In its most scathing attack yet on the judiciary regarding the conduct of election petitions, especially the cases being appealed, the Human Rights Writers Association of Nigeria (HURIWA), has said the ruling All Progressives Congress, APC, has conquered the court and is winning its cases because Hon. Justice Monica Dongban-Mensem is the President of the Court of Appeal.
The group stated this on Sunday during a press conference attended by a coalition of civil society groups in Abuja.
HURIWA frowned at contradictory judgements being delivered by the Court of Appeal which have raised concerns in several quarters about the independence of the judiciary, the place of justice and the electoral act in deciding elections cases.
Particularly, the group noted that the judgments that have been delivered in Plateau State have left much to be desired and hinted at possible interference from the President of the Court of Appeal.
It highlighted the National Assembly judgements concerning the Plateau State saying the judgements have raised grave concern even as these have “cast a shadow of doubt and suspicion over the integrity of the state’s judiciary.”
Consequently, it raised questions about the impartiality of the judiciary and its role in ensuring fair and just elections in Nigeria.
The group expressed its deep concern over what appears to be a coordinated effort to issue contradictory judgments, particularly favouring the ruling APC at the expense of some political parties especially the Peoples Democratic Party, PDP, in the case of Plateau State.
It said these concerns go beyond post-election matters and extend to pre-election cases, which, according to established legal precedent, should not be revisited at the appellate level.
One of the primary issues raised by HURIWA is the issuance of contradictory judgments by the Appeal Courts in Plateau State.
“In some instances where the APC came in second, PDP candidates were removed, and the certificate of return was given to the APC, while in other cases where the APC came in third or lower, the courts ordered a rerun,” HURIWA National Coordinator, Emmanuel Onwubiko said during the press conference.
HURIWA considers this inconsistency alarming and believes it raises suspicions of bias.
“Specifically, in the case of Plateau North Senatorial District won by Sen. Simon Mwadkwon of the PDP and the APC candidate coming in third, the Panel, in its judgment in Court of Appeal No. CA/J/EP/PL/SEN/12/2023 delivered on Sunday, October, 2023, curiously annulled the PDP’s victory and ordered INEC to conduct a rerun election among all the parties.
“In the case of Jos North/Bassa Federal Constituency won by Hon. Musa Agar of the PDP and where the APC candidate also came in third, the Panel, in its judgment in Court of Appeal No. CA/J/EP/PL/HR/14/2023 delivered on Friday, October, 2023, annulled the victory of the PDP and ordered a rerun excluding the PDP.
“In the third Appeal Case of Shendam/Quaan-Pan/Mikang Federal Constituency, won by Hon. Isaac Kwallu of the PDP with John Dafwan of the APC as runner-up, the Appeal Court Justices in Court of Appeal No. CA/J/EP/PL/HR/18/2023 annulled the victory of the PDP candidate, declared the APC candidate as the outright winner, and ordered that the Certificate of Return issued to the victorious PDP candidate be withdrawn and a fresh Certificate of Return issued to the APC candidate,” he added.
Stating that pre-election matters have also been subjected to judicial review, leading to the overturning of victories recorded by the PDP in the 2023 elections, HURIWA emphasised that the Court of Appeal did not deliver judgments based on the law and the facts, as the law dictates, stressing that this inconsistency with established legal norms and principles raises concerns about the independence of the judiciary.
He furthermore noted that “allegations against the President of the Court of Appeal, Hon. Justice Monica Dongban-Mensem, have added to the scrutiny.
“While there is no concrete evidence of her involvement in any impropriety, speculations regarding her ethnic background and perceived connections to the Plateau State APC leader are concerning,” the group said.
In response to these developments, HURIWA called for an immediate halt to the perceived systematic use of the judiciary to favour the APC in Plateau State.
The organisation outlined several key actions to address these concerns, including the need for transparency and accountability within the judiciary, emphasising judicial independence, and the review and reconsideration of recent judgments that appear inconsistent with established legal norms.
HURIWA underscored the importance of restoring public confidence by adhering to the principles of fairness, justice, and impartiality within the judiciary.
The group also stressed the significance of educating the public about the role and functioning of the judiciary to foster a better understanding of its importance in Nigeria’s democracy.
While reaffirming its commitment to the rule of law, democracy, and justice, the organisation pledged to monitor developments in Plateau State and across the nation to ensure that the rights of the people are upheld.
Both Mrs Josephine J. Ekperobe and Umar M. Bangari, the Registrar and the Chief Registrar, could not be reached for comments as of the time of filing this report as their phone lines did not connect.