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Presidential Tribunal Verdict: Over-Confident Yar'adua travels to China on Tuesday, Former Senator Abba-Aji to the Rescue

February 23, 2008
As the Presidential Elections Tribunal approaches the D-Day for the delivery of its judgment regarding the flawed April 2007 elections, feelers from the seat of government in Abuja shows an air of over-confidence by Umar Musa Yar'adua over the impending verdict of the tribunal.

Many Nigerian lawyers and political pundits expect the tribunal will cancel the polls that illegally put Yar’adua in Aso Rock, Nigeria’s seat of power. But in a move that underlines his over-confidence, Yar'adua has decided to leave for China on Tuesday evening on a state visit to the Asian country, even though the state visit is scheduled from February 28 to March 2. A source in the presidency attributed the early departure to time difference between Nigeria and China.

But another source in Yar’adua’s inner circles disclosed to Saharareporters that Mr. Yar’adua’s decision to hop off to China reflected his confidence that his operatives had softened a majority of the tribunal members to grant victory to the resident of Aso Rock.

Over the last few months and weeks, Saharareporters has detailed serious efforts by Yar’adua’s camp to compromise the tribunal members as they settled to finalize their judgment. We specifically reported attempts by the Attorney General of the Federation, Michael Aondoakaa, to reach the Chairman of the Tribunal, Justice James Ogebe, through his U.S.-based son, Emmanuel Ogebe.

Several sources have revealed to us that the nomination of Justice James Ogebe for the Supreme Court days before his tribunal’s ruling was meant to reassure the Benue-born judge that the Federal Government was serious about fulfilling its own end of a deal.

Justice Ogebe’s son, Emmanuel Ogebe, was seen with AGF Aondoakaa on February 4th 2008 at the premises of the Presidential Elections Tribunal in Abuja speaking in confidential tones just as striking judicial workers put the premises in a lockdown.

While Ogebe is a senior jurist and widely regarded as knowledgeable about the law, many have viewed his sudden elevation to the Supreme Court as a suspect maneuver.

“It’s a move out of [former President] Obasanjo’s script,” said a senior advocate, who demanded anonymity. “It speaks volumes about what may have gone underground to appease the chairman of the tribunal as a final means of getting him on board to rule in favor of Umar Yar'adua.”

Apart from Justice Ogebe, our investigations also revealed that direct efforts were made to induce other tribunal members and their families. We have learned, for example, that Justice Uwani Abba-Aji has been pressured with substantial financial inducement. Justice Abba-Aji, the panel’s only female jurist, hails from Borno State, the same state as the Secretary to the Federal Government, Baba Gana Kingibe. Saharareporters found out that Yar’adua contracted former Senator Abba-Aji to spearhead the campaign to woo the justice.

Our source said the aggressive pursuit of Justice Abba-Aji could have clinched the victory for an Umar Yar'adua who was going down in a tribunal that was once split 3-2 against him and his flawed mandate.

Senator Mohammed Abba-Aji represented Borno Central Senatorial district during the 2003-2007 session of the Senate. Our sources said Justice Uwani Abba-Aji is married to the former senator’s younger brother, Musa Abba-Aji, a one time Head of Service at the Borno State Civil Service.

The inducement project, which has been long going, has enabled the former senator, who in 2006 decamped from ANPP to PDP, to earn a place on the protocol list at the Presidency.

A few sources familiar with the former senator said he exercises immense control over his brother's family and may have pulled the strings needed for Yar'adua to feel confident that the tribunal will rule in his favor on Tuesday.

A former colleague of Senator Mohamed Abba-Aji described him as “a political prostitute,” adding that he fanatically supported former President Obasanjo's third term agenda in 2006 in return for handsome monetary rewards.

A source familiar with Senator Abba-Aji’s involvement in the plan to bribe the tribunal said he suspected that the former senator had obtained a copy of the tribunal’s judgment and handed it over to Yar'adua last week. The source told Saharareporters that members of the tribunal possibly gave themselves away by accepting to use voice software during their conference deliberations.

While sources inside Aso Rock told Saharareporters that Yar'adua is supremely confident of victory, a few opposition sources said Yar’adua’s optimism might be celebrating too early. “It is not impossible that Justice Ogebe may have changed his position since compelling the government to announce his nomination for a place on the Supreme Court. Tuesday will be a day of revelation,” said the source.

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