In what appears a novel decision, the Supreme Court Wednesday slammed a N60million fine on two leading lawyers – Chief Afe Babalola and Chief Wole Olanipekun – both Senior Advocates of Nigeria (SANs) for gross abuse of judicial process over its decision on the Bayelsa governorship election.
The two counsel are to individually pay the sum of N10 million to each of the three respondents as fine.
The beneficiary respondents are the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP), Governor Duoye Diri and his Deputy, Senator Lawrence Ewhujapkor.
Chief Babalola and Olanipekun represented both the All Progressives Congress (APC) and its candidate in the Bayelsa governorship poll, Mr. David Lyon.
While Olanipekun stood in for APC, Babalola represented Lyon.
Both the APC and its candidate had approached the Supreme Court to reverse itself on its decision to declare the PDP’s governorship candidate as the governor-elect.
The decision followed the irregularity in the names used by the APC running mate, Senator Biobarakuma Degi-Eremienyo.
Dissatisfied by the apex court’s decision, the APC and its candidate faulted the Supreme Court’s decision and asked that it should reverse itself and consequently pronounce Lyon as duly elected.
The APC in the reversal application filed by its team of lawyers, led by Chief Olanipekun with Prince Lateef Fagbemi, SAN, specifically wanted the Supreme Court to set aside the “wrong” interpretation given to its judgment of February 13, 2020 and the subsequent execution by the Independent National electoral Commission (INEC).
In his submissions, counsel to Lyon and his deputy, Chief Babalola said the Supreme Court had inherent decision and power to set aside its own decision.
He argued that the judgment which voided the election of Lyon and his deputy was a nullity on account of denial of fair hearing to them.
Babalola said: “The procedure adopted by the apex court on February 13 was wrong because there was no cause of action at the time it gave judgment against Lyon.”
This position was further corroborated by counsel to the APC, Chief Olanipekun, who said the decision of the court regarding of Lyon’s sack could be reversed.
Countering his argument, however, counsel to the PDP, Mr. Tayo Oyetibo, SAN, argued that the applications by APC and its candidates were dangerous invitation to the Supreme Court to violate section 285 of the 1999 Constitution, for the court to sit on appeal over its own matter.
Arguing further, Oyetibo held that having delivered final judgment on merit, the court lacked jurisdiction to sit on appeal in the judgment, saying it’s scandalous to ask the apex court to review the judgment.
The counsel insisted that the apex court was right in disqualifying Lyon as the governor-elect because section 187 of the 1999 Constitution was clear and unambiguous to the effect that a governorship candidate who has no deputy candidate is not qualified to contest any governorship election in Nigeria.
“When Supreme Court gives judgment, it is deemed correct. It has never happened in the history of the Supreme Court to reverse itself, its judgment is final and finality, and whatever Supreme Court says in the interpretation of the law is the law,” he said.
Oyetibo’s submissions were subsequently adopted by other respondents in the matter.
In its judgment, the seven-man panel headed by Justice Sylvester Ngwuta swiftly dismissed the reversal application by the appellants.
In a unanimous decision, the apex court described the application as frivolous, vexatious and gross abuse of the court process, saying there must be an end to litigation.
The apex court held further that the suit filed on behalf of the APC, its sacked governor-elect and deputy governor-elect lacked merit and accordingly dismissed same.
Delivering the seven-minute lead judgment, a visibly angry Justice Amina Augie lambasted and descended heavily on counsel to the applicants -Babalola and Olanipekun- for filing the motions, saying it amounted to desecration of the temple of justice.
She said: “With tears in my eyes, I feel sad that senior counsel in this case would ever bring this kind of frivolous and vexatious applications during my life time.”
She held that by Order 8, Rule 16 of the Supreme Court, the court has no powers or authority to review any judgment delivered on merit safe for clerical errors.
“This court is not authorised and indeed lacked jurisdiction to review any judgment delivered on merit.
” More so, when the applicants have not pointed out any accidental error or slip in the judgment, there must be an end to every litigation.
“This is final court and its decisions are final for all ages so as to ensure certainty in law,” she held.
“The two applications brought before us today lacked merit and constituted abuse of this court and they are liable to dismissal and are hereby dismissed,” it ruled.
Fielding questions from newsmen after the verdict, counsel to Governor Diri, Chief Chris Uche, SAN and Ustaz Usman, SAN both hailed the decision of the apex court.
According to Usman, the decision of the apex court would prevent politicians from destroying the country, saying Nigeria did not belong to them alone.
He said: “With this judgment, politicians would no longer take the court for granted. I also believe that they will cease from destroying the polity and the country in general.”
Also speaking, Chief Uche said the judgment had brought “finality to unscrupulous applications.”
According to him, “if the case had not been properly managed, it could have opened floodgates to endless applications with no end to litigations.
“The court has heard this matter on its merit and it has come to its end because this is the kind of judgment that will stabilise the polity and sustain the democracy that we are nurturing.
“Each counsel is going to pay N30 million to the respondents for bringing this type of applications before the apex court.”
In his own comment, counsel to PDP, Mr. Oyetibo said it is not unnatural reaching this stage.
According to him, it would have been scandalous for the application to be reversed or reviewed two weeks after judgment was given.
“No final court in the world does that and Nigeria cannot be an exception. It is an invitation to violation of the country’s constitution,” Oyetibo added.
Ex-Governor Dickson hails judgment
Reacting to the apex court’s decision, former Governor of Bayelsa state, Mr. Seriake Dickson described it as a wonderful day.
According to Dickson, the apex court had prevented Bayelsa from being ruled in proxy.
“I and crop of party loyalists in Bayelsa are vindicated by insisting that Bayelsa belongs to the PDP.
“I thank their Lordships who re-affirmed Diri, who the people wanted as their governor,” Dickson said.
In its reaction, the PDP hailed the verdict and called on the apex court to review and reverse its earlier judgment that sacked its candidate, Hon. Emeka Ihedioha in Imo state.
In a statement Wednesday by its national publicity secretary, Mr. Kola Ologbondiyan, the party said various election matters before the Supreme Court were brought on clearly distinctive grounds and each should be treated on its merit before the law.
“The All Progressives Congress (APC) is currently mounting pressure on the Supreme Court to restrain itself from reversing the flawed judgment on the Imo State Governorship election despite obvious mistakes in that judgment, which is now threatening the stability of our nation,” it said.
While hailing the verdict on Bayelsa, Ologbondiyan said: “The PDP explained that its demand on Imo is not in any way in contestation of the authority and finality of the Supreme Court but a patriotic effort to assist the Supreme Court affirm its infallibility by correcting the inherent mistakes in the judgment which came as a result of misleading presentation to it by the APC.
“The party said the only reason APC was pushing for a review of the Supreme Court’s valid and flawless judgment on the Bayelsa and Zamfara governorship elections was to cause confusion and blackmail the Supreme Court from treating the Imo case on merit.
“The PDP maintained that the grounds for the reversal of Imo judgment are unambiguously constitutional and completely distinct from APC’s attempt to blackmail the Supreme Court with their demands on the Bayelsa and Zamfara states governorship election.
“The party therefore urged the Supreme Court not to succumb to the threats and blackmail by APC to push it restrain itself from looking at the merit of the Imo case; correcting the mistakes and reversing the flawed judgment”.
APC keeps mum
However, the ruling APC refused to make comment over the judgment, as its national chairman, Comrade Adams Oshiomhole, earlier billed to address a press conference on the issue suddenly called it off.
No reason was offered for the sudden change of mind.
The APC press corps had received SMS message inviting members to a press conference at about 5pm Wednesday at the national secretariat of the party.
But after waiting for more than two and half hours, an official of the party who pleaded anonymity hinted that the party might issue a statement on the issue later.
As at the time of filling this report, no statement was issued even as spokespersons for the party refused to comment.
In their separate reactions, some Civil Society Organisations (CSOs) cautioned politicians against making a mockery of the nation’s apex court.
Speaking to one of our correspondents on the telephone Wednesday, Executive Director Civil Society Advocacy Centre( CISLAC) Auwal Ibrahim Musa (Rafsanjani) said the call for the court to reverse itself showed the way and manner politicians tried to politicise the nation’s judicial process.
He said the Supreme Court’s integrity was being tested as a body that could be used for parties’ personal gains, saying the party that went for review did so without fulfilling electoral requirements.
“Desperate politicians will always make desperate efforts rather than accepting and respecting the rule of the people and democracy. However, politicians who do not want to play by the rules will always be victims of the Supreme Court.
“This ruling clearly points out the lapses in the internal democracy of political parties in Nigeria and there is the need to ensure reforms in the political party system for democracy to thrive in Nigeria,” the CISLAC boss further said.
Also speaking to Blueprint, Convener Take Back Nigeria Movement and Co-convener Say No Campaign, Mr Jaye Gaskia, lauded the Supreme Court’s decision to reverse its decision.
“But we may have to wait till the March 2nd date for the Imo and Zamfara applications for review to be able to draw a definitive conclusion that seeking review of a supreme court decision is an exercise in futility.
“On the other hand, we need to clear up the political landscape such that we can prevent the unscrupulous political class from undermining the integrity of the Supreme Court.
“I will propose that only a legal challenge to the presidential election should be allowed to get to the Supreme Court. For all other categories of elections with legal challenges emanating from the elections petition tribunals, the final court should be the Court of Appeal.
“Secondly, once elections have been held, with parties fielding candidates, every other case relating to that election that is not arising from the conduct of that election itself, and that is therefore not a subject of an elections petition, should automatically be discontinued by the courts. This will be a modified application of the rule on time.”
In a similar response, Executive Director Foundation for Peace Professionals Abdulrazak Hamzat said: “As you already know, Supreme Court is last destination of any legal dispute and as soon as the Supreme Court gave its verdict, that is the final.
“By law, no court can reject an application brought before it. This is why the Supreme Court had to accept to review its judgment on any matter. However, it is unlikely that the verdict of the Supreme Court would change after any review and that is what we have seen in the Bayelsa election.
“The Supreme Court judgment is final and even if the judgment is reviewed, as the case of Bayelsa, its outcome is not likely to change.
“Although, it is an exercise in futility and a waste of court process, but the court is still under obligations to listen.”No tags for this post.