Supreme Court’s ruling on Bayelsa is final

It is a signal to remind Nigerians that their decision on any matter is final. On the gubernatorial election in Bayelsa, the Supreme Court’s message is clear: It will resist any attempt to belittle its dignity and finality.

The apex court demonstrated this yesterday when it dismissed applications filed by the All Progressives Congress (APC) and its governorship candidates in Bayelsa State, David Lyon and Biobarakuma Degi-Eremienyo, seeking a review of its February 13 judgment.

In the judgment, the apex court voided the election of Lyon and his deputy, Degi-Eremienyo, for perjury. But not satisfied with the verdict, the APC and its candidates returned to the Supreme Court, asking it to review the judgment.

The court, however, dismissed the two applications filed and argued on behalf of the applicants by their counsel, Chief Afe Babalola (SAN) and Chief Wole Olanipekun (SAN), on the grounds that they were without merit and amounted to an abuse of court process.

The seven-man panel headed by Justice Sylvester Ngwuta, in a unanimous judgment, described APC’s request for a review of the judgment that voided the participation of its candidate in the Bayelsa governorship election as “vexatious, frivolous and an abuse of court process.”

Justice Amina Augie, who read the lead judgment, noted that the applications were an attempt to make the court violate its rules and the provision of the constitution, which makes it the final court of the land.

The justice further held that the applications, if granted, had the capacity to belittle the dignity and status of the court and open a floodgate for such requests in the future.

The court also expressed regret that senior lawyers in the country could be involved in the filing of such applications, which it further described as regrettable motions and a deliberate desecration of the judiciary.

Justice Augie consequently awarded N10 million cost against APC and its candidates in favour of each of the respondents (PDP, its governorship and deputy governorship candidates in the last election – Senator Duoye Diri and Lawrence Ewhrudjakpo).

The court ordered that the fine be paid personally by the applicants’ lawyers – Babalola, who represented the first and second applicants, and Olanipekun who represented APC.

Justice Augie said: “I feel like shedding tears that senior counsel, in this case, would ever bring this kind of frivolous applications during my life time.”

According to the court, by Order 8, Rule 16 of the Supreme Court, the court has no powers or authority to review any judgment delivered on merit save for clerical error.

“This court is not authorized and indeed, lacks jurisdiction to review any judgment delivered on merit; more so, when the applicants have not pointed out any accidental error or slip in the judgment. There must be an end to every litigation.

“Even if we review this judgment, every disaffected litigant will bring a similar application and the finality of the Supreme Court will be lost. This court is the final court of the land and its decisions are final for all ages so as to ensure certainty in law.

“The two applications brought before us today lacked merit and constituted an abuse of this court and they are liable to dismissal and are hereby dismissed”, the court held.

Babalola had earlier in his submissions stated that the Supreme Court had inherent power and discretion to set aside its own decision because the judgment which voided the election of his client was a nullity since his client was denied a fair hearing.

According to him, the procedure adopted by the apex court on February 13 was wrong “because there was no cause of action at the time the Supreme Court gave judgment against Lyon.”

Olanipekun, on his part, argued that the apex court erred in law when it invoked section 36 of the Electoral Act to disqualify APC’s participation in the election when the Federal High Court judgment restored by the Supreme Court did not disqualify the party’s eligibility.

He also argued that the apex court could not give consequential order on a relief not granted by a trial court except due to human error.

But counsel to the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP), Mr. Tayo Oyetibo (SAN), informed the apex court that the application filed by APC and its candidates were a dangerous invitation to the Supreme Court to violate Section 285 of the 1999 Constitution by sitting on an appeal over its own matter.

Oyetibo argued that having delivered a final judgment in the matter on merit on February 13, the court had no jurisdiction to sit on an appeal in the judgment, noting that it was scandalous to ask the apex court to review the judgment.

He further stated that the apex court was right in disqualifying Lyon as the governor-elect because Section 187 of the 1999 Constitution is clear and unambiguous to the effect that a governorship candidate who has no deputy candidate is not qualified to contest any governorship election in Nigeria.

“When the Supreme Court gives a judgment, it is deemed correct. It has never happened in the history of the Supreme Court to reverse itself; its judgment is final and finality. And whatever the court says in the interpretation of the law is the law,” he said.

In its reaction, the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) said that its quest for the review of the Supreme Court’s verdict on the Imo governorship election was not to contest or challenge the finality of the apex court in litigation.

The opposition accused the APC of mounting pressure on the Supreme Court to restrain itself from reversing “the flawed judgment on the Imo State governorship election despite obvious mistakes in that judgment, which is now threatening the stability of our nation.”

The party, in a statement by its National Publicity Secretary, Kola Ologbondiyan, however, hailed yesterday’s verdict of the Supreme Court on Bayelsa governorship election but noted that the elements and grounds for the demands by the PDP and majority of Nigerians for the reversal of the Imo governorship election judgment were completely different from those of Bayelsa.

The PDP explained that its demand on Imo was not in any way in the contestation of the authority and finality of the Supreme Court but a patriotic effort to assist the court to affirm its infallibility by correcting the inherent mistakes in the judgment which came as a result of the misleading presentation to it by the APC.

The Bayelsa State Governor Douye Diri described the ruling as an affirmation of God’s judgment, which paved the way for him to emerge victorious.

An elated Diri said that there was no victor, no vanquished as the victory was for all Bayelsa people regardless of party affiliation.

A statement by his Acting Chief Press Secretary, Daniel Alabrah, quoted the triumphant Bayelsa governor as commending the courage and sagacity of the apex court justices in affirming their earlier judgment.

The immediate past governor, Seriake Dickson, said that the historical verdict only averted a catastrophe that was waiting to erupt in Bayelsa State.

He commended the justices of the Supreme Court for the bold decision to wrest the judiciary from needless opprobrium and standing in defence of democracy, the rule of law and the constitution.

In a statement, Dickson was said to have made the comment in an interview with journalists in Abuja yesterday.

He said that without the bold verdict of the judiciary, especially the Supreme Court, Bayelsa would have been ruled through proxies which would have reversed all the gains the state had made in the past eight years.

The APC was mum yesterday. Its National Chairman, Adams Oshiomhole, billed to address a press conference on the issue at about 5:00 p.m. yesterday at the national secretariat of the party called it off without offering an explanation for the sudden change of mind.

Nevertheless, an official of the party who pleaded anonymity hinted that the party might issue a statement on the issue before 9:00 p.m.

On the order that Babalola and Olanipekun should pay the N30million fine, a Lagos-based lawyer, Okechukwu Nna, said the apex court was empowered to impose a sanction on those who file frivolous applications.

“The apex court has exercised its discretion very well in this instance by slamming the cost on lawyers. The court is empowered to impose such cost over frivolous applications brought before it. The law also empowers it to determine on whom the cost should be imposed.

“Section 14 of the Supreme Court Act provides that the Supreme Court shall have the power to award costs in all civil proceedings in the court, and, subject to any other enactment or to rules of court, it shall be in the discretion of the court to determine by whom and to what extent the same shall be paid.”

To an Abuja-based lawyer, Abubakar Sani, the fine should have been twice the amount to teach the lawyers lesson on why they should avoid filing frivolous and vexatious applications.

Dr. Tonye Clinton Jaja also agreed that the apex court has the discretion and power to impose cost on parties before it. According to him, the motive is to discourage vexatious and frivolous applications by litigants.

(The Vanguard)