Tribunal: Eselemo Halts Mutu’s Victory As CJN Directs ‘Retrial’ Over Petition

Hon. Nicholas Mutu

There appears to be growing disquiet in the political camp of Nicholas Mutu, member representing Bomadi/Patani Federal Constituency over the Chief Justice of Nigeria, Ibrahim Muhammad response to a petition brought by the All Progressives Congress candidate in the 2019 House of Representatives election in Delta State, Collins Eselemo.

The CJN is said to have reassigned the election petition filed by Eselemo to a new panel in Asaba, weeks after ruling was given by panel III sitting in Asaba, the state capital.

BIGPEN Online reports that prior to the tribunal judgement which was given in favour of Nicholas Mutu, his arch rival in the February 23 election, Eselemo had written a petition to the CJN to probe the Delta State Election Petition Tribunal members for alleged judicial misconduct.

Eselemo had prayed the CJN to investigate the tribunal members for obstruction of justice and disobedience of higher authorities with regards to his election petition.

The CJN’s letter with reference number, Ref; No. CR/PET/C2/III/475, dated 16th September was in response to an earlier petition entitled; “Obstruction Of Justice and Fraud Perpetrated by Justice England Engine (Chairman Panel III Election Tribunal), Mr.  Suraju Gusou (Secretary of The Election Tribunal) and Mr. Alex Achudume (Bailiff of the Election Tribunal, Asaba”.

Also, the letter was in response to; “An Application For The Transfer Of My Election Petition Namely Petition No. EPT/DT/HR/08/2019: Prince Collins Eselemo & Anor. V. Hon. Nicholas Mutu & 2 Ors. Pending At Panel III, National/State House Of Assembly Election Petition Tribunal Asaba, Delta State To Another Tribunal Outside Jurisdiction For The Hearing And Determination”.

Responding to the petition, Chief Registrar, Hadizatu Uwani Mustapha, Esq. in a letter dated 16th September, 2019 on behest of the CJN wrote; “I have been directed by the Hon., the Chief Justice of Nigerian and Chairman national Judicial Council, Hon. Dr. Justice Ibrahim Tanko Muhammad, CFR, FCIArb, FNIALS, Fclm, FNJI, JSC, to refer to your petition with the above captioned, dated 26th day of June, 2019 and to inform you that your petition has already been transferred to panel II at Asaba, Delta State for hearing.

“Please accept the high regards of the Hon., the Chief Justice of Nigeria and Chairman National Judicial Council”, the letter read.

Political pundit said that the camp of Mutu has been losing their minds since the news was broken to them that the CJN actually responded to the petition filed by Eselemo prior to the ruling which the petitioner said was done in his absence.

Sources said the implication of the CJN letter is that the petition has been referred back to the tribunal for ‘retrial’ saying that in the eyes of the law the earlier ruling given is null and void since the matter had been transferred to another tribunal panel in Asaba prior to the judgement.

Eselemo had in a second petition to the CJN dated August 21, 2019, stated that the tribunal delivered a ruling in his absence, claiming that he abandoned his petition against the Peoples Democratic Party candidate, Nicholas Mutu, a claim he denied.

He explained that the tribunal members delivered the judgment after he sought the transfer of his case to another court outside Delta State.

The APC candidate explained that he had in a petition dated June 26, 2019, asked the Court of Appeal President to transfer his election petition to another tribunal because he believed the tribunal members would not give him justice.

But while waiting for the case to be transferred by the Appeal Court President, Justice Zainab Bulkachuwa, the petitioner said he was shocked to learn that his case had been dismissed by the tribunal.

Instead of handing off the case as prayed, Eselemo said the tribunal members went ahead to deliver a ruling on July 25, dismissing the case as abandoned.

Eselemo said the tribunal based its judgement on a fresh argument by the respondents “in a matter where arguments have been concluded, apparently so that a new point can be raised by counsel to first respondent.”

The petition read, “Prior to commencement of pre-hearing session, the first respondent filed a motion praying the tribunal to dismiss my petition on the ground that it was an abandoned petition, as according to him, I did not file any application for the issuance of pre-hearing notice as prescribed by the Electoral Act, 2010, as amended.”

Eselemo cited his earlier petitions to the Appeal Court President, the National Judicial Council and CJN which were also copied to the Chairman and Secretary of the Delta state election petition tribunal, Justice England Ngene and Suraju Gusau, respectively.

The petitioner also presented a response from the Court of Appeal President acknowledging his petition and assuring him that action would be taken on his request.

The letter with reference number, PCA/EPT/2019/Vol.V, dated July 3 was received by the APC candidate in Abuja.

All efforts to reach Nicholas Mutu for comment on this report as of press time proved abortion on Monday.

But according to an earlier report by Punch, the tribunal secretary declined to react to the allegations contained in Eselemo’s petition when contacted, stating that “everything that has to do with the petition is now before the Court of Appeal.