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Nigeria election petition tribunal: Judge steps aside

By Babatope Babalobi with reports from Ojo Peters

The Presiding judge in the Appeal filed by the Ogun State Governor, Otunba Gbenga Daniel challenging the decision of the President of the Court of Appeal to set up a new Election Petition Tribunal to hear the petition filed against him by Senator Ibikunle Amosun, has stepped aside from the case.

Disqualifying himself from hearing the case before the Court of Appeal sitting in Ibadan, today, Justice Istifanus Thomas said it would not be proper for him to adjudicate in the case, having being part of the panel (set up by the President of the Court of Appeal) that gave Amosun the right to go back to the tribunal to pursue his case against the Governor: ”I justice I. Thomas is not going to be a member of the panel to decide this matter”

Background to the story

Senator Amosun, the All Nigeria’s Peoples Party (ANPP) governorship candidate in the 2007 had filed a petition in the Ogun State Election Tribunal against Governor Gbenga Daniel that Daniel’s election in 2007 under the platform of the Peoples Democratic Party (AC) was fraught with irregularities and non-compliance with laid-down electoral procedures.

But before judgement could be delivered in the case, Amosun protested to the President, Court of Appeal that justice would not be effectively delivered by the election petition members because they were allegedly living in the government quarters during the hearing of thepetition.

The President of the Court of Appeal, granted this request and reconstituted another panel to hear the case.

However, this did not go down well with Governor Daniel who went to the Federal High Court in Abeokuta for redress, but the court declined jurisdiction to hear the matter and referred it to the Court of Appeal, Ibadan Division.

When the case last came up for hearing on Thursday, February 5, 2009, the Presiding Judge
Justice Istifanus Thomas, after listening to the argument of both Tayo Oyetibo and
Adeniyi Akintola, counsel to both Daniel and Amosun respectively, had fixed ruling on the
matter for March 5th, 2009.

But, at an emergency sitting of the court on February 12, a new Presiding Justice of the Court of Appeal, Ibadan, Honourable Justice, Musa Datitto Muhammad, explained that the case had to be re-heard because Justice Thomas, is one of the members of the panel set up by the President of the Court of Appeal, which acceded to Amosun’s request that a fresh electoral tribunal should be constituted to hear his petition.

Honourable Justice, Musa Datitto Muhammad said the same Justice Thomas was the Presiding justice on the brief of argument that was argued in the Court of Appeal, Ibadan Division on February 5, 2009

“We are wondering if having served on that panel, he can be on the panel that will give any judgment on the constitutional matter”

When the hearing resumed in the case today, Justice Thomas withdrew from the case, and a new team of Justices that excludes Justice Thomas is subsequently expected to hear this case.