Ondo: PDP Crisis Deepens As Court Panel Withdraws
Ondo: PDP Crisis Deepens As Court Panel Withdraws
Justices return case file to Appeal Court President
Faction laments ‘judicial ambush’
The fate of factional Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) candidate in the Ondo State election Eyitayo Jegede was hanging in the balance yesterday.
A three-man panel set up by Court of Appeal President Justice Zainab Bulkachuwa to determine all appeals relating to the dispute over the governorship candidate of the PDP withdrew from the case.
The Justice Jumai Sankey-led panel announced its withdrawal mid-way into proceedings, citing a petition written against it by the factional chairman of the PDP in Ondo State, Prince Biyi Poroye.
Copies of the petition were sent to President Muhammadu Buhari, Attorney General of the Federation and Minister of Justice Abubakar Malami, Director General of the Department of State Services (DSS) Lawan Daura and National Security Adviser (NSA) Gen. Babagana Monguno.
Senior members of the two factions of the PDP were in court.
Some of those in court were Ali Modu Sheriff, Ahmed Makarfi, Cairo Ojougboh, Ben Obi, Abdul Ningi, Jimoh Ibrahim, Prince Adedayo Adeyeye, former Niger State Governor Muazu Babangida Aliyu, former Jigawa State Governor Sule Lamido, Senator Annie Okonkwo, former Sports Minister Damishi Sango and former Minister of Solid Minerals Odion Ugbesia.
Although they are from different camps of the party, they did not betray the enmity between them.
On arriving the courtroom, and noting that Makarfi, Obi, Adeyeye, Babangida and Lamido were seated in a corner within the courtroom, Sheriff went straight to them and greeted them loudly. He shook hands with and hugged each of them.
Ibrahim, the candidate of the Sheriff faction, who arrived the court earlier, also went to where Makarfi and others sat and shook hands with each of them.
He spoke with Lamido and Makarfi briefly. Lamido was overhead telling Ibrahim that they should all work for the survival of the party.
A mild drama ensued later when the first case for the day was called and Sheriff and Makarfi stood up to announce their presence in court.
Sheriff was first to stand up and announce himself as “National Chairman of the PDP”. When it was Makarfi’s turn, he announced himself as “Makarfi of the PDP”, a position his supporters objected to by shouting National Chairman.
Sensing that those with him, including Obi, Babangida, Lamido and Adeyeye were not comfortable, Makarfi stood up again and re-introduced himself as “Ahmed Makarfi, Chairman, Caretaker Committee of the PDP.”
On hearing how Makarfi later introduced himself, Sheriff, who sat on the other side of the courtroom, shook his head in approval, saying “yes, he is the Chairman of Caretaker, I am the National Chairman of the PDP”.
Shortly after, parties and lawyers in the case, who had expected the opening of proceedings, were surprised when Justice Sankey spoke of Poroye’s petition.
The appeal that was called was the one filed by former Attorney General of Ondo State and a PDP candidate, who was recently replaced by the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) with Ibrahim (following the October 14 order of the Federal High Court, Abuja.), Eyitayo Jegede.
Justice Sankey disclosed that a petition had been written against the panel, containing many allegations, including claim that members of the panel were induced to act in favour of the appellant.
“The petitioner is not only complaining about the speed with which the panel is going about the case, he also said that the setting up of the panel is unnecessary because the case did not require any urgency.
“The petitioner accused me of being very poor. He said because I was ill some years ago, I have become so poor that I am open to corruption. He is using my illness of about five years ago to say I am so poor that I am now open to corruption.
“I carry my poverty with pride. I will not steal anybody’s money,” Justice Sankey said.
Another member of the panel, Justice Emmanuel Agim, wondered why the petitioner failed to explore the legitimate process of asking a judge to withdraw from a case rather than resorting to casting aspersions on innocent judges via a petition containing unsubstantiated allegations.
“One of the allegations in the petition is that the reason we are doing this case is that we have been paid money,” Justice Agim said.
At a point, the Justices in the panel, including Justice Oluwayemisi Williams-Dawudu, asked the petitioner to step out in the open court.
Justice Williams-Dawudu said “if the petitioner was confident enough to raise allegations against them, he should be bold enough to come out in the open and defend his allegations”.
Poroye, it was learnt, left the court moment before the issue was raised.
When the panel sought the views of Wole Olanipekun (SAN), who represented Jegede, the lawyer said he was embarrassed by the petition. He condemned it and asked that the panel should proceed to hear the case in view of the fact that time was of the essence.
Olanipekun urged the Justices not to succumb to an attempt to intimidate them. He suggested that the petitioner should be handed over to security agents for interrogation and that the outcome of the investigation should be made public.
Lawyer to Pororye and eight other members of his executive in Ondo PDP, Alex Iziyon (SAN), distanced himself from the petition. He said he was not informed by one of his clients that a petition was being authored.
Iziyon said the Justices should not be bothered by the antics of politicians, who have chosen to turn the court into a football that they could play around as it pleases them.
He told the court that a similar petition was written “by the other party against the trial judge at the lower court. They cannot now complain because they are now at the receiving end.
When asked by Justice Agim if he would continue to risk his good name by continuing to represent Poroye, Iziyon said he would take a decision on whether or not to withdraw his representation after he must have had audience with Poroye.
After listening to lawyers in the case, the panel rose briefly, only to return about 30 minutes later to announce its withdrawal.
“Ordinarily, since no facts have been placed before this court formally, to show a likelihood of bias on the part of the panel, and since learned Senior Advocate for the petitioner and first respondent has disassociated himself from the petition, we would have been minded to continue with the hearing of these appeals.
“Even though this petition has fallen short of showing any likelihood of bias, nonetheless, we consider it more desirable to recuse ourselves at this stage in respect of all appeals and applications connected to the Ondo State governorship election.
“All the files in this regard are now sent back to the Honourable President of the Court of Appeal for re-assignment,” Justice Sankey said in a short ruling.
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