BY PETER DURU
It was not surprising that the Benue State Governorship Election Petition Tribunal failed to resume its deliberations in the State yesterday. The panel which is considering petition sagainst the election of Governor Gabriel Suswam surprised no one given the unceremonious departure of the panel from Makurdi about two weeks ago. The panel departed, or rather, fled Makurdi the Benue State capital on July 25 on the basis of alleged insecurity arising from alleged threats made against the members.
Governor Suswam’s victory during the recent election on the platform of the Peoples Democratic Party, PDP is being disputed by the candidates of the Action Congress of Nigeria, ACN Prof. Steve Ugbah and that of the All Nigeria Peoples Party, ANPP, Senator Daniel Saror.
The Justice Mumir Ladan led tribunal had in the last few weeks left no one in doubt as to the determination of the panelists to adjudicate fairly and justly in the matter that has suddenly aroused so much tension and anxiety across the state. Though counsels to the contending parties in the matter consistently maintained their cool as they presented their facts and arguments before the tribunal on point of law and facts, same cannot be said of numerous supporters who thronged the court on every sitting day in anticipation of a final ruling or judgment on the matter. Many times tribunal rulings were misrepresented and celebrated by supporters under false pretenses in the streets arousing tension on the streets of the State capital.
The tribunal vicinity in fact became a ground for political convention where supporters gathered in their hundreds to heckle and cheer any pronouncement or ruling by the Judges as it suited their interests. The situation came to a head on Monday, July 25th 2011, when the Chairman of the Tribunal, Justice Ladan announced to the chagrin of all the parties in court that the tribunal was adjourning its sitting indefinitely.
He cited security challenges being faced by members of the tribunal as reason for the decision. According to him members were relocating to Abuja to confer with the Court of Appeal for further directives. Justice Mumir stressed that the court would resume sitting to hear pending cases after the said security challenges were adequately addressed.
“We can only sit when the matter is resolved. In that wise, hearing notices will be served on the counsels when the matter is addressed”, he said. It was also gathered from impeccable sources at the tribunal that the judges had in the few days preceding the day it took the decision to discontinue sitting, been inundated with threatening texts massages from unknown persons who were not happy with some of the recent rulings of the tribunal.
It was learnt that the development created tremendous fear among the Judges who at their last sitting on July 25th when it granted the PDP and Governor Suswam an enlargement of time to regularize their reply to the petition filed by the defeated ANPP governorship candidate, embarked on the recitation of Islamic prayers for protection from what they described as “the evil machinations of men”.
Following the decision the panel members were escorted out of the court premises in a motorcade of heavily armed men en-route Abuja.
Reacting to the decision of the tribunal, the Chairman of the PDP, Dr. Emmanuel Agbo blamed what he described as the unruly behavior of members of the opposition ACN, for the security concerns raised by members of the tribunal. He emphasized that “at every sitting of the court we all notice hordes of ACN supporters who besiege the premises of the tribunal, creating unnecessary tension and distractions and thereby making the vicinity of the court unsafe for the panelists”.
The PDP chairman who regretted that the state was being portrayed in bad light because of the desperation of opposition politicians in the state and advised those challenging the victory of the PDP in the state to call their supporters to order to allow for the peaceful adjudication of the matter.
“Why do they then encourage their supporters to throng the tribunals on every sitting day, chanting songs and disrupting traffic, and charging up the entire vicinity and by so doing making the place unsafe for everyone including the judges”.“And you know that in such situations any attempt to restore order is normally misinterpreted by those championing the course of the opposition in the state to mean an act of repression against the opposition block and their followers”.
“The matter is before the tribunal; the law should be allowed to run its full course rather than the activities they recourse to on every sitting day”.
The Benue State Commissioner for Information and Orientation, Mr. Conrad Wergba, who also reacted to unfolding drama at the tribunal, commended the panelists for their forthrightness and commitment to the cause of justice.
Wergba urged security agencies to investigate the concern of the tribunal members and take appropriate action so as to give them the necessary assurance of safety.
In his own reaction the Chairman of the ACN, Comrade Abba Yaro accused the PDP government in the state of failing in its responsibilities to ensure security of lives and property in the state.
He said, “If there are security challenges in a state, the government in power should be held responsible for that”. Also commenting, former Lagos State Commissioner of Police, Alhaji Abubakar Tsav challenged the Judges to open up on the issue they have raised. “The Judges should state the security challenge and the people behind it or otherwise, they are only trying to heat up the polity and put the people in a state of anxiety”.
Tsav wondered whether the Judges requested for additional security from the government or the Police and it was turned down stating that if they did it would be an indictment. He added that the development does not give a good image of Benue State, “the people of the state want the case to be heard and disposed of without further delay”. “High court Judges should not be cowards but should interpret the position of the law”, Tsav said.
As it is, no one knows for certain what the next line of action of the justices would be, though before their departure from Makurdi the panel had given yesterday, 4th August as the tentative date for resumption.