As the deadline draws near for the various election petition tribunals sitting across the country to conclude their cases, it has emerged that politicians who are apprehensive of losing their cases at the tribunals are already lobbying intensely for the constitution of Court of Appeal panels that will be favourable to them.
While the Court of Appeal is the court of last resort for national and state legislative election petitions, presidential and governorship election petitions terminate at the Supreme Court.
The majority of election cases being contested in the tribunals are expected to be decided next month, ahead of the 180-day time limit stipulated by the Electoral Act from the date of the declaration of election result by the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) for a tribunal to conclude any case brought before it, or it elapses.
The Court of Appeal, in what an inside source explained was a proactive move to forestall undue delays in the hearing of appeals from the tribunals, is said to have quietly commenced the constitution of the panels for the appeals.
Following a tipoff, investigations by THISDAY however revealed an uneasy calm in the court’s top hierarchy over increasing overtures from politicians desperate to influence their election petition cases.
For instance, a top ranking South-east senator is among those fingered in the underground lobby to secure a friendly panel for his case.
The senator’s situation is said to be particularly dicey, given what the source described as the implication of the petition against him.
It was alleged that in anticipation of the election petition against him, the senator was said to have leveraged on his powerful connections in the last administration to influence the posting of judges of his choosing to the tribunal constituted for his home state in time before the handover of power at the centre to the All Progressives Congress (APC).
The senator is also alleged to be scouting for judges in the appellate court bench that will uphold the expected favourable decision of the lower tribunal.
The source told THISDAY that the senator’s present anxiety over his seat was ironically self-inflicted, saying it originated from his desperation to plant a female candidate in the APC as his “opponent” in the senatorial election.
The source said even though the plot failed when an aggrieved APC aspirant went to the Federal High Court in Abuja which upheld him as the rightful candidate of the party for the election, INEC officials ignored the court order due to the senator’s influence in the last administration and went ahead with the name of the woman during the elections.
The tension in the senator’s camp was reportedly heightened by the alleged deployment of a senior lawyer from Edo State supported by the APC to strengthen the legal team of the petitioner who is challenging his declaration as winner of the senatorial election of March 28.
The angle considered most worrisome by the senator’s camp is the plea by the petitioner that the rightful candidate of the APC was excluded from the election by INEC.
If the election is nullified, the senator would have to vacate his seat and re-contest for the Senate seat without the usual advantages of the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP)-controlled INEC and security agencies.
Another informed source in the Court of Appeal told THISDAY on the condition of anonymity that the desperation of politicians to influence the constitution of panels was worsened by the deaths that occurred last week in the appellate court bench, which disrupted certain calculations.
Two justices of the Court of Appeal were among Nigerian victims in the stampede in Saudi Arabia which killed over 750 pilgrims.