Ben Peters, Abuja
A group known as God and Country Ombudsmen for Nation Building (GOCONB), has petitioned the Chief Judge of Nigeria over the way and manner the Edo state election tribunal dismissed a petition filed by a candidate of the Labour party representing Orhionmwon/ Uhumwode federal constituency, Murphy Imasuen in the February 25, 2023 general elections.
The group is made up of retired and serving judges, magistrates and apex media doyens known as God & Country Ombudsmen for Nation Building (GOCONB), has risen to bolster Nigerians’ confidence in the public trust and image of the country’s judiciary as the 2023 elections of Nigeria continue to reverberate in sundry outcomes.
Details of the GOCONB petitions dated November 14, 2023 and obtained by our reporters from Abuja judicial sources indicate that the new judicial advocacy body also comprises zenith professionals of the media, environmentalists and international solicitors, some of who hold briefs with the ECOWAS, the African Union and European Commission, among global development institutions and partners.
Part of the advocacy mandates of the bench body was contained in a sizzling petition dated November 14, 2023 and titled “Preserving the Honour & Integrity of Nigeria’s Judiciary from Unpatriotic Conduct of Three Tribunal Judges – Justice Yusuf Ubale Mohammed, Justice M.O. Agboola & Justice Mrs. K.A. Keweanya – Assigned to Edo State 2023 National Assembly Election Petitions.”
The petition was separately addressed to the Chief Justice of Nigeria, His Lordship Ariwoola Kayode, the National Judicial Council (NJC) and the President of the Court of Appeal, Her Lordship Monica Dongban-Mensah.
It will be recalled that on Saturday October 28, 2023, the election petition tribunal of first hearing sitting in Benin and headed by Justice Yusuf Mohammed with Justice M.O. Agboola and Justice (Mrs) K.A. Keweanya as members, dismissed the petition of the Labour Party’s candidate, Mr. Murphy Imasuen, which challenged the declaration of his APC opponent, Mr. Osawaru Billy Famous, as the winner of Orhionmwon/Uhunwode federal constituency in the February 25 National Assembly election to the House of Representatives.
It will also be recalled that the Labour party under the national leadership of Julius Abure’s faction and state exco leadership of Mr. Kelly Ogbaloi had two candidates, Mr. Imasuen Murphy and Mrs. Elizabeth Ativie, both of who claimed entitlement to the LP ticket for the same Orhionmwon/Uhuonde federal constituency.
The incident of the Labour Party having double candidates in Orhionmwon constituency is viewed by political observers in Edo and across the country, including increasing number of doubtful Obidient supporters, as akin to the notorious double candidates affliction which had hurt the party during the recent off-season governorship elections of November 11 where both the Julius Abure and Lamidi Apapa factions presented to INEC and the states’ electorates separate governorship candidates for those elections.
Totaling six Labour Party governorship candidates for three states in the same election, the situation which has become peculiar to Labour Party is beginning to generate across the country harsh questions and scrutiny of the leadership capacity of Mr. Peter Obi, the party’s popular presidential candidate in the 2023 elections for his seeming inability to rein in internal crises of the party.
“If Obi cannot contain and resolve such little but damaging internal squabbles in his small political party,” a legal luminary at the Law School, Abuja, commented to our reporter last week while speaking on the Imo, Bayelsa and Kogi elections, “what are the assurances that he can administer entire Nigeria given thousands of complex institutions, agencies, boards, commissions, embassies, religious, ethnic and multi-faceted governance crises of entire Nigeria?”
For the Orhionmwon constituency, both Murphy Imasuen and Mrs. Elizabeth Ativie, a former speaker of Edo state House of Assembly under APC, locked horns and made claims to the Labour Party’s rep ticket of the same constituency before the February 25 National Assembly elections. This led to exhaustive pre-election litigations which began at the Federal High Court and went through the Appeal Court up to the Supreme Court.
Court documents diligently obtained by this media showed that in the above legal tangos, the Federal High Court in Suit No. FHC/B/CS/129/2022 delivered a pre-election judgment on February 20, 2023, while the Appeal Court in Suit No. CA/B/35/23 delivered the Federal High Court’s appealed judgment on April 20, 2023, both of which declared Imasuen Murphy as the lawful House of Rep Candidate for Orhionmwon/Uhunwode federal constituency of Edo state.
Investigations further revealed that not satisfied, Elizabeth Ativie, supported, by Julius Abure and the state chairman, Kelly Ogbaloi, filed an appeal at the Supreme Court to reverse the Appeal Court’s decision. The Supreme Court also struck out Ativie’s and Abure’s appeal when the Abure-Ativie political matrimony grew cold feet and the duo abandoned the appeal in the face of obvious defeat.
Out reporters undertook further investigations to understand why the national chairman of the party, Julius Abure, and its Edo state exco led by Kelly Ogbaloi supported the APC crossover aspirant, Mrs. Elizabeth Ativie, instead of Mr. Imasuen Murphy who is the older member of the party.
Sources close to Abure and Ogbaloi claim that the two officials of the party rooted for Ativie, who joined the party only in June 2022 after earlier failing APC primaries for the ticket, not because they loved Ativie in any way but for one reason. Ativie allegedly offered mouth-watering “delicacies” which some quarters in Edo LP described as “juicy under-table profits” to Abure and Ogbaloi beyond what Imasuen was deemed too straightforward to contemplate. Imasuen is well-known as an amiable but uncompromising advocate of integrity and due process.
Delivering judgment on October 28 on Mr. Imasuen’s petition, identified to our reporter as Petition No. EPT/ED/HR/12/2023, the three-man National Assembly and State Houses of Assembly election petition panel headed by Justice Yusuf Mohammed sent shock waves throughout Edo state and the judicial community of Nigeria. The Yusuf Mohammed panel unanimously ruled that in spite of the pre-election judgment of the Federal High Court and the sequel Appeal Court judgment which declared Imasuen Murphy as the rightful candidate of the LP, the panel did not recognize Imasuen as the candidate of the Labour Party but Elizabeth Ativie whose candidacy had been terminally squashed by the Appeal Court. The tribunal concluded that Imasuen Murphy therefore had no locus standi whatsoever to pursue any election matter related to the Orhionmwon/Uhunwode federal constituency seat.
In effect, the adhoc election petition panel of Justice Yusuf Mohammed ran roughshod over and patently dismissed as of no consequence the superior jurisdiction, authority and judgments of both the Federal High Court and the Court of Appeal which upheld Imasuen Murphy as the lawful candidate of the Labour Party. The question emerging from this is automatically inevitable: what river of wine and banquets of toothpick must have flowed under the judicial tables of Justice Yusuf Mohammed, Justice M.O. Agboola and Justice Mrs. K.A. Keweanya to produce such fantastically aromatic judgment?
The Electoral Act of Nigeria stipulates that petitioners have a maximum of 21 days to file petitions to an election tribunal, including an appeal panel if a petitioner feels dissatisfied with the judgment of a lower election tribunal. Investigations indicate that Mr. Imasuen Murphy has filed an appeal dated November 20, 2023 against the lower tribunal judgment. Curiously, however, inquiries at the LP national secretariat Utako, Abuja, the party’s state secretariat in Benin chaired by Kelly Ogbaloi and the Justice Yusuf Mohammed Tribunal in Benin, neither the Appeal Court tribunal in Lagos showed that up to the expiration of deadlines for filing either petitions, Elizabeth Ativie and the LP national chairman, Julius Abure, who ought to grieve the Labour Party’s loss the most did not file any petition at either the lower or appellate tribunals.
Pundits and watchers of Labour Party say this is a red flare for many untoward things in the party under the captainship of Julius Abure. They claim that it virtually confirms widespread intelligence within the Edo Labour Party community which has it that before the February 2023 general election, Julius Abure had gone into agreement with APC leaders from Edo state, headed by former APC national chairman, now Senator Aliu Oshiomhole, and another former national chairman of the APC, Chief Odigie Oyegun, both also former governors of Edo state.
The Abure-APC pact, they say, was to send Elizabeth Ativie as advance party to destabilize the strength and success of the rejuvenated LP in Ativie’s part of the state towards APC’s easier capture of Edo state in the oncoming 2024 governorship election, after which Abure would decamp to the APC at the end of his perpetually elongated tenure as LP national chairman for a guaranteed Edo Central senatorial ticket in 2027. That was why Abure and Ativie, a smokescreen ship jumper from the APC, never bothered to pursue her Abure given LP ticket at the lower election tribunal, much less appeal.
As backup to the above conspiracy theorem, yet another widespread information pipeline has it that in a huge cash-out deal as good as an oil well gift, Abure and his Kelly Ogbaloi’s state exco of the party are currently playing a second post-2023 empowerment and self-aggrandizement card. Those who hold this theorem allege that this involved selling the Labour Party’s governorship ticket in 2024 to Edo PDP governor, Mr. Godwin Obaseki, by maneuovering the party’s governorship ticket into the hands of Governor Obaseki’s cousin and avant garde agent to the LP, Barr. Olumide Akpata, the erstwhile president of the Nigeria Bar Association (NBA).
Citizens interviewed assert that if that were not true, Abure and Ativie would have been grieved and expeditious in filing pungent and expeditious petitions against what they allege is “a patently fraudulent, corruption induced election judgment against the Labour Party” by the Justice Yusuf Mohammed tribunal panel.
However, this media thinks that not all such news should be believed, especially in an election season. This is because it is generally a season where the floods of half-truths, half-lies and assumed notions often overflow their banks.
Except that behind every smoke there is a flame, and behind many a rumour lurk elements of truth. Whichever case is true, in any case, time will lift the lid.
Part of the GOCONB petition to the CJN, NJC and President of the Court of Appeal read:
“Compelled by the highest sense of affinity to your august offices as foremost officers of our country’s judicial realm, our humble objective in filing this petition before Your Lordships is to express how shocked we are that judges of an Election Petition panel would over-reach themselves to dismiss a pre-election judgement decided by both the Federal High Court and the Court of Appeal which had affirmed the candidate of a political party, and to entreat Your Lordships’ severest scrutiny of and appropriate disciplinary actions against such judges.
“The dismissal of the Imasuen Murphy petition by the Justice Yusuf Mohammed tribunal on the ground that Mr. Imasuen was not the candidate of the Labour party and therefore that he had no locus standi to come to the tribunal is unfounded, distressful, egregiously contemptuous of superior courts and not supported by law or facts.
“Reasonable minds cannot help but think of Justice Yusuf Mohammed’s tribunal as one on a cause of personal interest advancement and not a justice mission to Edo state.
“Your Lordship… with the gravest concern, it is our excruciating observation that the judgment makes the Nigeria judiciary a laughing-stock and brings ridicule and contempt to our hallowed justice entity nationwide.”
Continuing, the GOCONB prayed the CJN, NJC and the President of Appeal Court: “We entreat Your Lordships to diligently look into this petition, as well as all similar matters of justice miscarriage arising from the 2023 general elections and tribunal adjudications across the country, and bring justice to bear on their inherent merits.
“There are consequences on the integrity of the Nigerian judiciary from unclothed travesties like the one discussed in this petition. We are concerned, Your Lordships, that if this type of extreme travesties in our justice system are not sanctioned timely and appropriately, they will hasten total erosion of the confidence of the common man in Nigeria, the international community and foreign investment interests hitherto considering to do business in Nigeria.
“On the other hand, if Your Lordships’ timely intervention culminates in a redeeming and healing positive outcome, the reversal of justice miscarriage, victory for Imasuen Murphy and others like him across the country, their denied and violated electoral constituencies and Nigeria in general will revert to celebrate the judiciary and nurse its image back to good health to serve the nation.
“We think that this is important after the tremendous crises of confidence that currently pervades our country in the wake of the 2023 general elections. We pray accordingly for your positive actions in above regards.”
The body went on: “We are delighted to acknowledge the existence of and applaud highly courageous men and women of the Nigeria judiciary who are committed to the rule of law and justice for all, and who are actually in clear majority throughout our country.
“Unfortunately, it is the nature of the social matrix of human society that the unfairness of a few in deviation tends to overwhelm, taint and tarnish the honourable majority if the majority stands aloof or indifferent to the harm done by the few.
“Finally,” the body concluded, “as impartial human rights ombudsmen across our nation, it is our humble and heartfelt prayer that as we happen upon similar outcries of justice-shortchanged Nigerians, irrespective of their political party and religious backgrounds, Your Lordship will, in service to God and country, continue to indulge and avail us the attention of your august office as we strive together in patriotic partnership for nation building towards a better Nigeria.
“We look forward to your positive, expedite action on our petition and remain with highest esteem.”
The GOCONB petition was signed by the association’s Director of Public Complaints, Oboyi Peters Esq., its Complaints Verifications & Certification Officer, Esmerald Bazunu-Bright Esq. and Prince Tony Akeni, Executive Director Africa, an ace civil rights journalist who is also head of the media society of the association.