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Judicial review: When Supreme Court took lawyers to the cleaners

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The Supreme Court wielded the big stick on two of the Bar’s finest Chief Afe Babalola, SAN, and Chief Wole Olanipekun, SAN, on Wednesday, following its dismissal of the All Progressives Congress (c) and David Lyon’s bid for review of the Bayelsa State governorship election verdict. It was not the first time lawyers will face the apex court’s wrath, writes ROBERT EGBE.

Lawyers who worked closely with the late Chief Gani Fawehinmi, SAN, often recall what he said whenever he was irritated or annoyed.

“What is wrong with you nau?” Fawehinmi would often scold the squirming recipient.

They thought it was a special rebuke reserved for them, until the day they heard the legal giant saying to himself: “What is wrong with me nau?”

This was after he had turned his office upside down for a document that was right on the desk in front of him.

The Supreme Court told Chief Afe Babalola, SAN, and Chief Wole Olanipekun, SAN, pretty much the same thing on Wednesday, albeit in a different choice of words.

The court, in a unanimous ruling, came down heavily on the legal giants, both counsel to the All Progressives Congress (APC) and David Lyon, after dismissing their application for a review of its verdict on the Bayelsa State governorship election.

The justices were so angry that they ordered the lawyers to pay N10 million each to each of the three respondents from their own pockets.

The seven-man panel led by Sylvester Ngwuta dismissed the two applications for lacking in merit.

Justice Amina Augie while delivering the verdict said the request to review the judgment was vexatious, frivolous, regrettable and a deliberate desecration of the judiciary.

“I cannot believe, and with tears in my eye, I say I cannot believe that in my life time, I will see very senior members of the Bar, bring applications of this nature to this court, which are aimed at desecrating the sanctity of this court, foul its well-known principle that the decision of this court is final and destroying the esteem in which this court is held.

“The end result of the foregoing is that these are applications are vexatious, they are frivolous and they amount to a gross abuse of the court process,” Justice Augie said.

Other members of the panel, including Ngwuta, Mary Odili, Olukayode Ariwoola, John Okoro, Kudirat Kekere-Ekun and Ejembi Eko agreed with the lead ruling.

The verdict brings to an end the APC’s hope of ousting Duoye Diri and the Peoples Democratic Party from office.

Cases where lawyers courted Supreme Court’s anger

But the Lyon/APC case was not the first time the court would vent its spleen on lawyers seeking a review.

It will probably also not be the last.

On January 14, the Supreme Court removed the PDP’s Emeka Ihedioha and ordered the swearing-in of the APC’s Senator Hope Uzodinma, as Imo State Governor following the last March 9 election.

Ihedioha and the PDP have approached the court for a reversal of the judgment.

Three days ago, the PDP also demanded a review of the Supreme Court judgments on the presidential election that affirmed President Muhammadu Buhari’s victory in the 2019 presidential election.

The party also said it will ask for a review of the apex court’s judgment in respect of governorship elections in Kaduna, Kano, Katsina and Osun states, which the party lost to the APC.

Omehia vs Amaechi

The apex court berated the counsel for former Rivers State Governor Celestine Omehia, when he sought a review of the Supreme Court judgment delivered on October 25, 2007, which replaced him with Rotimi Amaechi.

In December 2006, Amaechi contested and won the PDP primaries, but his name was substituted with Omehia’s.

In 2007, Amaechi filed a suit challenging the decision. The Supreme Court held that Amaechi was wrongly substituted with Omehia. It declared Amaechi as the governor.

Omehia’s counsel, James Esike, argued that the verdict was without jurisdiction as the highest court made an order not sought for.

On November 2, 2009, the apex court dismissed Omehia’s application for a review of its judgment and awarded N100, 000 cost against him.

Former Chief Justice of Nigeria (CJN), the late Aloysius Katsina-Alu told the lawyer: “In my view, your action here is serious professional misconduct. We have given our decision two years ago and you are here asking us to review it.

“Even if we stay here till December, you will get nothing. At best, you can attract punitive damages. Whether right or wrong, that judgment stands.

“You are treading a dangerous ground by asking us to reverse ourselves. We have no right to sit on appeal over our decision. Our judgment is not a nullity and you can go on and appeal to God.”

Uba vs Obi

A former President Olusegun Obasanjo’s aide Andy Uba and others twice sought a reversal of the Supreme Court judgment of June 14, 2007, which validated Peter Obi’s status as governor.

Dismissing the application, the late Justice Katsina-Alu said hearing the applications would amount to a wild goose chase.

At Uba’s second attempt, the Supreme Court said the application was a “thorough abuse of the judicial process.”

Then Chief Justice of Nigeria (CJN), the late Idris Legbo Kutigi, held: “This court held in its earlier judgment that the notice of appeal filed by Peter Obi at the Court of Appeal was valid.

“Yet, after our judgment, the applicant went straight back to the trial court to ask it to void the same notice of appeal which this court had declared valid. When he failed, he went back to the Court of Appeal and failed and has returned to us.

“What kind of country is this where Senior Advocates of Nigeria are used to mess up the judiciary? We will not allow this kind of practice. This is wrong.

“The appellant has been shuttling from one court to another on a matter that the Supreme Court had already delivered judgment.

“If the Supreme Court makes a mistake, there are procedures of correcting the mistakes; not this way, and we will not allow it.”

Dingyadi v Wamakko

Dingyadi v Wamakko which was delivered on April 8, 2011 is another case where the apex court refused to review its verdict.

The matter was between Muhammadu Dingyadi of the Democratic Peoples Party, DPP and Aliyu Wamakko of the PDP over the Sokoto State governorship tussle.

The lead counsel for the appellants in the case were Chief Akin Olujinmi, SAN and Mr. Rickey Tarfa, SAN.

Justice Olufunlola Adekeye, who delivered the lead ruling, said: “Any request by a court for a departure or overruling or re-visiting or reviewing or setting aside its previous decision will jeopardize the stable rules of judicial precedent – stare decisis.

“This is a basic reason why the courts particularly the Supreme Court may not find it easy to readily yield to such invitation.

“I hold that the application lacks merit and it must be dismissed in its entirety. There must be an end to litigation. This court is the final court in this country under the Constitution. The court of Appeal and all the lower courts are bound by the decisions of the Supreme Court. It is the mirror for viewing the sacred temple of justice.”

Ogboru vs Uduaghan

In 2014, former Democratic Peoples Party (DPP) governorship candidate in Delta State, Chief Great Ogboru, had, through his counsel Dr Dickson Osuala, sought a review of the judgment which upheld former Governor Emmanuel Uduaghan’s victory.

Osuala claimed that Section 285 (7) of the Constitution, which the Supreme Court relied on to dismiss his client’s case, was “fraudulently inserted by the National Assembly”, and that its addition did not follow due process.

The Supreme Court dismissed the case and awarded N8million cost to Uduaghan.

Former Chief Justice Walter Onnoghen held: “The said N8million is awarded as cost against the person of Dr Osuala and is to be paid from his pocket to the respondents.

“The plaintiff, through his counsel, wants to resurrect a dead and buried horse.”

Ogboru twice failed in his attempt to have the judgment reviewed.

The Zamfara case

One of the most recent examples of a failed attempt to have a judgment reversed involves the APC and its candidates on the last Zamfara State elections.

Last July 22, the Supreme Court rejected a request to review its May 24, 2019 judgment voiding APC’s participation in the polls.

A five-man panel, led by Justice Olabode Rhodes-Vivour, struck out the application filed on behalf of APC and its candidates by a leading lawyer, Robert Clarke (SAN).

Clarke said the application was for the Supreme Court to reconsider its judgment which transferred APC’s victory to PDP, which came second in the poll.

But, the justices faulted the application, saying the APC and other applicants did not provide a valid basis for a review.

Justice Ejembi Eko noted that the application was wrongly brought under Order 8, Rule16 of the Supreme Court’s Rules.

Justice Amina Augie noted that the grounds on which the application was brought did not qualify for the court to review its earlier decision.

Justices John Okoro and Amiru Sanusi noted that since the case, on which the earlier judgment was given, was a pre-election case for which the Constitution allows the Supreme Court 60 days to determine, the court no longer had jurisdiction to revisit the case.

Justice Rhodes-Vivour said: “The Supreme Court has no jurisdiction over the matter because anything that has to do with pre-election matter must be brought within 60 days after a decision had been delivered.

“We don’t seat on appeal over our own decision. We have no jurisdiction over this matter.”

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