The petitions challenging the 2023 presidential election will be determined by the Presidential Election Petition Tribunal, PEPT, Court sitting at the Court of Appeal in Abuja.
The PEPT which is the court of first instance and has jurisdiction in presidential-election-related petitions will be manned by selected Court of Appeal judges.
Recall that the Chief Justice of Nigeria (CJN), Justice Olukayode Lateef Ariwoola had late last year inaugurated two hundred and seventy-seven election petitions tribunal judges to preside over matters relating to 2023 governorship, national and state assembly elections.
The presidential election petition tribunal judges are yet to be officially declared.
So far, there are five petitions against the presidential election which are from Peter Obi and the Labour party, Atiku Abubakar and Peoples Democratic Party, Action Alliance (AA) and its presidential candidate Mr Solomon Okangbuan Allied People’s Movement (APM) and its presidential candidate, Princess Chichi Ojei and Actions Peoples Party.
This medium exclusively gathered from an official familiar with developments within the Court of Appeal and the National Judicial Council (of which the Court of Appeal president is a member), that the panel of judges that had already begun sitting on motions-exparte earlier filed by respective petitioners is most likely to be retained to continue presiding over the case when pre-hearing and full hearing sessions begin at the PEPT.
The panel of judges from the Court of Appeal who had presided over motions involving the 2023 presidential election and may be in the 2023 Presidential Election Petition Tribunal, PEPT panel are below:
JUSTICE HARUNA SIMON TSAMMANI
Tsammani (64) from Bauchi state was appointed to the Court of Appeal on 16th July 2010. He served as the Chairman of the three-man panel that granted Obi and Atiku’s motions to serve Tinubu their petitions by substituted means. He graduated from the Nigerian Law School, Lagos in 1983 and started out as High Court judge, in Bauchi state on 17th September 1998.
Tsammani has presided over various election and financial matters as a judge.
One of those cases is a petition filed by the former Governor of Oyo State, Abiola Ajimobi, challenging the judgment of the 2019 Election Petition Tribunal which had on November 19 same year upheld PDP’s Kola Balogun as the winner of the senatorial election for Oyo South held on February that year.
Balogun was said to have polled a total of 105,720 votes to defeat Ajimobi who garnered 92,218 votes but the latter disagreed and approached the Court of Appeal in Ibadan for redress.
Ajimobi based his petition on the allegation that his PDP counterpact was not qualified to represent his party at the election.
But Justice Haruna Tsammani who prepared the lead judgment dismissed Ajimobi’s petition for lacking in merit, holding that a person who was not part of a political party has no right to challenge the outcome of its primary election.
JUSTICE STEPHEN JONAH ADAH
Adah (66) served as a member of the three-man panel that granted Obi and Atiku’s motions to serve Tinubu their petitions by substituted means. He is from De-Kina LGA of Kogi State. He passed out from the Nigerian Law School in 1982 and became a Federal High Court judge on November 12, 1998 prior to his promotion to the Court of Appeal on November 5, 2012.
Adah has passed verdicts on several cases and one of his landmark decision was in the appeal filed by the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission in 2020 against a trial court’s decision which partially upheld the no-case submission filed by former President Goodluck Jonathan’s cousin, Robert Azibaola.
The antigraft agency had instituted $40 million money laundering charges against him.
But Adah dismissed the appeal saying EFCC could not prove the allegation beyond reasonable doubt.
“The trial court was in order to discharge and acquit Azibaola and his company in counts 1,4,5,6,7,8 and 9 because offences of money laundering were not sufficiently proved, nor did the prosecution establish any prima facie case against the respondents.
“We have gone through the records and found that the appeal is lacking in merit, the appeal is hereby dismissed and the Judgment of the lower court upheld”, Mr Adah said.
JUSTICE ABBA BELLO MOHAMMED
Mohammed (62) from Kano State was part of the three-man panel that granted Obi and Atiku’s motions to serve Tinubu their petitions by substituted means.
He finished the Nigerian Law School in 1985 and was appointed as a judge of the High Court of the FCT in 2010. After serving for about 10 years, he was promoted to the Court of Appeal on the 28th of June 2021.
Justice Mohammed presided over the Nasarawa State Governorship Election Tribunal in 2019.
The PDP governorship candidate in the 2019 general election, Hon. David Emmanuel Ombugadu had sued INEC and Governor Abdulahi Sule of the All Progressive Congress (APC).
But Justice Mohammed dismissed the petition for lacking in merit, holding that the petitioner’s allegation of over-voting and electoral violence could not be substantiated.
JUSTICE JOSEPH IKYEGH
Justice Joseph Shagbaor Ikyegh(65) who hails from Benue State, led the PEPT panel that ordered the Independent National Electoral Commission to allow Atiku and Obi to inspect the electoral materials used during the presidential election.
He graduated from the Nigerian Law School, Lagos in 1980 and became a Judge of the High Court, Benue State on March 27, 1991 before his appointment as a Court of Appeal Justice on July 16th, 2010. Interestingly, Ikyegh was part of the 5-man panel that presided over the presidential election petitions in 2019 between Atiku and President Muhammadu Buhari.
The panel dismissed the Atiku’s case.
JUSTICE MONICA BOLNA’AN DONGBAN-MENSEM
The Court of Appeal president, Dongban-Mensem(66) finished at the Nigerian Law School, Lagos State in 1980. She was appointed judge of the FCT High Court in 1993 and ten years later, got into the Court of Appeal (25th June 2003).
She is an authority in Criminal and Civil Procedure Law, Legislative Drafting, Constitutional and Administrative Law among others.
One of the high-profile cases she presided over was that of the former chairman of the federal House of Representatives ad-hoc committee on fuel subsidy, Farouk Lawan.
Lawan was sentenced to seven years imprisonment on June 2021, by the FCT HIgh Court having found him guilty of bribery in 2012 following a three-count charge filed against him by the Independent Corrupt Practices Commission (ICPC).
But he appealed to the Court of Appeal.
In its verdict in 2022, a three-member panel led by Appeal Court President, Monica Dongban-Mensem, said the ICPC did not prove its allegations in counts 1 and 2 which bordered on how Lawan allegedly demanded $3 million from business mogul Femi Otedola to remove his company from the list of defaulters in the fuel subsidy scam.
She added that the trial court’s decision on the two counts cannot stand.
By the judgment, Lawan’s jail term was reduced from seven to five years.
Aside from Justice Ikyegh, the 5-man panel of Justices that presided over the 2019 Presidential election petitions have all left the Court of Appeal except Justice Peter Ige who would be retiring on July 12, 2023, having attained retirement age of 70.
Since the Tribunal has 180 days from the conclusion of the election to constitutionally conclude election-related petitions, it is not certain that Ige would be in the 2023 panel.
Drawing from the previous pattern or tradition of the Court of Appeal where its former President, Justice Zainab Bulkachuwa earlier led the 2019 PEPT panel, it is most likely that the current president, Justice Monica Dongban-Mensem may agree to lead the 2023 PEPT Tribunal.
Although Bulkachuwa had to recuse herself from the 2019 PEPT following a petition by the PDP that alleged she would not give justice in the case because her husband was a senator-elect under the APC.
As disclosed on the Court of Appeal website, there are currently 77 Justices of the appellate court.
The most senior judges after Dongban-Mensem are: Justices Raphael Chikwe Agbo(2), Jimi Olukayode Bada(3), Oyebisi Folayemi Omoleye (4), Ahmad Olanrewaju Belgore(5), Jummai Hannatu C. Sankey (6), Ali Abubakar Babandi Gumel (7), Uzoamaka Ifeyinwa Ndukwe-Anyanwu (8), Chidiebere Nwaoma Uwa (9),Chioma E. Nwosu-Iheme (10), Theresa Ngolika Orji-Abadua (11), Joseph Shagbaor Ikyegh(12) and Haruna Simon Tsammani (13).
Since the five-man panel of the 2019 PEPT were seniors in the appellate court at the time (most of whom have retired after proceeding to the Supreme Court), it is likely that selection into the 2023 presidential panel will follow suit.