The Coalition of United Political Parties (CUPP) yesterday alleged that the Federal Government had been mounting undue pressure on the Chief Justice of Nigeria (CJN), Tanko Muhammad, to accept a list of some persons allegedly selected to be members of the presidential election petition appeal tribunal.
At a press conference held on the alleged plot yesterday in Abuja, the spokesman of CUPP, Ikenga Imo Ugochinyere, said the coalition had vowed to reject any such move to handpick justices to seat on Atiku Abubakar’s appeal.
Atiku was the presidential candidate of the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) during the 2019 election which the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) declared was won by President Muhammadu Buhari. He has approached the Supreme Court to appeal the judgment of the Court of Appeal which dismissed his petition against the declaration of Buhari as the winner.
Ugochinyere, at the press briefing, said that the opposition would not have confidence in a handpicked panel of justices to hear Atiku’s appeal in violation of the seniority tradition.
“We have it on good authority that the APC-led Federal Government has been mounting undue pressure on the Chief Justice of Nigeria and indeed the entire court to accept a handpicked panel and jettison the age-long tradition of the court of selecting the most senior justices of the Supreme Court to sit on the panel.
“The disquiet and bad blood caused by the APC in the Supreme Court now is a clear desecration of the highest temple of justice in the land. The opposition and most Nigerians will not accept a handpicked panel, neither will the pronouncement of such panel command the requite respect and confidence of the people of Nigeria and we in the opposition,” the group said.
The coalition of opposition parties noted that “the Supreme Court is, for the people, the last hope of the judiciary. The actions of the Supreme Court must inspire national confidence and deliver not just judgment but justice, and that path to justice is not only about the law but about the ordinary man believing that justice has been done.
“The Supreme Court is supreme and its words must be for the protection of the society and the people and the law. A grave error was done at Appeal Court and the nation is waiting to see how a man who violated the Electoral Act and was supposed to have been disqualified managed to survive at the Appeal Court. That court failed in both the issues of law and issues of national interest.”
In a reaction, the judge dismissed the allegation that the CJN was being pressurized to alter the composition of the appeal tribunal.
A senior staff member in the office of the CJN, who did not want to be named, described such allegation as blackmail.
Noting that the CJN had encouraged anyone with evidence of corrupt practices against the judiciary to send such to him, the judicial officer accused politicians who might have lost the election of being behind the allegation.
“It is blackmail, and it is because judges are not meant to speak to the public; so, they keep quiet while people pass judgment left, right and centre. In every election, there must be a winner or loser. So, people should not feel that it must be their candidate,” he said.
Presidency officials did not respond to requests for a reaction to the allegation. Also, efforts to reach the National Publicity Secretary of the APC, Lanre Issa Onilu, on phone as at 6.23 pm to react to the issue were not fruitful as he neither picked his call nor replied messages sent to him.
Nevertheless, at an interactive session with reporters penultimate week, he described a similar allegation as baseless.
“Ideally, we would not have responded to the so-called CUPP which is just an arm of PDP. Faced with the challenges that we currently have in this country, it is a complete waste of time to respond to charlatans.
“It is not in our practice to arm-twist any institution whatsoever, least of them the judiciary. We understand the importance of this arm of government; we understand that we are all surviving and living on the rule of law, and the only way to undermine the order and security of a nation is to undermine the judiciary. By the time you strangulate these judicial officers, then you are charting a path to the collapse of the institution that we all rely upon to survive as a nation.
“So, it is clearly not our practice but we also understand where PDP is coming from. We understand that for their 16 years in office, that was the practice, and perhaps they imagine that this is the instrument that any other political party would want to apply. We don’t need to strangulate the judiciary and we don’t need to undermine any institution. We don’t need to disparage the judiciary.”