The legal battle to unseat President Bola Tinubu will continue at the Supreme Court on Monday as the apex court has listed for hearing the election petition appeal filed by former vice-president Atiku Abubakar, the Peoples Democratic Party standard bearer in the February presidential poll.
The Supreme Court Registrar, Zainab Garba, in a notice issued to the parties on Thursday, disclosed that the hearing proceedings in Atiku’s appeal would take place before the Supreme Court sitting in Abuja on October 23.
It read, ‘’Take notice that the above appeal/motion will be listed for hearing before the Supreme Court of Nigeria sitting at Abuja on Monday, October 23, 2023.
“And further take notice that in accordance with Order 2 Rule 1(2) of the Supreme Court Rules 1985, as amended, this notice is deemed sufficiently served on you if it is left at your address of service or sent by registered post and since the date of service by post is material, section 26 of the Interpretation Act, 1964, shall apply.”
The Supreme Court Director of Information, Dr Festus Akande, also confirmed that Atiku’s election appeal had been slated for hearing on Monday.
The notification came as the House of Representatives expressed worries over the workload on the apex court.
The apex court currently has 11 justices, short of the required 21 stipulated by section 230(2) of the 1999 Constitution.
The green chamber resolved to call on the Federal Government to appoint new judges for the Supreme Court to ensure effective justice delivery in the country.
The resolution of the House followed a motion of urgent public importance moved by Patrick Umoh, the lawmaker representing Ikot Ekpene Federal Constituency, Akwa Ibom State.
In the motion tagged, ‘Urgent need for the Federal Government to appoint new justices to the Supreme Court to ensure expeditious and effective justice delivery in the country,’ Umoh noted that “The Supreme Court of Nigeria is the apex court in the country with the jurisdiction to hear and determine causes and matters across the length and breadth of Nigeria.”
In its resolution, the House urged “The Federal Government to appoint nine new justices to the Supreme Court in order to expedite the hearing and determination of matters for effective and efficient justice delivery in Nigeria.”
It also mandated its Committee on Federal Judiciary to ensure compliance with the resolution.
Umoh had before the House resolution observed that the current number of justices of the apex court had dropped to an all-time low of 11 Justices, making it 10 justices short of its full complement of 21 justices, as stipulated by the Constitution.
The resolution read, “This is post-election season where the court has to hear and determine electoral matters from different parts of the country within a short period of time as mandated by the Constitution.
“Aware that the Supreme Court’s docket is full for the year 2023 as parties cannot have hearing date for matters filed within the year, except in election petitions, owing to a considerable volume of matters pending before the court;
“Worried that the non-appointment of new justices to the Supreme Court has stalled expeditious, effective and efficient justice delivery; impeded transactions and economic development; limited citizen’s access to justice; put the current Justices of the court under immense mental and physical pressure; and has affected the policy-making function of the court;
“Commended the President of the Federal Republic of Nigeria for his promise to promote the rule of law and support the judiciary, and his signing into the law the constitutional alteration unifying the retirement age and pension benefits of the judicial officers.”
Atiku, who came second in the election, had approached the presidential election tribunal to nullify the February 25 election in which the Independent National Electoral Commission declared Tinubu of the All Progressives Congress the winner.
The tribunal, however, dismissed the petitions filed by Atiku and Obi for lacking in merit and unanimously upheld Tinubu’s electoral victory.
Dissatisfied with the verdict of the lower court, Atiku and Obi appealed the verdict at the Supreme Court.
In his 35 grounds of appeal filed by his lead counsel, Chris Uche, SAN, former vice-president Atiku faulted the tribunal’s ruling on electronic transmission of results, Tinubu’s qualification for the election, Federal Capital Territory votes, among others.
He prayed the apex court to set aside the judgment of the lower court.
In his quest to overturn Tinubu’s election, the PDP candidate also sought the Supreme Court’s permission to file the President’s academic records obtained from his alma mater, Chicago State University, as ‘’fresh and additional evidence’’ to support his appeal challenging the outcome of the disputed poll.
The former vice-president in his application filed on October 5, was seeking the court’s nod to present a deposition on oath of the CSU Registrar, Caleb Westberg, concerning Tinubu’s academic records.
The appellant had questioned the authenticity of the President’s CSU certificate submitted to the INEC, alleging forgery of the document, arguing that he was not qualified to contest the election.
The lead counsel to the President, Wole Olanipekun SAN, disclosed that Tinubu’s legal team had been notified about the hearing of the appeals by the apex court.
“We just got a hearing notice from the Supreme Court that the hearing of the appeal is on Monday. There is no pre-hearing in appeal, we don’t have anything like pre-hearing in appeal. It’s a hearing of appeal. The Supreme Court doesn’t list cases for mention, the appeal is for hearing on Monday,” he said.
He had earlier said that they had filed all the papers that they needed to file on behalf of their client.
On the expectation of his team, the senior advocate urged Nigerians to wait for the outcome of the appeals.
He said, “As a senior lawyer and revered leader, I don’t preempt issues before the court. Let us get to the bridge before we cross it. I don’t make comments about cases that are ongoing in court. You can quote me on that. I am a professional lawyer.
“It is our job to go to court. The Supreme Court has called us and we will be there by the Grace of God. Monday is almost here.”
Meanwhile, the Nigerian Bar Association and the Supreme Court have thrown their weight behind the call by the House of Representatives for the appointment of Supreme Court justices.
The NBA spokesperson, Habib Lawal, welcomed the resolution of the lawmakers.
He said, “Any call for the filling of the vacant positions at the Supreme Court is consistent with the persistent call of the Nigerian Bar Association, under the leadership of Yakubu Chonoko Maikyau, OON, SAN, that the Supreme Court should be filled to its full constitutional complement of 21 seats. The NBA, therefore, welcomes every action by anybody to ensure that this is achieved as soon as practicable.’’
The Supreme Court Director of Information, Dr Akande, said the apex court was in dire need of justices.
He expressed optimism that ‘’the jinx would be broken’’ and the court would attain its full complement with the expected appointment of more justices.
Akande said, “The Supreme Court has 11 justices. We need 11 more to meet up with the full complement of the court. We were close to getting our full complement in 2020 when they were 20. We hope that the jinx is broken this time around. We need more justice at the apex court.’’
Adegoke Rasheed, SAN, said it was strange to have a shortage of justices at the apex court.
“The House of Reps is in order. It is unheard of that we have 11 Supreme Court justices. They were supposed to have appointed these justices before now. At that level, there should not be a shortage of personnel. As much as the constitution says that we should have 21 justices, it should be done and to appoint them is not rocket science.”
Adedipe Ifedayo, SAN, noted, “They are in order to remind the president of the shortage at the Supreme Court. Whether they can give him a timeframe is something I am not comfortable with, but they have done well to draw his attention to it. We should be replacing justices as they are retiring. We should not overwork them.’’
Culled from The Punch