June 11, 2024

Central News

at the center of it

The 5 jurists who could determine Nigeria’s political way forward, tomorrow

CJN Olukayode Ariwoola

As Nigerians await the judgments in the petitions filed to challenge the February 25, 2023 presidential election, Wale Igbintade (of ThisDay) profiles the five jurists of the Presidential Election Petitions Court, who will have the opportunity to engrave their names in gold, or in the mud.

After the legal fireworks that lasted for about three months in the court, the five-man panel sitting in Abuja reserved judgments on the various petitions filed to challenge the outcome of the presidential election to a later date. That date has arrived: Wednesday, September 6.

Although the decision of the court, presided by Mr. Justice Haruna Simon Tsammani, is not final, as a displeased party may still appeal to the Supreme Court, many feel that the decision of the five jurists would definitely set the tone for the final decision of the apex court, either in concurrence or disagreement.

Justice Haruna Simon Tsammani

Justice Haruna Tsammani was born on November 23, 1959. He hails from Tafawa Balewa LGA of Bauchi State. The judge obtained his LL.B degree from Ahmadu Bello University, Zaria in 1982.

He attended the Nigerian Law School, Lagos for his BL in 1983, and started as a high court judge in Bauchi State on September 17, 1998. He was later elevated to the Court of Appeal on July 16, 2010.

Justice Tsammani has presided over various election and financial matters as a judge. He also presided over the VAT case between the Rivers State government and the Federal Government.

As the longest-serving Justice of the Court of Appeal on the five-man panel, Tsammani has spent half of his 24 years as a judge on the Court of Appeal bench. Though this is his first time participating in the panel of a presidential election petition court, a rarity that only a handful of judges in a generation are opportune to be involved in, Justice Tsammani is well-familiar with intra- and inter-party disputes in Nigeria. He has been adjudicating on election petitions or political cases.

He prepared the lead judgment that dismissed Abiola Ajimobi’s petition against the judgment of the 2019 Election Petition Tribunal which had on November 19, the same year, upheld PDP’s Kola Balogun as the winner of the senatorial election for Oyo South held in February that year, 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.

On July 4, 2020, he delivered one of the judgments of the Court of Appeal in Abuja that affirmed the second-term election of Gov. Yahaya Bello of Kogi State. He also gave the lead judgment of the court that handed back the control of APC in Kano State to the out-going governor, Abdullahi Gaduje, in February last year. Ganduje is now APC national chairman.

In October 2021, he led the three-member panel of the court that dismissed the suit by the suspended national chairman of the People’s Democratic Party (PDP) Uche Secondus, to allow the party to hold a hitch-free national convention.

He also led the panel of the court that gave the October 2022 judgment suspending the release of the leader of the proscribed Indigenous People of Biafra (IPOB), Nnamdi Kanu, from custody after the charges against the secessionist were dismissed in an earlier judgment of the court.

He is ranked 12th on the seniority list of the Court of Appeal.

 Justice Stephen Adah

Justice Stephen Adah who is the presiding judge of the Asaba Division of the Court of Appeal, was born on June 13, 1957. He hails from Dekina LGA of Kogi State. Adah obtained his LL.B degree from Ahmadu Bello University, Zaria, in 1981. He attended the Nigerian Law School, Lagos, for his BL in 1982.

He was appointed a judge of the Federal High Court on November 12, 1998, and later elevated to the Court of Appeal on November 5, 2012. He served as a member of the three-man panel that granted Peter Obi and Atiku Abubakar’s motions to serve Bola Tinubu their petitions by substituted means.

Adah has delivered verdicts on several cases and one of his landmark decisions was in the appeal by the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC) 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.

He led the panel that affirmed Ifeanyi Ubah as a senator of the Federal Republic of Nigeria, after Uba’s sack over alleged certificate forgery. He also led the panel that affirmed Valentine Ozigbo as the PDP governorship candidate for Anambra State. He is ranked 22nd on the seniority list of the Court of Appeal.

Justice Mistura Bolaji-Yusuf

Justice Misitura Bolaji-Yusuf is the only female member of the five-man panel of the court. She was born on August 7, 1959, and hails from Oyo-West LGA of Oyo State. The judge obtained her LL.B degree from the Obafemi Awolowo University, Ile-Ife in 1983. She attended the Nigerian Law School the following year for her BL certificate.

She was appointed a Judge of the High Court of Oyo State on January 30, 1997, and later elevated to the Court of Appeal on March 24, 2014.

Though not much has really been heard about her in the media, as a judge of the High Court of Oyo, Justice  Bolaji-Yusuf issued an order that invalidated the steps taken by the then  acting Chief Judge of Oyo, Justice Afolabi Adeniran, which led to the illegal removal of the then governor, Rashidi Ladoja.

Although the acting chief judge of the state at the time withdrew the case from her, her ruling was the first major blow to the entire impeachment process which the Supreme Court would also later nullify. The Supreme Court declared the process null and void and reinstated Ladoja in its judgment delivered on November 11, 2006.

Justice Bolaji-Yusuf also delivered the lead judgment of the three-man panel of the Benin Division of the Court of Appeal that affirmed the first-term election of Gov. Godwin Obaseki in June 2017. She was on the panel that affirmed that candidates of the Obaseki faction were the authentic candidates to participate in the 2023 elections.

Justice Boloukuoromo Ugo

At 57, Justice Boloukuoromo Ugo is the youngest among the judges on the panel of the Presidential Election Petitions Court. He hails from Kolokuma/Opokua LGA of Bayelsa State.

Justice Ugo obtained his LL.B degree from the University of Calabar in 1989, before proceeding to the Nigerian Law School in Lagos the following year, for his BL certificate. He was appointed a judge of the High Court of Bayelsa State on March 21, 2006, and later elevated to the Court of Appeal on March 24, 2014.

Though the judge, currently serving at the Kano Division of the Court of Appeal, is hardly visible in the media, many see his participation in the court panel as a pivotal turn in his career, placing him on a national, if not global stage where the public can gain insights into the workings of his judicial mind for the first time.

He is ranked 44th on the seniority list of the Court of Appeal.

Justice Abba Bello Mohammed

Justice Abba Bello Mohammed hails from Kano State. He was born on February 19, 1961. He obtained his LL.B degree from the Institute of Administration, Ahmadu Bello University, Zaria in 1984, before proceeding to the Nigerian Law School in Lagos the following year, for his BL certificate in 1985.

Justice Mohammed was appointed a judge of the Federal Capital Territory (FCT) High Court in 2010. After serving for about 10 years, he was promoted to the Court of Appeal on June 2021, and was chairman of the Nasarawa State governorship election petitions tribunal in 2019.

PDP governorship candidate in the 2019 general election David Ombugadu had sued INEC and Gov. Abdullahi Sule of the All Progressives 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.

Some analysts see his participation in the Presidential Election Petition Court as a defining milestone in his profile, because he currently ranks 71st of the 76 judges on the roll call of the Court of Appeal.