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Yar'adua's Carrot and Stick: Justice James Ogebe, Chairman of Presidential Election Tribunal Elevated to Supreme Court.

February 19, 2008
As Nigerians await the verdict of the Presidential Elections Tribunal on last year’s contested presidential polls, investigations by Saharareporters have revealed a growing use of extraneous arguments in the deliberations of the judicial panel.

Legal experts familiar with the case have told our correspondents that the judgment is due for delivery on or before March 14th 2008.

A source within the panel of judges disclosed that the lead judge in the case, Justice James Ogebe, has stuck stubbornly to the argument that the tribunal must not give a judgment that will in his words “threaten the stability of the nation.”

Justice Ogebe, according to our source, has used that political doctrine to push a verdict that would uphold the presidential election, despite the overwhelming evidence that it was rigged.

Fears that Ogebe was leaning towards validating the election were boosted by when Umar Yar'adua, the current occupant of Aso Rock, suddenly approved Ogebe’s elevation to the Supreme Court.

Even though the National Judicial Council selected Ogebe a while ago for promotion, several legal experts told Saharareporters that the timing of his elevation, barely two weeks to the delivery of the presidential election verdict, is a cynical and calculated effort to influence the verdict.

Last week, in two different reports Saharareporters had detailed plans by Umar Yar'adua to bribe Justice Ogebe through his Washington, DC-based son, Emmanuel Ogebe. Our reliable sources had put the sum of the bribe at $2 million.

Even though the reports contained specific details, and named Nigeria’s Attorney General Michael Aondoakaa as the spearhead of the plot, Yar’adua’s media handlers remained silent.

The local media in Nigeria also maintained a conspiratorial silence, even though one editor confided in our correspondent that he knew the report was factual.

James Ogebe is the chairman of a five-member panel of judges whose other members are Justice Jega, Justice Fabiyi, Justice Igwe and Justice Uwani M. Abba-Aji. The tribunal recently concluded its sitting after taking final submissions from the last two petitioners, Alhaji Abubakar Atiku of the AC, and General Muhammadu Buhari, the presidential candidate of the ANPP.

Several legal analysts watching the tribunal sittings said Justice Ogebe was too quick to dismiss other petitioners from other political parties who filed petitions seeking the cancellation of the polls. He flatly refused to allow Alhaji Abubakar Atiku to dock former President Olusegun Obasanjo, Umar Yar'adua, and his vice, Jonathan Goodluck, to explain the role they played in rigging the elections. He also refused to allow reports from international and local observers to form part of the evidence of the tribunal. In fact, Justice Ogebe had to be forced to allow interrogatories of INEC and its chairman, Maurice Iwu, because the Supreme Court overruled his earlier rejection of the interrogatories.

A senior legal scholar who has been observing the case described as curious Justice Ogebe’s seeming haste to short-circuit the proceedings. He noted that the justice kept saying, “The whole world is watching us, and we need to get this done so that this country can move forward.” Though this scholar said Justice Ogebe was not known to be a bribe taker, he said it was clear that Ogebe “favors letting the botched elections pass, and letting Yar'adua keep his stolen mandate.”

Our investigations also revealed that three other judges on the panel are opposed to toeing Ogebe’s line. Instead, they are arguing that outright cancellation of the election is the best way to ensure national stability and real democratic growth.

Our sources said the three pro-cancellation justices were shocked to realize that Justice Ogebe had started writing the judgement of the tribunal before the Supreme Court ordered that Maurice Iwu be served the interrogatories. Iwu’s sworn responses are believed to be so rife with deliberate perjury that some lawyers are considering prosecuting him. Even so, Justice Ogebe would not allow the parties to follow up on the interrogatories.

A source within Aso Rock told Saharareporters that Yar’adua’s handlers have decided to borrow from Obasanjo’s 2003 script to influence the panel’s judgment. The source disclosed that the Kaduna and Katsina State governments had moved a cache of cash to Abuja in a last-minute push to sway the justices seeking to cancel the election. The source said the cash had to be sourced from the two states because Yar’adua was slow to respond to calls to provide the money directly from Aso Rock.

Legal analysts state that Yar'adua could use Ogebe's elevation to the Supreme Court as a double-edged sword. If the panel rules against Yar'adua, then Yar'adua’s lawyers could argue on appeal that Ogebe’s elevation to the Supreme Court automatically disqualified him from sitting on cases at the lower court.

If Ogebe rules in favor of Yar'adua, then his promotion would mean that he would try hard to persuade the other justices of the apex court to sustain the verdict.

Yar’adua’s strategy was employed by former President Obasanjo to get a favorable—and fraudulent—judgment from the Presidential Elections Tribunal in 2003. Two of the justices who wrote the judgment, Justice Oguntade and Justice Francis Tabai, were promoted to the Supreme Court.

Apart from Justice Ogebe, another judge elevated by Yar'adua earlier today to the Supreme Court is Justice Muktar Kumasi. Incidentally, Justice Kumasi wrote the controversial judgment that purportedly declared that Mr. Andy Uba’s election valid, as according to him, the state electoral tribunal did not properly nullify his election as the governor of Anambra. That confusing judgment has led Mr. Uba’s media handlers to contend that he is a “governor-in-waiting,” a legally empty ploy objective is to protect Mr. Uba from prosecution on corruption charges.

Saharareporters had reported that both Justice Kumasi and Justice Mensen, who read the controversial judgment, disappeared to Abuja where they claimed that they were amending the judgment. A senior advocate who spoke to us said it was an irony that Kumasi “was elevated to the nation’s highest court a mere twenty-four hours later.”

It is unclear how today’s developments are going to play out for the future of the Supreme Court as well as their impact on the presidential tribunal.

Justice Ogebe, an Idoma from Benue State, is no stranger to controversial elevations and demotions. In the 1980s he was denied the spot of the Chief Judge of Benue State while Justice Idoko got the position. One source told our reporter that, but for his stubborn nature, he ought to have become a Supreme Court justice about the same time Justice Katsina-Alu was promoted. But the source said some of his rulings, considered controversial or unfavorable to the government, delayed his promotion.

Saharareporters learned that Ogebe’s recommendation to the Supreme Court suffered under Obasanjo because he wrote a judgment restoring Rashidi Ladoja to power as the governor of Oyo State. The judgment, which removed Obasanjo’s favorite, Alao Akala, derailed Ogebe’s rise.

Ogebe is said to be the third most senior person within the Nigerian judiciary after Justices Kutigi and Sylvester Onu, both of them on the Supreme Court.

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