SENIOR lawyers have praised the courage of the Justices of the Court of Appeal on the judgment delivered on December 31, last year, which declared the All Progressives Grand Alliance, APGA, governorship candidate, Dr Alex Otti as winner of the Abia State governorship election. The court, presided over by Justice Oyebisi Omoleye, nullified the declaration of Governor Okezie Ikpeazu as winner of the election. Also on the panel were Justice Chinwe Iyizoba, Justice Samuel Oseji, Justice Tijani Abubakar and Justice Jamilu Tukur.
Otti and APGA were the appellants, while Ikpeazu, Peoples Democratic Party, PDP and Independent National Electoral Commission, INEC, were the respondents. The Court of Appeal declared Otti as winner of the gubernatorial election and supplementary poll held on April 11 and 25, 2015.
The appellate court nullified the declaration of Ikpeazu as winner of the election and held that Otti scored the majority of lawful and valid votes cast and satisfied the constitutional requirements of one quarter of votes in at least two-thirds of the 17 local government areas.
Several senior lawyers including former Abia State Attorney-General, Chief Awa Kalu (SAN), agreed with the decision, adding that that the justices cannot be faulted. The lawyers praised the courage of the appellate court which looked at the substantive evidence and merit of the case beyond the reasoning of the election petition tribunal. Kalu said: I have read the judgment of the Court of Appeal in Abia State election dispute. I totally agree with the reasoning and conclusions of the Justices. I align myself with the decision. Another Senior Advocate of Nigeria, Chief Felix Fagbohungbe, said it is uncharitable for anyone to criticise the appellate court justices.
Testimonies and processes
Fagbohungbe said: The panel has taken a position, and the Supreme Court should be allowed to decide. It can agree with the appeal tribunal, so how will the critics feel if the Supreme Court says the appeal tribunal was correct? The justices read all the exhibits and all the testimonies and processes, and in their wisdom, they felt this (Otti’s declaration as winner) is how it should go. So, it is uncharitable for anyone to criticise such a judgment. They should wait for the Supreme Court, which is the final court to take a position.
What if the Supreme Court says the appeal tribunal is right? So it will be uncharitable to the justices of the Court of Appeal to be criticised at this stage. Also, you cannot be playing to the gallery at this level and undermine what the Supreme Court will say. Also, a former Ikeja Branch chairman of the Nigerian Bar Association, NBA, Onyekachi Ubani, faulted those making unfounded allegations against the justices, saying it was wrong to attack their integrity without proof. saying It is wrong to make an allegation that one has no proof of, such as that they have taken bribes or they are corrupt just because the judgment does not favour you.
A Lagos lawyer and activist, Toluwani Adebiyi, said an appellate court judgment was less likely to be overturned by the Supreme Court. He said: “What I know that Court of Appeal judgments are more reliable. You can have more confidence in a Court of Appeal decision that a lower court decision. This is in the sense that Court of Appeal decisions are not just by one person,