OPINION – The Naked Judge In Kano

It is a pre-election matter which ought to be filed within 14 days after the primary elections or occurrence of any other exercise complained of

By Emmanuel Ogbeche

The Dutch-Pakistani poet, author, and journalist, Ehsan Sehgal, had reason to say; “The judges, who breach, violate and break the concept of the constitution and law; they are not fair, to society, even to themselves. They just put the mask on their faces as the judge. However, history is their judge that does not ignore the reality.”

The import of these words is lost on Justice Mohammed. N. Yunusa, a Federal High Court sitting in Kano State. On Friday, May 19, 2023, Justice Yunusa once again made the headlines for infamy as he had previously done when he purportedly nullified the candidature of the Abia State Governor-elect, Dr Alex Otti, as well as the candidature of all Labour Party flagbearers in Abia and Kano States.

According to the judge, Otti’s emergence, and that of others, was not in compliance with the 2022 Electoral Act.

In a ruling on Suit No FHC/KN/CS/107/2023 filed by one Mr. Ibrahim Haruna Ibrahim against the Labour Party and the Independent National Electoral Commission, Justice Yunusa held that; “The party that has not complied with the provisions of the electoral act cannot be said to have a candidate in an election and cannot be declared winner of an election; this being so, the votes credited to the 1st defendant is a wasted vote.”

According to him, the failure of the Labour Party to submit its membership register to the INEC within 30 days before their primaries rendered the process invalid.

A little background to who Justice Yunusa is will help readers understand the curious nature of the ‘jankara’ judgment in Kano state.

In 2016, the National Judicial Council (NJC), found Justice Yunusa culpable of acts of alleged misconduct at a time he was standing trial for bribery allegation by the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC).

A Premium Times report of July 25, 2016, noted that the NJC having placed Justice Yunusa, then a serving judge at the Enugu Division of the Federal High Court, on suspension, required the approval of President Muhammadu Buhari for the judge’s compulsory retirement.

But for whatever expediency, “President Buhari refused to act on the NJC’s recommendation, creating a window for the judge to return to the NJC for a review of his case last year (2020),” the Premium Times report stated.

So, it is safe to assume that the latest miscarriage of justice in the Abia LP matter could have been influenced not by any judicial sense, rather mercantile influence.

It is gratifying to note that legal minds are speaking up on the folly of the judgment. A Lagos-based lawyer, Barrister Inibehe Effiong, has this to say on the judgement, “Section 285 of the Constitution states that all pre-election matters must be filed within 14 days of event. A case relating to election is either a pre-election matter or a post-election matter (election petition).

“If the case filed by Ibrahim Haruna Ibrahim at the Federal High Court in Kano was/is a pre-election matter, it should have been filed within 14 days of the primaries. How can a court assume jurisdiction in a matter that is indisputably statute barred?
“This is shocking.”

Mr. Effiong further noted that, “also, no candidate was joined as a party in this suit. I have noted that Abia is specifically mentioned in the judgment. A court in Kano cannot nullify primaries outside Kano. The jurisdiction of the Federal High Court cannot be invoked this way.

“Nullifying primaries of candidates, and even declaring votes scored as wasted votes in this circumstance, goes against all established principles of law and fair hearing. The court lacked jurisdiction.

“This type of judgment has the potential of exposing the judiciary to avoidable public ridicule.”

Also, Ugochukwu Ezekiel-hanks, a lawyer based in Nigeria’s Federal Capital Territory, Abuja, made the point in a Facebook that, “so many things seem to be wrong with the Kano judgment against Labour party and INEC Nigeria.

“The matter was commenced few days ago and judgment was delivered within eight days. WITHIN EIGHT DAYS! WONDERFUL!!

“How was the originating summons served and what happened to the days allowed by the Federal High Court rules for Defendants to file and serve their defence?

“Outside the germane question of territorial jurisdiction, the matter is also statute barred considering the fact that it challenged the validity of nomination of Labour Party candidates. It is a pre-election matter which ought to be filed within 14 days after the primary elections or occurrence of any other exercise complained of.”

As a matter of preserving its integrity, it is expedient for the NJC to commence investigation into this latest assault on judicial equity and sense by Justice Yunusa. While we wait for the NJC to weigh in on the matter, it is even more urgent for the Labour Party, its Abia governor-elect, Dr. Alex Otti, and civil society to petition the NJC to look at the conduct of Justice Yunusa and ensure that this time around, he is not left the hook for obvious miscarriage of justice.

To do otherwise is to embolden some other rogues in judges’ robes.

* Ogbeche, a journalist, is the Chairman of NUJ, FCT chapter.

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