Controversial Judgements: Justice Nweze’s Death Lesson to PEPT Judges -Rev Peace
The Founding President of the Congress For Igbo Agenda CIA Rev Innocent Chukwudi Peace-Udochukwu has described the death of Justice Chima Centus Nweze of the Supreme Court of Nigeria who died on Sunday, 30 July, 2023, according to a press release from the Nigerian Bar Association (NBA) as a huge lesson to the judges handling the cases at the Presidential Election Petition Tribunal on the February 25th 2023 presidential election and other election cases nationwide.
The Supreme Court Justice who died at the age of 64 was appointed to the bench of the apex court in 2014 by former President Goodluck Jonathan.
Justice Nweze, a native of Obollo, Udenu Local Government Area of Enugu State, was born on September 25, 1958.
He became very popular following his dissenting judgment in 2020 which declared Emeka Ihedioha of the People Democratic Party winner of the 2019 Governorship election in Imo State against the decision of majority of the panel.
However, in a split judgement of three-against-two, Nweze delivered the controversial judgement of the Supreme Court which declared then Senate President, Ahmad Lawan as the authentic candidate of the All Progressives Congress (APC) for Yobe North Senatorial District for the 25 February general election.
In a statement made available to RPTVBLOG Rev. Peace stated: “I extend my condolences to the judiciary and Late Justice Centus Nweze’s family”
The media consultant continuing said, “Even though those who knew Justice acknowledge his integrity and competence as a Justice of the apex court. Unfortunately, his positive attributes were overshadowed by the controversial the former president of the Senate Lawan’s judgment, which remains a dark mark in history and which many right thinking persons believe will continue to haunt Justice Nweze, the Supreme Court and Nigeria’s electoral jurisprudence.”
Often, history tends to recall our shortcomings rather than our successes, leading some wealthy individuals to invest in posthumous narratives to attain literary sanctity.”
*Justice Nweze Supreme Court’s Controversial Judgment on Lawan
It will be recalled that the judgment of the Supreme Court that affirmed the former Senate President, Dr. Ahmad Lawan, as the All Progressives Congress senatorial candidate for Yobe North, has left a sour taste in the mouth of those who thought that the justices would uphold the sanctity of the provisions of Section 115(d) of the Electoral Act, which forbids a person from signing a nomination paper or result form as a candidate in more than one constituency at the same election.
Many Nigerians were shocked when the Supreme Court affirmed the Senate President, Dr. Ahmad Lawan, as the All Progressives Congress (APC) senatorial candidate for Yobe North.
In the majority decision, the apex court also set aside the decision of the Court of Appeal in Abuja, which affirmed the judgment of the trial court that declared Bashir Machina as the senatorial candidate for Yobe North.
Justice Centus Nweze who read the apex court’s majority judgment, held that Lawan’s major challenger, Machina, was wrong to have commenced his suit at the trial court via an originating summons in view of his allegations that the APC acted fraudulently in submitting Lawan’s name to the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) as its candidate.
“The bedrock of the suit shows that there were allegations of fraudulent practices against the appellants. The 1st respondent accused the APC of fraudulently substituting his name with that of Lawan. Where there is an allegation of fraud it should not be commenced by an originating summons. There was a need to call witnesses to prove allegations of fraud.”
But in a minority judgment by Justices Emmanuel Agim and Adamu Jauro, the apex court said Lawan never participated in the APC primary held on May 28, as he withdrew voluntarily to participate in the presidential primary held on June 8, 2022.
In his lead dissenting opinion Justice Jauro faulted another primary held on June 9, 2022, where Lawan emerged, saying it was in breach of Section 84 (5) of the Electoral Act as the APC never cancelled that held on May 28 before organising another. He dismissed the appeal by the APC and awarded a cost of N3 million against the party and in favour of Machina.
Justice Agim, who also disagreed with the majority decision, said: “I affirm the brilliant judgment of the appellate court as to the appropriateness of the use of originating summons,” Agim said.
Justice Agim noted that relevant facts showed the withdrawal of the senate president from the senatorial race to pursue his presidential bid. He further noted that facts in the case showed that Machina won the senatorial primary, adding that the APC did not give INEC 21 days’ mandatory notice before going ahead to conduct another primary election on June 9. He said the APC did not cancel the May 28 election before going ahead to conduct another primary election, adding that INEC did not monitor the June 9 primary election.
“The appellant has not contradicted that findings of fact are perverse or unreasonable. The failure to challenge the findings of facts defeats the entire appeal,” Agim said.
Trouble started when on May 28, 2022, APC conducted primary election to determine the senatorial candidate for Yobe North Senatorial District and Machina participated. Lawan did not because he contested for the party’s presidential ticket and lost to Senator Bola Tinubu.
After the primary, Machina was declared the winner. But surprisingly, APC later cancelled the primary on the alleged grounds that the person that conducted/monitored the primary election was not nominated by the National Working Committee (NWC).
The party thereafter refused to submit Machina’s name to INEC. He cried out that the Senate president and some forces within the party were trying to clinch the ticket from him.
Accordingly, on June 9, 2022, APC’s NWC conducted another primary election. This time around, Machina did not participate. But Lawan participated and was declared the winner.
The confusion left the electoral body with no choice but to leave the senatorial district candidacy empty when it released the full list of candidates across the country.
This prompted Machina to file a suit at the Federal High Court in Damaturu wherein they challenged the actions of the APC and praying the court to declare him as the authentic senatorial candidate. In September 2022, the court declared him as the winner and ordered both the APC and INEC to recognise him as the candidate.
When Lawan appealed the judgment, the Court of Appeal in Abuja affirmed Machina as the authentic candidate.
After losing at both levels, the ruling party took the case to the Supreme Court where it argued that the primary election held on May 28 last year which produced Machina was in breach of the Electoral Act 2022.
To many Nigerians, the judgment was not “democracy at work”
Just like the same Late Justice Nweze said in his dissenting judgment when the same Supreme Court sat on a matter between Senator Hope Uzodimma and a former governor, Hon. Emeka Ihedioha that the court’s decision “will continue to haunt our (Nigeria’s) electoral jurisprudence for a long time to come,” the Bashir Machina and Ahmad Lawan’s case will continue to haunt Justice Nweze, the Supreme Court and Nigeria’s electoral jurisprudence.
Late Justice Nweze’s experience serves as a valuable lesson for those currently involved in tribunal cases. The outcome of these cases will inevitably be used to define and summarise their careers, both in the present and the future, regardless of their preferences.