ABUJA- A three-man panel of Justices of the Court of Appeal in Abuja, Tuesday, withdrew from all cases relating to the Ondo governorship election, following allegation that they have been compromised.
The Justice Hannatu Sankey-led panel based their decision on a petition that was written against them by Chairman of the Peoples Democratic Party, PDP, in Ondo State, Prince Biyi Poroye.
Poroye had in the said petition which he forwarded to the President of the Court of Appeal, Justice Zainab Bulkachuwa, alleged that the panel collected huge sums of money from the Ahmed Markarfi-led faction of the PDP.
He said the bribe was paid for the appellate court panel to vacate the judgement of Justice Okon Abang of the Federal High Court, Abuja, which ordered the Independent National Electoral Commission, INEC, to recognise Mr. Jimoh Ibrahim as flag-bearer of the PDP for the November 26 governorship poll in Ondo state.
INEC had on the strength of the High Court verdict, substituted Mr. Eyitayo Jegede, SAN, who it initially recognised as PDP candidate for the election, with Mr. Ibrahim.
Whereas Jegede emerged from primary election that was sanctioned by the Makarfi-led faction of the PDP, Ibrahim on the other hand, secured his ticket from the Ali Modu-Sheriff- led group.
Meanwhile, at the resumed sitting on a joint motion filed by Makarfi and Senator Ben Obi, head of the appellate court panel, Justice Sankey, drew attention of counsel to all the parties to petition she said was served on them on Monday.
Justice Sankey noted that the petitioner alleged that it was owing to the bribe that the panel okayed speedy hearing of the appeal before it.
She said that Poroye, who is the 1st Respondent before the court, in a verifying affidavit he deposed in support of the petition, equally queried the rational behind the constitution of a special panel to hear appeal on a pre-election matter.
More so, Justice Sankey said it was “highly regrettable” that the Ondo PDP Chairman alleged that she became very poor having spent so much to treat herself from a sickness that befell her five years back.
“He specifically alleged my current state of poverty has opened me to corrupt influence”, the Judge stated.
Another member of the panel, Justice E. Agim, described Poroye’s action as “an act that is criminal and most embarrassing to the sanctity of the judiciary”.
He said the petition was aimed at obstructing the course of justice using “dubious allegations”.
Counsel to all the parties said they were not aware of the petition, even as they took turns to condemn Poroye’s action.
Counsel to the appellants, Chief Wole Olanipekun, SAN, urged the court to hand the petitioner over to security agencies for him to substantiate his allegations.
On his part, Poroye’s lawyer, Dr. Alex Iziyon, SAN, described the petition as “very embarrassing”.
“My lords I am speechless here. I have no knowledge of the petition. At least he should have taken me along. I owe a duty to this court first and foremost. I do not support the petition, it is very embarrassing to me”, Iziyon added.
After the Justices stood down the matter for ten minutes and had a meeting in their chamber, they came out and announced their withdrawal from not only the instant appeal, but also in four other sister cases.
“Ordinarily, since no fact was placed before this court to show likelihood of bias and since then then the respondents has dissociated himself from the petition, we would have been minded to continue with this matter.
“Though there several legal authorities that will support this panel to continue, one of which is that a judge does not upon such mere allegations throw in the towel and abandon a case.
“However, we consider it more desirable to recuse ourselves at this stage. All the files are now sent back to the President of the Court of Appeal for re-assignment”, Justice Sankey held.
Before the decision was announced, the panel sought for Poroye who was in the court earlier but quickly left immediately the issue of his petition was raised.