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All the three members of the panel of Justices of the Court of Appeal handling the cases of the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) in respect of the Ondo State governorship candidacy for the November 26 election have stepped down from the cases.
This is coming on the heels of allegations that the justices have been compromised with N350 million bribe to give judgment in favour of one of the factions of the party.
The Senator Ahmed Makarfi-led faction and that of Senator Ali Modu Sheriff are battling for the chairmanship position of the party as well as governorship candidacy of the party in the state.
Following a directive by the Abuja division of the Federal High Court, Sheriff’s preferred candidate, Jimoh Ibrahim, was recognised as the party’s candidate for the election.
The electoral umpire had few months ago recognized Eyitayo Jegede from the Makarfi camp.
The special panel raised to determine the appeals relating to the PDP governorship was led by Justice Jumai Sankey. The two other members are Justices E. Agim and O.E William-Dawudu.
Justice Sankey, in a short ruling, yesterday, directed that the files of all the five pending appeals relating to the PDP governorship ticket in Ondo State be returned to the President of the Court of Appeal, Justice Zainab Bulkachuwa, for re-assignment to another panel.
The three justices disqualified themselves from the cases following a petition written by Senator Sheriff’s factional chairman of the party in Ondo State, Prince Biyi Poroye, who alleged that the justices had been compromised.
In the petition dated 31st October, 2016 and addressed to the President of the Court of Appeal, the petitioner alleged that Governor Olusegun Mimiko had boasted that he and Governor Nyesom Wike of Rivers State have settled the justices with N350 million.
The petition was copied to President Muhammadu Buhari, the Chief Justice of Nigeria (CJN) and the panel itself.
Poroye, who swore to affidavit evidence to buttress his allegation, said he believed that the justices have been compromised because the presiding justice, Jumai Hannatu Sankey, “is prone to corruption.”
At the resumption of hearing of the matter, Justice Sankey drew the attention of lawyers in the case to the petition and demanded to know whether the panel could still go ahead with hearing of the case, in spite of the strongly worded petition.
Chief Wole Olanipekun (SAN), who stood for Mr. Eyitayo Jegede, SAN, initially recognised as the PDP candidate for the election, said he was taken aback by the development and that he was not copied.
The senior counsel described the petition as most embarrassing, unfair, unfortunate and un-godly because the justices had not taken any step to suggest any likelihood of bias.
Counsel to the petitioner, Dr. Alex Izinyon (SAN), in his reaction said he was speechless because he had no inkling of the petition, and was not consulted by his client before writing the petition.
However, attempt to produce the petitioner in court was unsuccesful as he was said to have fled the court immediately the issue of the petition was raised.
Justice Sankey said: “Conscience is an open wound, only truth can heal it. Why did he run out of court when he has the audacity to append his signature on the shameless petition and the affidavit?
“We hereby step down from this matter and the case files are to be returned to the president of this court for re-assignment to another panel,” she said.
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