The President of the Court of Appeal, Justice Zainab Bulkachuwa, has constituted a fresh panel to hear the appeals emanating from the disputes on the governorship ticket of the Peoples Democratic Party for the November 26 governorship election in Ondo State.
The new three-man panel is led by Justice Ibrahim Saulawa of the Calabar Division of the Appeal Court.
The two other members are Justices Ignatius Agube and Ita Mbaba, both from the Owerri Division of the appellate court.The PUNCH confirmed on Wednesday that three of the five pending cases had been assigned to the new panel.
The fresh panel was constituted to take over the cases following the Tuesday’s decision of the Justice Jummai Sankey-led panel, disqualifying itself from further presiding over the cases.
The panel gave as its reason for withdrawing from the cases a petition filed by a respondent in some of the cases, Mr. Biyi Poroye, accusing the panel members and Justice Bulkachuwa of having been bribed to rule in favour of Eyitayo Jegede.
Jegede and the other appellants are challenging the orders of Justice Okon Abang of the Federal High Court, compelling the Independent National Electoral Commission to drop him as the candidate of the PDP in the forthcoming governorship election in Ondo State and to replace him with Jimoh Ibrahim of another faction of the PDP.
As of the time of filing this report on Wednesday, it was not yet clear whether another panel would be constituted to hear the rest of the two cases or the two cases would later be assigned to the new Justice Saulawa-led panel.
The cases already assigned to the new panel are CA/A/402//2016 filed by the PDP against Benson Akingboye and two others; CA/A/551/m/2016 filed by Ahmed Makarfi and Ben Obi against Biyi Poroye and 10 others; and CA/A/551A/m/2016 filed by Clement Faboyede and another against 10 others.
In addition to the Ondo State cases, the President of the Court of Appeal also directed the new panel to hear a case, with number CA/A/EPT/567/2015, filed by Diri Kelly Adonye and INEC and two others.
The two pending appeals yet to be assigned to any panel are CA/A/551C/2016, filed by Eyitayo Jegede against Prince Biyi Poroye and 10 others; and CA/A551B/2016 filed by the PDP against Biyi Poroye and nine others.
A letter, signed by Justice Bulkachuwa, addressed to Justice Saulawa and the two other members of the new panel, was sighted by one of our correspondents on Wednesday.
The letter directed the new panel members to work out the dates of hearing in the cases assigned to them with the Presiding Justice of the Abuja Division of the Court of Appeal.
The letter read in part, “You are hereby empanelled to sit and determine the above appeals in Abuja Division expeditiously.
“Hon. Justice I. M. M. Saulawa will be presiding in the panel.
“Fixation of dates to be worked out with the Presiding Justice, Abuja Division.”
The Justice Jummai Sankey-led panel on Tuesday returned the files of all the five pending cases to the President of the Court of Appeal, citing a petition by Poroye, the Chairman of the Ali Modu Sheriff-led faction of the PDP in Ondo State, accusing members of the panel of being compromised.
The two other members of the panel were Justices Emmanuel Agim and Oluwayemisi William-Dawodu.
Justice Sankey, in a short ruling, after hearing lawyers appearing in the cases on Tuesday, said although there was no evidence backing the allegations levelled by the petitioner against her and other members of the panel as well as the President of the Court of Appeal, she and her colleagues found it more desirable to withdraw from the cases.
She ruled, “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 asked if any of the lawyers was aware of the petition.
Poroye’s lawyer, Dr. Alex Izinyon (SAN), denied knowledge of the petition, so also did all other lawyers, including Chief Wole Olanipekun (SAN), representing Jegede; and INEC’s lawyer, Mr. Nelson Anih.
Meanwhile, the Ahmed Makarfi’s faction of the PDP in Ondo State expressed confidence in the new panel of the Court of Appeal to hear the appeals filed by the faction.
Speaking with one of our correspondents in Akure, the Ondo State capital, on Wednesday, the Publicity Secretary of the party, Mr. Banji Okunomo, insisted that Jegede was the authentic candidate of the party for the November 26 governorship election.
Okunomo believed that the faction would get justice at the appellate court, alleging that there was an injustice in the judgment of Justice Abang of the Abuja Federal High Court delivered on October 14, 2016.
He said, “We believe in law; we are protected by law. The law is on our side to produce the candidate of our party, because the only lawful PDP primary was held in Ondo State and was monitored by INEC, security agencies and other stakeholders on August 22, 2016.
“We believe that the judgment of Justice Abang will not stand in the face of the law. Our action is on law and we believe we are going to get justice at the appellate court.”