By Ikechukwu Nnochiri
ABUJA—A fresh scandal is now rocking the judicial arm of government in the country, with the National Judicial Council, NJC, set to probe a Supreme Court Justice over his alleged participation in election rigging in Delta State.

The apex court Justice is under investigation following an allegation that he compelled a Returning Officer in Delta State, (names withheld), to influence the result of the House of Assembly election in Burutu Constituency II of the state, with a view to ensuring that his blood relation, who was a candidate of the Peoples Democratic Party, PDP, emerged as the winner.

of Lagos, Ikeja and Ikorodu, in a peaceful protest against suspension of Hon. Justice Isa Ayo Salami, President of court of Appeal, to Alausa Ikeja, Lagos yesterday. Photo by Bunmi Azeez”]His probe was sequel to a petition dated August 26, 2011, which was filed before the NJC by a group under the aegis of the Niger Delta Restoration Forum, NDRF.

Panel set up to probe allegation

A source at the NJC who pleaded anonymity following the gag order that was placed on judicial organs by the Acting Chief Justice of Nigeria, CJN, Justice Dahiru Musdapher, on Wednesday, however, disclosed that a panel was yesterday empowered to look into the issue and ascertain the veracity of the allegations levelled against the justice who was said to be a loyalist of the former Chief Justice of Nigeria.

The source maintained that it is the intention of the Ag CJN, Musdapher, to use the case which is the first probe under his administration, to send a stern signal to every judicial officer in the country, concerning his resolve to redeem the battered image of the judiciary, regardless of whose ox is gored.

The said petition, which was signed by the President General and Secretary of the group, Pupagha Ekpedekumor and Ubong Etukedu, respectively, equally accused the Supreme Court Justice of taking a political appointment as the Chairman Governing Council of a University in Delta State despite his position in the Supreme Court.

Consequently, the petitioners are praying the NJC to determine the propriety of a jurist taking up a political appointment while in active judicial service.

A copy of the petition which was made available to Vanguard reads: “We write to express our deep concern over the above subject-matter and to seek the intervention of your esteemed offices by way of a thorough investigation into the issues raised therein.

“It is a known and incontrovertible fact that contrary to the ethics and code of conduct for judicial officers, the justice was appointed by the administration of a former governor of Delta State, Chief James Ibori, as chairman of the Governing Council of the University, and still retains the position under the Dr Emmanuel Uduaghan Government.

“He hails from a town in Burutu Local Government Area of Delta State. Suffice it to state that his appointment and retention of a political position despite sitting on the bench at the highest level of the nation’s judiciary, is a manifestation of his long-standing involvement in partisan politics especially in his home state where he had continued to pull the strings in favour of his interests and political associates.

“We would not have bothered to go this far by calling your attention to his unethical conducts, but for the fact that he has taken the act to ridiculous heights in his desperation to ensure victory for the Peoples Democratic Party [PDP] and one of his blood relation in the April 26, 2011 House of Assembly Elections for Burutu Constituency 11 in Delta State.

“The facts of the matter are as follows: A candidate in the elections, Mr. Kennedy Orubebe, contested the Delta State House of Assembly Burutu South Constituency 11 seat under the platform of the Democratic Peoples Party [DPP], and was apparently coasting home to victory based on the results collated and duly signed at the various polling units and at the five wards which formed the constituency, when further collation of the results was abruptly halted.

Suspension of collation

“The suspension of collation was announced by the Constituency Returning Officer, a lecturer with the Delta State University, Abraka, after he had taken possession of all the results from the five wards, and had progressed with the final collation up to Tuomo Ward 3, which was supposed to be the last part of the exercise.

“Surprisingly, at the point of announcing the results and declaring a winner between Mr. Orubebe and the candidate of the PDP, Mr. Daubiri, who were the closest contenders, the Returning Officer received a call from a top ranking INEC official in the state capital, and thereafter, announced that he had been directed to stop the collation process and moved all the materials to INEC office at Asaba.

“Our findings revealed that the directive to halt the collation process was handed to the Returning Officer by a senior administrative staff of INEC serving at the Delta State office, but not legally empowered to issue such a directive even if it was necessary to do so.

“Faced with defeat as evidenced by the results collated from the various wards and duly endorsed by the Supervisory Polling Officers [SPOs], the PDP members protested against the results from Tuomo Ward 3, a stronghold of Mr. Orubebe, which gave him overwhelming votes that turned out to be the deciding factor on who emerged winner. “Following the protests, the former Delta State Resident Electoral Commissioner, REC, Mr. Ada, summoned the Constituency Returning Officer and Electoral Officer for Burutu Local Government Area for a meeting in his office at Asaba on May 5, 2011, during which he gave directives to resolve the logjam. On the same day, he also met with the candidates of the two frontline parties –the DPP and PDP, whom he further briefed on his directive to the Returning Officer.

“And the directive given was for the Returning Officer to return to Burutu, headquarters of Burutu Local Government Area and continue with the suspended collation of results and eventual announcement of the winner. Nonetheless, the two contending parties [DPP and PDP], went to Burutu on May 6, 2011 as requested for the final collation of results and announcement of the winner, but the PDP candidate and his supporters threatened fire and brimstone if the results were announced.

“To compound matters, there was no single security operative – either the conventional police or Joint Military Task Force [JTF] personnel to ensure safety of lives and property, and it became impossible to collate and announce the results.

“Consequently, the Returning Officer directed that aggrieved parties should go to court.

“It is indeed, amazing, but we have it on good authority that while the drama unfolded, the Supreme Court Justice, using his position as chairman of the Governing Council of the University, was in constant touch and gave directives to the Returning Officer for Burutu Constituency 11, who is a lecturer with the institution.

“We further assert that in doing so, he was in league with a top political chieftain, and a senator from the state.

“Following a stiff resistance to the illegal moves by the PDP and its candidate, and after several unsuccessful efforts at resolving the issue at the Delta State INEC zonal office, the INEC national headquarters constituted a

committee to look into the issues at stake, and eventually directed the Returning Officer for Burutu 11 State Constituency, to collate and declare the results.

“The directive was conveyed in a letter dated May 26, 2011, with reference No. INEC/LEG/DLM/V.11/8, and signed by INEC Secretary, Abdullahi Kaugama. It read: “I am directed to inform you that the Commission reviewed the circumstances that led to the non-completion of the collation of Burutu 11 State Constituency election, held on April 26, 2011. It has decided that you have no powers to cancel the result of Tuomo Ward. Consequently, you are to report to the Resident Electoral Commissioner, Delta State to complete the collation of the result and declare the winner, please.”

“However, rather than complying with the directive from the INEC national headquarters, the Returning Officer allegedly cancelled four polling units in the disputed ward with the alleged backing of the Justice and the Delta REC, and thereafter, announced the PDP candidate as winner.

“This action was clearly provocative and unlawful, but unwilling to resort to self help, the Democratic Peoples Party [DPP] and its candidate, Mr. Kennedy Orubebe, sought legal redress at the election petition tribunal currently sitting at Asaba.

“Mr. Chairman Sir, while the legal process is ongoing, the Justice is at it again, making surreptitious moves at the INEC head office in Abuja, to tamper with some correspondences, which are vital evidence to the plaintiff’s case in the tribunal.

“How desperate can one be in an attempt to pervert the course of justice? Already sir, the Justice as a serving Supreme Court judge has degenerated his exalted position by taking political appointment as chairman, Governing Council of a University. He has no moral obligation to talk about respect, because he is swimming in the murky waters of politics.

“We, therefore, urge you to diligently and dispassionately investigate this complaint with a view to ensuring whether a Justice of the Supreme Court can take up a political appointment”.

 

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