The All Progressives Congress (APC) has written a petition against three judges of the Supreme Court, accusing them of holding secret meetings with officials of the rival Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) regarding the Imo North senatorial election disputes.

Angry about the development, a panel of the Supreme Court led by Dattijo Muhammad, one of the judges accused by the party, adjourned a suit filed in respect of the election dispute indefinitely on Tuesday.

There has been an orgy of court actions concerning the Imo North senatorial bye-election held on December 5, 2020 after the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) declared APC the winner of the poll but refused to announce the winning candidate due to conflicting court orders on the party’s candidacy for the poll.

The two leading aspirants on the platform of the party, Ifeanyi Ararume and Chukwuemeka Ibezim, have been locked in legal battles over who is entitled to take benefit of the party’s victory.

Rather than helping to resolve the matter, the various courts approached by the rival politicians have been issuing conflicting orders further rendering the dispute intractable.

Tuesday’s hearing

Mr Ibezim’s appeal challenging his disqualification by the Court of Appeal in Abuja was to be heard by the Supreme Court on Tuesday, when Mr Muhammad announced an indefinite postponement of the hearing as a result of the APC’s petition.

The petition by the APC said to have been signed by its acting national chairperson and Governor of Yobe State, Mai Mala Buni, was said to have accused Mr Muhammad and two of his other colleagues, Helen Ogunwumiju and Abdu Aboki, of holding secret meetings with PDP officials to subvert justice in the case.

Mr Muhammad said the APC had by its petition called his integrity and that of his colleagues to question.

Confirming the petition at the proceedings, Mr Muhammad who led a five-man panel of the court on Tuesday, said “the Interim National Chairman of the All Progressive Congress (APC) has written a petition against me and two other Justices of this court, namely, Helen Ogunwumiju and Abdu Aboki accusing us of having a meeting with members of the People’s Democratic Party (PDP) to subvert justice in the case.”

He said it was stated in the petition that he led the two other colleagues “to attend a meeting with members of the PDP to strategise on how to subvert the outcome of this case.”

Allegation denied

Mr Muhammad described the allegation as unfortunate.

He also said the statement credited to the APC acting chairperson as “irresponsible and reckless.”

“I must say that this is most unfortunate and my heart bleeds for this country,” he said.

The judge added, “If people as highly placed as the interim chairperson of the APC would open his mouth and make this weighty statement against innocent Justices of this court, then I say my heart bleeds.

“We are not interested in any matter and I challenge him and the party to substantiate his allegation that my humble self attended a meeting with members of the PDP with a view to subverting the interest of their party.

“This is a reckless and irresponsible statement. That is how these useless statements were made in the past and that is why we are not taking it lightly.”

He also challenged the party to come forward to substantiate the allegation.

“If they have honour, let them substantiate their allegations and I will not leave a day longer in this court.

“So, this matter is adjourned sine die, and parties should approach the Chief Justice of Nigeria,” he said.

Lawyers distance selves from petition

Lawyers representing parties to the suit distanced themselves from the petition on Tuesday.

APC’s lawyer, Umeh Kalu, who expressed surprise about the development, said he only heard about it for the first time during the proceedings.

Mr Kalu said he had never met the APC’s interim chairperson, the author of the petition, adding that he had only been dealing with the party’s legal adviser.

He said, “I am taken aback by this. I have never in my life met with the interim chairman of the APC.

“In matters of this nature, we normally deal with the legal adviser.

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“In the first place, PDP is not a party in this matter.”

Ahmed Raji, a Senior Advocate of Nigeria representing Mr Ararume in the case, also expressed shock about the development, adding, “I condemn it with all the strength in me.”

“I sympathise with your lordships and whatever measure your lordships deem appropriate, we are fully in support.”

Backstory

The appeal that came up before the Supreme Court on Tuesday was filed by Mr Ibezim seeking to upturn the December 4, 2020 judgment of Inyang Ekwo of the Federal High Court in Abuja, and the February 6, 2021 verdict of the Court of Appeal in Abuja both of which nullified his candidature on the grounds that he made false declaration in the documents he submitted to INEC.

Taiwo Taiwo of the Federal High Court in Abuja, had also on March 18, ordered INEC to issue Mr Ararume the certificate of return as the rightful candidate of the APC which was declared the winner of the bye-election.

But the verdict is in conflict with an earlier Supreme Court verdict delivered in another case on February 5, 2021, affirming Mr Ibezim as the authentic candidate of the APC for the bye-election.

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