equally shocked and taken aback by the sudden constitution of a special panel for a normal pre-election case.
They alleged that for all similar cases from Zamfara to Rivers, Cross Rivers and Imo States, no such situation was seen.
They claimed that the lead lawyer to Chief Ogodo, Chief James Oghenejakpor, prevaricated between protesting the constitution of the special panel or not but at the end, decided to appear in spite of the clear danger of apparent bias.
The special panel delivered their judgement on May 17 in favour of the Erue/Omo-Agege faction and reinstated Omo-Agege and others as APC candidates in Delta State.
Inside sources at the Benin Division of the Court of Appeal stated that no one was surprised at the outcome.
The only surprise, they maintained, was the faulty technical basis that flavoured the “special judgement” by an obviously “special panel”.
Those in a position to know maintain the “judgement” was so openly perverse that it cannot stand the merest scrutiny of the Supreme Court.
A source close to the matter pointed out: “The learned Justices could not take a stand whether the case was a pre-election matter or an intra-party matter. Yet they ruled that the case was filed outside the 14 days required for a pre-election matter. They also ruled at the same time that it is a mere intra-party matter which NO COURT in Nigeria has jurisdiction to hear! They stayed away from the main issues adjudicated upon by the lower court and struck out the lower court judgement for lack of jurisdiction.
“They also refused to entertain the preliminary objection of the Ogodo counsel, declaring it abandoned even when they had earlier granted the Ogodo counsel leave to argue same in the respondents’ briefs of argument and indeed was so argued.”
Presidency sources were divided as to the claim that the CoS and or AGF had a hand in rescuing Omo-Agege.
One source maintained that the Presidency has since found out that Omo-Agege was actually playing a double game at the National Assembly and that he intentionally screwed up the operation to remove Saraki.
He maintained that the plan was never at any time to bring in thugs to steal the Mace because it was needed at any rate for the session of the Senate to continue if Saraki was to be successfully removed as planned.
He held that stealing the Mace was actually to terminate the plan as hatched.
Multiple sources insist that Omo-Agege has been on his own for a long time but merely drops the name of the Presidency for self promotion.
They are categorical that the Presidency is largely indifferent to the position of the Deputy President of the Senate since one of the other contenders, Senator Francis Alimikhena, from Edo North Senatorial District, is an acolyte of the National Chairman of the APC, Adams Oshiomhole, and is in a pole position for the job anyway.
Sources close to the Chief Ogodo faction, though lamenting what transpired at the Benin Appeal Court, stated that their faith in the judiciary remains strong “and that is why we are proceeding to the Supreme Court. We believe we have a strong case and the special panel Justices erred in law by striking out the FHC Asaba judgement for lack of jurisdiction. We believe the Supreme Court will restore justice.”
When contacted, sources close to Omo-Agege dismissed the position of the Ogodo faction as mere grandstanding.
One of them boasted: “Omo Agege is already a super Senator and we are convinced that the Appeal Court verdict will be upheld at the Supreme Court. The Presidency is on top of it and have gone ahead on the Supreme Court matter. Let Ogodo and Emerhor continue to delude themselves.”
. Freedom Online.