About 24 million voters gathered in February at over 176,000 voting points across the country to choose Nigeriaâ€™s next president, but only five persons will cast crucial votes at the first of two court stages in a conference room in Abuja in September.
The fate of the president-elect, Bola Tinubu of the All Progressives Congress (APC), will continue to hang in the balance months after he would have been inaugurated as Nigeriaâ€™s president on 29 May. His stay in office will still be steeped in uncertainties until the handful of judges that will hear the cases challenging his victory hand down their verdicts.
Nigerian President Elect, Bola Ahmed Tinubu. Election petitions set the stage for a paradox for democracy to break its prime â€œmajority ruleâ€. The choice of the minority can take the place of the decision of the majority.
It gives a reason for the riveting attention millions of Nigerians and foreigners within and outside Nigerian borders are paying to the proceedings of the Presidential Election Petition Court in Abuja, which began sitting on Monday.
The court will review a mix of varied, tricky legal and factual questions that have been raised in three petitions pending before the court.
After the courtroom fireworks that promise to last months, the five jurists will retire to their conference room, a drab, small conclave in the sprawling complex of the Court of Appeal headquarters perched on the fringes of the Three Arms Zone, Abuja â€“ the domicile of Nigeriaâ€™s highest executive, legislative and judicial powers â€“ to deliberate and possibly vote to take a final decision, in case there are disagreements on issues thrown up at trial.
Aerial view of Court of Appeal headquarters complex in Abuja. [PHOTO CREDIT: Official webpage of Court of Appeal]They will return to a packed courtroom to announce their decision â€“ whether the result of the 25 February presidential election declared by the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) on 1 March was valid or not valid.
The court has up to September, the end of a statutory period of 180 days from March when the aggrieved candidates filed their petitions, to give its decision.
The decision is, however, not final, as a displeased party can still appeal to the Supreme Court. But lawyers say the Court of Appealâ€™s decision sets the tone of the final decision of the Supreme Court, either in concurrence or disagreement.
Using publicly- available information, PREMIUM TIMES presents profiles of the five appeal court jurists who will give the much-awaited vital decision in September.
Haruna Simon Tsammani Hon. Haruna Simon Tsammani, one of the judges sitting at Nigeriaâ€™s Presidential Election Petition. [PHOTO CREDIT: Official webpage of Court of Appeal]Mr Tsammani, who hails from Tafawa Balewa Local Government Area of Bauchi State, was unveiled as the presiding justice of the five-member panel of the Presidential Election Petition Court last week.
The 63-year-old, who occupies a relatively distant 12th position on the seniority list of the 76 judges of the Court of Appeal, must be well-regarded to be appointed to head the panel, a prized responsibility that is ordinarily reserved for the president of the court, some lawyers have said.
The immediate-past President of the Court of Appeal, Zainab Bulkachuwa, appointed herself to the position during the 2019 election cycle and only withdrew after succumbing to relentless calls on her by the opposition Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) to step down.
Mohammed Garba, who replaced Ms Bulkachuwa, and another member of the panel, Abdu Aboki, were later elevated to the Supreme Court bench.
Called to the Nigerian bar after undergoing one-year-long legal studies at the Nigerian Law School in Lagos in 1983, Mr Tsammani has spent the last four decades of his life in the legal profession. This was after he completed his law degree programme at Ahmadu Bello University (ABU), Zaria, between 1972 and 1982.
The experienced jurist began his journey on the bench with his appointment as a judge of the High Court of Bauchi State on 17 September 1998, about 24 years ago.
The longest-serving Justice of the Court of Appeal among the five members of the panel, Mr Tsammani has spent half of his 24 years as a judge on the Court of Appeal bench which he was elevated to on 16 July 2010.
This is his first time participating in the panel of a presidential election petition court, a rarity that only a handful of judges in a generation are opportune to be involved in.
However, it is definitely not his first time adjudicating on an election petition or political case.
On 4 July 2020, Mr Tsammani delivered one of the judgements of the Court of Appeal in Abuja that affirmed the second term election of Governor Yahaya Bello of Kogi State.
Well-familiar with intra-and inter-party disputes in Nigeria, Mr Tsammani gave the lead judgement of the Court of Appeal that handed back the control of APC in Kano State to the outgoing governor, Abdullahi Gaduje, in February last year.
He also delivered the judgement of the Court of Appeal in Abuja that issued the order restraining the Rivers and Lagos state governments from taking action on their bids to collect Value Added Tax (VAT).
About a month later, in October 2021, he led the three-member panel of the court that dismissed a suit by the suspended National Chairman of the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP), Uche Secondus, to allow the party to hold a hitch-free national convention.
Mr Tsammani also led the Court of Appealâ€™s panel that gave the October 2022 judgement suspending the release of the leader of the proscribed Indigenous People of Biafra, Nnamdi Kanu, from custody after the charges against the secessionist were dismissed in an earlier judgement of the court.
Stephen Jonah Adah Hon. Justice Stephen Jonah Adah, one of the judges sitting at Nigeriaâ€™s Presidential Election Petition. [PHOTO CREDIT: Official webpage of Court of Appeal]Mr Adah hails from Dekina Local Government Area of Kogi State in North-central Nigeria.
Number 23 on the list of Justices of the Court of Appeal, he is the second most senior judge on the panel of the Presidential Election Petition Court. He is currently the presiding justice of the division of the court in Asaba, Delta State.
Mr Adah is 65 years old.
He is equally a graduate of the law faculty of Ahmadu Bello University, Zaria, and the Lagos campus of the Nigerian Law School. He was called to the Nigerian bar in 1982, about 41 years ago â€“ a year earlier than Mr Tsammani.
His journey on the bench began with his appointment as a judge of the Federal High Court 24 years ago on 12 November 1998.
He was appointed to the Court of Appeal bench on 5 November 2012, about 10 years ago and over two years after Mr Tsammani.
Mr Adah has a robust record of high-profile cases with diverse subject matters to his name. His decisions have triggered applause and controversies.
As a Federal High Court judge for 12 years, he gave judgements that portrayed his leaning towards the uncompromising defence of the supremacy of the constitution and the rights it grants citizens, as well as his aversion for arbitrariness by public officers.
In May 2012, Mr Adah nullified a provision in the Police Act prohibiting a female police officer from marrying a man of her choice without the permission of the commissioner of police in the command where she is serving.
Mr Adah held in the judgement that the provision contained in Regulation 124 of the Police Act was unconstitutional.
He also gave the 25 June 2012 ruling that thwarted the plan of then President Goodluck Jonathanâ€™s administration to rename the University of Lagos to Moshood Abiola University, Lagos.
On 4 May 2012, he gave the judgment that restrained then-Governor Babatunde Fashola of Lagos State from going ahead with his plan to ban or restrict the operations of commercial motorcyclists in the state. Without any law passed by the state House of Assembly to back the policy, Mr Adah said, â€œIt is arbitrary for the state and dictatorial in a democratic setting for the government to curtail the movement of others without any valid law passed by the National Assembly or the state House of Assembly.â€
Mr Adahâ€™s decision inspired the law the Lagos State House of Assembly would later pass to give the ban on okada legal backing.
At the Court of Appeal, Mr Adah delivered the lead judgement of a three-member panel that affirmed the conviction of a former Plateau State governor, Joshua Dariye, on 16 November 2018. President Muhammadu Buhari would later grant a widely condemned pardon to Mr Dariye alongside a former governor of Taraba, Jolly Nyame, after their conviction and jailing had been affirmed by the Supreme Court.
In May 2019, Mr Adah delivered a belated judgement that could have saved the former Chief Justice of Nigeria (CJN), Walter Onnoghen, who was controversially tried at the Code of Conduct Tribunal (CCT), and removed from office.
On 24 July 2020, he delivered the lead judgment of a panel of the Court of Appeal affirming the acquittal of a cousin to former President Goodluck Jonathan, Robert Azibaola, and his wife, Stella Azibaola, accused of money laundering involving $40 million security funds.
Later that year, on 4 December 2020, Mr Adah led a panel of justices that affirmed the death penalty imposed on Maryam Sanda, in a celebrated murder case in which the woman was accused of stabbing her husband, Bilyaminu Bello, to death.
Less than two weeks later, the jurist, on 16 December 2020, delivered the lead judgement of a three-member panel that ordered a retrial of a former spokesperson for the PDP, Olisa Metuh, earlier jailed for seven years for money laundering by the Federal High Court in Abuja.
Mr Adah, in his judgement, also quashed the indicting comments made by the trial judge concerning a former National Security Adviser, Sambo Dasuki, who is standing trial in a separate but related case of diverting billions of naira in arms funds.
Mr Adah trained as a teacher at Ilorin Teachersâ€™ College, Ilorin between 1975 and 1976 before gaining admission to study law at ABU in 1978.
Misitura Bolaji-Yusuf Hon. Justice Misitura O. Bolaji-Yusuf, one of the judges sitting at Nigeriaâ€™s Presidential Election Petition. [PHOTO CREDIT: Official webpage of Court of Appeal]Ms Bolaji-Yusuf, the only female member of the panel of the Presidential Election Petition Court, hails from Oyo-West Local Government Area of Oyo State, South-west Nigeria.
The jurist, a law graduate of the law faculty of Obafemi Awolowo University, is 63 years old.
Appointed to the Court of Appeal on 24 March 2014, about nine years ago, Ms Bolaji-Yusuf now occupies the 31st position on the roll call of the judges of the court.
Before her elevation to the Court of Appeal bench, she had put in a total of 17 years into her judicial career which began with her appointment to the High Court of Oyo State on 30 January 1997.
Adding her nine years at the Court of Appeal to her 17 years on the High Court bench, Ms Bolaji-Yusuf becomes the longest-serving judge among the five judges on the panel of the Presidential Election Petition Court, with 26 years of unbroken career as a judge to her credit.
Her entire legal career beginning with her call to the bar in 1984 is about 39 years old. In terms of the length of their legal profession, she comes behind both Messrs Tsammani and Adah.
She currently serves at the Asaba Division of the Court of Appeal where she ranks behind Mr Adah as the second most senior judge.
Not many cases have been credited to her in the media, but there is one that cast her in the mould of a courageous judge.
On 12 January 2006, as a judge of the High Court of Oyo State, Ms Bolaji-Yusuf issued an order that invalidated the steps taken by then-acting Chief Judge of the state, Afolabi Adeniran, which led to the illegal removal of the then governor, Rashidi Ladoja.
Although the Acting Chief Judge withdrew the case from her, her ruling was the first major blow to the entire impeachment process which the Supreme Court would also later nullify. The Supreme Court declared the process null and void and reinstated Mr Ladoja in its judgement delivered on 11 November 2006.
About a month before her elevation to the Court of Appeal, the judge was reported to have overseen a stormy court proceeding as a High Court judge in Ibadan in February 2014. During the hearing, most likely to be one of the last she conducted before her elevation, Ms Bolaji-Yusuf was reported to have successfully calmed the war of nerves between opposing lawyers in the criminal case. Before the proceedings of that day, she was to have affirmed the jurisdiction of the court to hear the case.
She was also reported to have delivered the lead judgement of the three-member panel of the Benin Division of the Court of Appeal that affirmed the first term election of Governor Godwin Obaseki in June 2017.
Boloukuoromo Moses Ugo Hon. Justice Boloukuoromo Moses Ugo, one of the judges sitting at Nigeriaâ€™s Presidential Election Petition. [PHOTO CREDIT: Official webpage of Court of Appeal]Mr Ugo hails from Kolokuma/Qpokuma Local Government Area in Bayelsa State, South-south Nigeria.
At 57, he is the youngest among the judges on the panel of the Presidential Election Petition Court.
The graduate of the law faculty of the University of Calabar was appointed to the Court of Appeal bench on 24 March 2014, making this year his ninth on the courtâ€™s bench where he occupies the 44th position on the roll call.
Before his elevation to the Court of Appeal, he served as a judge of the Bayelsa State High Court for eight years, dating back to his appointment on 21 March 2014.
In total, Mr Ugo has put in a total of 17 years to his career on the bench, and a total of 33 years to his legal profession that started with his call to bar in 1990. He also attended the Lagos campus of the Nigerian Law School between 1989 and 1990.
Mr Ugo, who is currently serving at the Kano Division of the Court of Appeal, is hardly read about in the media. It will perhaps take digging deep into law reports to find out the important cases he has handled.
His participation in the Presidential Election Petition Court panel is a pivotal turn in his career, placing him on a national, if not global stage where the public can gain insights into the workings of his judicial mind for the first time.
Abba Bello Mohammed Hon. Justice Abba Bello Mohammed, one of the judges sitting at Nigeriaâ€™s Presidential Election Petition. [PHOTO CREDIT: Official webpage of Court of Appeal]Mr Mohammed hails from Kano State, North-west Nigeria, and is the third ABU, Zaria graduate on the Presidential Election Petition Court panel.
He was called to the Nigerian bar in 1984, marking the beginning of his legal career of about 39 years.
Like the other members of the panel, Mr Mohammed was called to bar after passing his bar examinations at the Lagos campus of the Nigerian Law School.
The 62-year-old has less than two years on the Court of Appeal bench as he was appointed on 28 June 2021, the last time judges were appointed to the Court of Appeal bench.
The little-known judge, who is currently on a posting to the Ibadan, Oyo State Division of the Court of Appeal, ranks lowest in terms of seniority on the courtâ€™s bench among the judges on the panel of the Presidential Election Petition Court. He occupies the 71st position on the list of judges of the Court of Appeal, ranking higher than only five others with whom he was elevated to the bench in 2021.
Before his elevation to the Court of Appeal, Mr Mohammed served on the bench of the FCT High Court, Abuja, from 2010, making about 10 to 11 years.
His participation in the Presidential Election Petition Court may become a defining milestone in his profile that has little to reference so far in the public space.
Not yet a significant case has been credited to him in media reports, perhaps many could be found to his name in legal reports.