The Court of Appeal has explained why it relocated the Osun State governorship election petition tribunal from Osogbo, the state capital, to Abuja.
The tribunal was set up to hear cases arising from the September 22 and 27 governorship polls in the state which returned Gboyega Oyetola of the All Progressives Congress (APC).
PREMIUM TIMES reported how the just reshuffled three-member panel was moved to FCT High Court No 24, Apo Abuja on Saturday following the directives of President of the Court of Appeal, Zainab Bulkachuwa.
In a telephone interview with our correspondent, the spokesperson of the Court of Appeal, Sa’adatu Musa, said the action of Mrs Bulkachuwa is in line with the Nigerian constitution.
“It is constitutional. The president (of the appeal court) has the power to constitute a panel and to use that same discretion if she feels a need for safety so that there will be peace.
“If there’s a flash point or there would be trouble or insecurity of the judges, will you want to expose your judges if you are the one?
“Because of this, once in a while (the president exercises the power) and for peace to reign. Let there be no interference and so as to maintain peace and order amidst tensed politics.”
The spokesperson added that a similar situation occurred in Rivers State.
“You could remember in 2016 when she (the president of the court) relocated some tribunals back to Abuja from Port Harcourt. For example, during the Wike and Amaechi issue, she moved them back to Abuja so that they can stay in a peaceful environment. You could remember in Ekiti where a judge was slapped,” she told PREMIUM TIMES.
Asked if the sudden relocation will not be termed a political move by the opposition party, Mrs Sa’adatu said it would not be the first time the court will be accused of an attempt to tamper with justice.
“They have always thought otherwise. During the PDP time, APC were accusing Her Lordship that she is PDP. Now it is APC time and PDP members are accusing that she is a member of APC.
“Human beings cannot please human beings but for the sake of democracy, she is a very humane leader and a thoughtful person. She thinks beyond where we do. She supports democracy and for democracy to thrive, it has to be in a peaceful atmosphere. We can’t endanger the lives of our judges.
“Everything is done in an open court. It is just that we are politically impatient and not seeing reasons why she took that step. It was not to please anybody. She swore to an oath between herself and her God. So, what will she gain at this time to cause chaos?”
However, the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP), in a press statement signed by the state chairman, Soji Adagunodo, on Sunday asked the National Judicial Council to probe the ‘sudden’ relocation of the sitting of the tribunal to Abuja.
The party described the relocation as “another sign that there is a desperate and evil plan by some forces to implement a pre-written script on the proceedings and outcome” of its petition before the tribunal.
The party said though it was not shocked by the development, “in view of the several boastings of prominent APC leaders to that effect in the last few weeks”, it was “very disappointed that a very important institution like the judiciary would allow itself to be cheaply manipulated by unscrupulous elements in the political space.”
“We believe that the decision to relocate the tribunal sitting to Abuja was also without any justifiable reason because there had been no reports on any security breach neither had there been any other cogent factor that could have necessitated the action.”
The party said it was probable those who took the decision without consultation with counsel to the petitioners did so partly to prevent the people of the state from observing the proceedings of the tribunal and also to make it easier for federal authorities to influence its outcome.
“We want to remind honourable members of the tribunal of the dictum of the eminent jurist Niki Tobi JSC that ‘The true test of a fair hearing is the impression of a reasonable person who was present at the trial whether from his observation justice has been done’”.
Mr. Adagunodo added that apart from the court of public opinion which the conduct of the tribunal will be subjected to, “there is also a burden on the tribunal members to justify the expectations of God from those who hold such sacred offices and who are called upon to do justice without fear or favour.”
“We are hopeful that the concerned persons and authorities will act speedily on this matter and restore the hope of the common man in Osun State in the judicial process as an aftermath of the last governorship election.”
In his reaction, the APC publicity secretary in the state, Kunle Oyatomi, said his party has no objection to the relocation of the tribunal.
“It is a legal process permitted by the law of Nigeria. We support the movement, so long it dispenses justice fairly and without favour,” he stated in a statement sent to PREMIUM TIMES on Sunday.
“We like to point out to the PDP and its candidate, Sen. Ademola Adeleke that by the fact on the ground of the two elections, and the official and legitimate pronouncement of the results of those elections by INEC, the mandate of the people of Osun remains that of Alhaji Isiaka Adegboyega Oyetola and not for Nurudeen Ademola Adeleke; not as the PDP is claiming,” he said.
The PDP candidate in the election, Ademola Adeleke, filed a petition at the tribunal to challenge the victory of the governor-elect, Mr Oyetola.
Mr Adeleke, who claimed he polled the highest number of votes in the election, asked the tribunal to cancel the victory of Mr Oyetola, who will be sworn-in on November 27. Mr Adeleke asked to be declared winner of the election which he initially led in until a controversial re-run election was held in seven polling units.
The re-run, whose conduct was criticised by local and international observers due to the extent of violence and intimidation witnessed, eventually secured victory for Mr Oyetola and the APC.