The Peoples Democratic Party has called for the dissolution of one of the panels presiding over the Rivers State National and State Houses of Assembly Elections Tribunal sitting in Abuja.
PDP’s grouse contained in a petition addressed to the President of the Court of Appeal, Justice Zainab Bulkachuwa, is that the Chairman of the panel in question, Justice Victor Okorie, being a judge of the Customary Court of Appeal, is not qualified to serve on the panel of any election petitions tribunal.
According to the party, Justice Okorie was appointed Chairman of the tribunal in violation of provisions of Paragraphs 1 (1) and (2) of the Sixth Schedule to the nation’s Constitution, the same argument canvassed by the party in a pending application before the tribunal asking the presiding judge to disqualify himself from further taking part in the proceedings.
Publicity Secretary of the All Progressives Congress in Rivers State, Mr. Chris Finebone, whose party’s candidate, Magnus Abe, is challenging the victory of the PDP’s candidate in the March 28, 2015 National Assembly election for the South-East Senatorial District at the tribunal, supported the call for the dissolution of the tribunal.
Finebone said the error of empanelling Justice Okorie to preside over the panel was not that of the Justice Bulkachuwa but that of the state judiciary which nominated the judge to be a member of the panel.
“Therefore, the APC would like to urge the relevant authorities to do the needful with dispatch to thwart the penchant of the PDP to utilise every available opportunity to cause delays to the quick dispense of justice on election petitions pending at the various tribunals,” Finebone’s statement read in part.
The PDP through one of the lawyers, Chief Godwin Obla (SAN), representing one of its candidates before the tribunal, made the request for the dissolution of the tribunal in a July 24, 2015 petition addressed to Justice Bulkachuwa.
The President of the Court of Appeal is statutorily empowered to constitute and oversee election petitions tribunal.
PDP, in its petition to Justice Bulkachuwa also threatened to initiate separate proceedings before the Federal High Court to disband the panel if its request is not acceded to.
PDP’s petition to Bulkachuwa read in part, “Justice Okorie, chairman of the tribunal is not a judge of a High Court.
“Justice Okorie, chairman of the tribunal is a Justice of the Customary Court of Appeal, Imo State.
“The President of the Court of Appeal violated the provisions of Paragraph 1(2) of the 6th Schedule to the Constitution (Second Alteration) Act 2011 when she failed to appoint a judge of the High Court as a Chairman of the National and State
Houses of Assembly Election Tribunal for Rivers State (Part 1) sittinh at the High Court of thee Federal Capital Territory Apo Abuja.
“We urge your Lordship to timeously look into this matter by taking appropriate steps to correct the anomaly by disbanding and re-constituting a new panel failing which we shall be constrained to take immediate steps by recourse to legal proceedings in the Federal High Court for the interpretation of the relevant statute as they touch and affect the said panel.”
Justice Okorie-led tribunal is presiding over the petition filed by Senator Magnus Abe of the All Progressives Congress challenging the election of Olaka Nwogu of the PDP as Senator representing Rivers South-East Senatorial District.
Finebone said the APC was not opposed to the reconstitution of the panel as long it was meant to correct verifiable errors.
His statement read in part, “The APC is not averse to rectifying the constitution of any of the election petition panels as long as such action is to put right a cogent and verifiable error noticed in the process.
“In the case in point, the APC, as a law-abiding party, agrees that it was wrong to appoint the said Justice Uchenna Okorie being a Justice of the Customary Court of Appeal in Imo State instead of being a Justice of the high court.
“The APC will always be in support of what is right unlike our opponents, the PDP who, time and again, allow selfish and pecuniary benefits to determine where they stand on major issues of constitutionality and play politics with everything.”