How ‘Special Panel’ Of Justices Rescued Omo-Agege At Benin Appeal Court; The Chief Of Staff, Attorney-General’s Connection
Fresh facts emerged at the weekend how a specially assembled panel of Appeal Court Justices was imposed on the Benin Division of the Federal Court of Appeal with a mandate to save Senator Ovie Omo Agege ‘at all costs’.
The panel was reportedly specially selected by the President of the Federal Court of Appeal, Justice Zainab Bulkachuwa, in controversial circumstances.
On March 18, 2019, the Federal High Court sitting at Asaba Delta State and presided over by Justice Toyin Adegoke, had delivered a landmark judgement that annulled Senator Ovie Omo-Agege, Chief Great Ogboru and other candidates of the Prophet Jones Erue faction of APC in the crisis ridden Delta State chapter in the just concluded 2019 general elections.
The court went ahead to validate the candidates of the faction headed by Chief Cyril Ogodo which produced Prof Pat Utomi as governorship candidate, Olorogun O’tega Emerhor as Delta Central senatorial candidate, and Chief Ima Niboro, as House of Representatives Candidate for Ughelli North/South/Udu Federal Constituency, among others.
This judgement was a devastating blow to Omo-Agege who had been declared winner of the Delta Central senatorial seat and issued a Certificate of Return, CoR, by INEC. This was even more so as Omo-Agege had set his eyes on the exalted position of Deputy Senate President in the 9th Senate.
Observers recall that Omo-Agege was deeply involved in the Mace snatching drama in the 8th Senate and the many attempts to oust former Senate President, Dr. Bukola Saraki.
Indeed, a NASS investigative committee indicted him as being behind the Mace snatching saga.
However, Omo-Agege has continued to leverage on the Mace saga, and his general anti-Saraki credentials as trump cards for career ascension in the Senate.
Our investigations reveal that Omo-Agege lays claims to Presidency’s support for a commitment to reward him with the DSP position for the role he played.
Sources close to him gleefully point to the fact that the Police never arrested or prosecuted him or anyone else for the Mace snatching saga even when the drama played out on live television.
“Does that not tell you he is specially favoured by the powers that be?”, one of them volunteered.
Those in a position to know state that in the light of the forgoing, the FHC Asaba Judgement that annulled his candidacy came as a thunderbolt to Omo-Agege’s plan to remain a Senator and his ambition to vie for the DSP position.
Initially, Omo-Agege dismissed the judgement rather off-handedly, claiming that since he was not a party to the suit, it had no effect on him. However, as soon as it dawned on him that INEC was getting set to issue a CoR to Emerhor, he rushed to the Appeal Court in Benin to seek leave to be joined in the appeal filed by the APC as an interested party. Chief Great Ogboru also filed for joinder at the Appeal.
The Appeal Court in Benin on 29th March 2019, in a unanimous judgement by a resident panel headed by Justice Philomena Ekpe, with Justice Tunde Awotoye and Justice Adumein Moore as members, however, dismissed both applications to join, ruling that since the appeal APC has filed, it adequately covered the interest of all candidates of the Prophet Jones Erue faction which included Omo-Agege and Ogboru. The lead judgement that disallowed Omo-Agege’s joinder was read by Justice Adumein Moore.
It is believed that immediately Omo-Agege was refused the joinder, he allegedly resorted to underhand means to undermine the appeal court Justices in Benin.
Valentine Onojeghuo, the state legal adviser of the Prophet Jones Erue faction, wrote a petition against Justice Moore, accusing him of bias.
In the petition addressed to the President of the Appeal Court, Justice Zainab Bulkachuwa, Onojeghuo specifically demanded that Justice Moore recuse himself from all matters concerning the appeal on the FHC Asaba judgement.
Not stopping at that, the Prophet Jones Erue faction was also commissioned to fire a second petition against all the resident Benin Appeal Court Justices, again accusing them of compromise.
With the rash of petitions as his anchor, Omo-Agege went to work to ensure that the resident Benin appeal court Justices who were already familiar with the FHC Asaba judgement were dislodged from sitting over the appeal convinced that they will not dance to his tune.
While some sources claim that Omo-Agege may have exploited his relationship with his colleague, Senator Adamu Bulkachuwa, who is the husband of Justice Bulkachuwa to push for all eight Justices of the appeal court Benin be excluded from hearing the appeal in a bid to procure a judgement favorable to him, others suggest that it was the combined office of the Chief of staff, COS, to the President and the Attorney General of the Federation, AGF, who allegedly prevailed on Justice Bulkachuwa to save Omo-Agege as payback for previous services rendered.
Whichever was the case, Omo-Agege succeeded in ensuring that the resident Benin appeal court Justices were indeed forced out of the appeal on the pending suit.
This is in spite of the fact that on the 16th of April, 2019, the resident Benin Appeal court panel headed by Justice C. Nwosu-Iheme, with Justice Tunde Awotoye and Justice Adumein Moore as members had sat and commenced the appeal after which they adjourned the appeal to May 7th 2019 for final hearing and adoption of briefs by counsel.
However, on the said day of hearing, May 7, a brand new Special Panel of Justices was constituted by the President of the Appeal Court, Justice Bulkachuwa, to hear the suit.
Justice Jimi Bada from Ibadan Appeal Court division as lead, Justice Mohammed Shaibu of Sokoto division and Justice Chidi Uwa of Yola division as members.
The three judges arrived the Benin Appeal court premises in a commando style and took over the sitting from the resident Justices who were unaware a special panel has been specifically constituted just for the APC case.
Sources in the Benin appeal court who pleaded anonymity said the resident Justices were shocked at the bravado of setting up a special panel for a normal intra party pre-election matter which is not a tribunal.
They claim this has no precedence in the history of pre-election matters, and smirked of a panel sent on a mission to secure a predetermined outcome of the case in question.
Sources close to the counsel of the Cyril Ogodo/Emerhor faction claimed they were equally shocked and taken aback by the sudden constitution of a special panel for a normal pre-election case. They alleged that for all similar cases from Zamfara to Rivers and Cross Rivers to Imo state, no such situation was seen.
They claimed that the lead lawyer to Chief Ogodo, Chief James Oghenejakpor, prevaricated between protesting the constitution of the special panel or not but at the end, decided to appear in spite of the clear danger of apparent bias.
The special panel delivered their judgement on May 17 in favour of the Prophet Jones Erue/Omo-Agege faction and reinstated Omo-Agege and others as APC candidates in Delta State.
Inside sources at the Benin Division of the Court of Appeal state that no one was surprised at the outcome. The only surprise, they maintain, was the faulty technical basis that flavored the “special judgement” by an obviously “special panel “!
Those in a position to know maintain the “judgement” was so openly perverse that it cannot stand the merest scrutiny of the Supreme Court.
“The learned Justices could not take a stand whether the case was a pre-election matter or an intra-party matter. Yet they ruled that the case was filed outside the 14 days required for a pre-election matter. They also ruled at the same time, that it is a mere intra-party matter which NO COURT in Nigeria has jurisdiction to hear! They stayed away from the main issues adjudicated upon by the lower court and struck out the lower court judgement for lack of jurisdiction.
They also refused to entertain the preliminary objection of the Ogodo counsel declaring it abandoned even when they had earlier granted the Ogodo counsel leave to argue same in the respondents’ briefs of argument and indeed was so argued.”, a source close to the matter pointed out.
Presidency sources were divided as to the claim that the COS and or AGF had a hand in rescuing Omo-Agege.
One source maintained that the Presidency has since found out that Omo-Agege was actually playing a double game at the NASS, and that Omo-Agege intentionally screwed up the operation to remove Saraki.
He maintained that the plan was never at any time to bring in thugs to steal the Mace because the Mace was needed at any rate for the session of the Senate to continue if Saraki was to be successfully removed as planned.
He held that stealing the Mace actually acted to terminate the plan as hatched.
Multiple sources insist that Omo-Agege has been on his own for a long time but merely drops the name of the Presidency for self promotion. They are categorical that the Presidency is largely indifferent to the position of DSP, since the only other contender, Sen. Francis Alimikhena from Edo North is APC Chairman, Adams Oshiomhole’s acolyte and is in a pole position for the job anyway.
Sources close to the Chief Ogodo faction, though lamenting what transpired at the Benin appeal court, stated that their faith in the judiciary remains strong, “and that is why we are proceeding to the Supreme Court. We believe we have a strong case and the special panel Justices erred in law by striking out the FHC Asaba judgement for lack of jurisdiction. We believe the Supreme Court will restore justice”.
When contacted, sources close to Omo-Agege dismissed the position of the Ogodo faction as mere grandstanding. “Omo Agege is already a super Senator, and we are convinced that the appeal court verdict will be upheld at the Supreme Court. The Presidency is on top of it and have gone ahead on the Supreme Court matter. Let Ogodo and Emerhor continue to delude themselves,” he boasted.