BY IKECHUKWU NNOCHIRI
ABUJA—Full-blown hearing on the suit seeking to sack five sitting governors from office before next year, could not commence at the Supreme Court, yesterday, owing to a petition filed against the Attorney-General of the Federation (AGF) and Minister of Justice, Mohammed Bello Adoke, SAN, by the Bayelsa State Government.
The Bayelsa State Government under Governor Timipre Sylva is challenging the propriety of an invitation that was extended to the AGF by a five-man panel of justices of the apex court, which had requested him to be present in court during the hearing with a view to assisting the panel as an ‘amicus curia’, a legal terminology that means ‘a friend of the court’.
The panel had extended the same invitation to two other Senior Advocates of Nigeria, Professor Itse Sagay and a former Justice Minister, Chief Richard Akinjide.
They were specifically asked to appear and help the court to iron out some of the controversies surrounding section 180(2) of the 1999 Constitution, which the lower courts relied upon to bar INEC from conducting elections in five states of the federation till next year.
The affected states are Sokoto, Adamawa, Cross River, Kogi and Bayelsa.
INEC was stopped from holding elections in the states on the premise that the four year tenure of their incumbent governors was yet to expire, a decision that is now subject of litigation before the Supreme Court.
Meanwhile, though three SANs were invited to appear in advisory capacity, only the appearance of the AGF is being challenged.
The Bayelsa State Government via a protest letter it forwarded to the Chief Justice of Nigeria, CJN, Justice Dahiru Musdapher, insisted that the AGF was bereft of the locus to offer any advice on the controversial tenure dispute.
Adducing its reasons in the petition it filed through its lead counsel, Chief Ladi Rotimi-Williams, the state maintained that granting such status to the AGF would amount to making him an indirect judge in his own case.
The petitioner specifically drew the attention of the CJN to the fact that the AGF is equally a defendant in the suit, contending that he was therefore bereft of the locus to act as an unbiased amicus-curie.
“As a respondent therefore, unless the AGF has cross-appealed or filed a respondent’s notice in respect of the decision, his role on this appeal is nothing but to support the decision of the Court of Appeal in question”, the state argued.
It further maintained that the AGF has no role to play in the appeal other than support the judgment that was delivered on July 31 by the Abuja Division of the appellate court which had dismissed a similar appeal that was lodged before it by INEC as grossly lacking in merit.
Meanwhile, sequel to the protest letter against the AGF, the Supreme Court yesterday shifted hearing on the substantive appeal by INEC till November 21.
The adjournment will enable the 5-man panel of justices presiding over the matter, to consider the merits or otherwise of the petitioners arguments.
The five Justices on the adjudicatory panel are Justices Mahmud Mohammed, Christopher Mitchel Chukwuma- Eneh, Muhammad Saifullah Muntaka-Coomassie, John Afolabi Fabiyi and Sulaiman Galadima.
INEC had gone before the apex court with a view to getting a superior order that will nullify the earlier decisions of a Federal High Court and the Abuja Division of the Court of Appeal, which had in their separate judgments, barred INEC from conducting elections in the five states till next year.
It is praying the Supreme Court to hold that the tenure of governors Ibrahim Idris of Kogi state, Aliyu Wammako (Sokoto), Murtala Nyako (Adamawa), Liyel Imoke (Cross River) and Timipre Sylva (Bayelsa), ought to have expired on May 29 this year.
It would be recalled that the lower courts had in their separate judgments, relied on the provisions of section 180(2) of the 1999 constitution, to insist that it would be unconstitutional for INEC to compel the aforementioned governors to vacate their respective offices before the expiration of their statutory four year tenure stipulated in the law.
Consequent on that judgment, only 26 states of the federation participated in the governorship election that held on April 26, as five other states consisting of Anambra, Ekiti, Ondo, Osun and Edo, were ab-initio excluded from the polls considering that the tenure of their sitting governors were yet to expire.
Though the initial judgment on the controversial matter was delivered by trial justice Adamu Bello of the Federal High Court on February 23, however, a 5-man panel of justices of the appellate court on July 31, affirmed the decision, even as they dismissed an appeal that was filed against it by INEC.