The Supreme Court on Thursday adjourned till next Tuesday (February 26) hearing in the appeal filed by a former Minister of Information, Prof. Jerry Gana, who wants the court to name him as the right presidential candidate of the Social Democratic Party in the presidential election.
The presidential election holds on Saturday but the scheduled hearing in Gana’s case at the Supreme Court was stalled on Thursday due to lack of proper service of the hearing notice on parties who were absent from the proceedings.
The case is an appeal against the judgment of the January 24, 2019 verdict of the Abuja Division of the Court of Appeal which had named a former Governor of Cross River State, Donald Duke, as the valid presidential candidate of the party for Saturday’s poll.
Of the six respondents, only the sixth, which is the Independent National Electoral Commission, was represented by its lawyer at the Supreme Court on Thursday.
Gana, with a handful of his supporters, was present in court to witness Thursday’s proceedings.
Apart from Gana (the appellant), represented by his lawyer, Mr. Pius Akubo (SAN), and INEC (the sixth respondents), represented by Mr. Mhir Mson, the rest of the first to the fifth respondents had no legal representation in court on Thursday.
Those who were not represented by their lawyers on Thursday, were, the SDP; Chief Olu Falae, sued as the National Chairman of the party; Alhaji Shehu Gabam, as the National Secretary; the party’s Presidential Screening Panel/ Deputy National Chairman, South; and Duke, respectively.
The Acting Chief Justice of Nigeria, Justice Tanko Muhammad, who led the five-man panel of the court, noted that the court’s records showed that the respondents who were absent from court were not served with the hearing notice for Thursday’s proceedings.
He noted that the records also showed that the official of the court in charge of service contacted the Legal Adviser of the party to notify him of Thursday’s hearing.
According to the document which Justice Muhammad read aloud during the proceedings, the party’s Legal Adviser informed the court official that the respondents were not available as they had all travelled out of Abuja to vote in the upcoming election.
When asked to respond, INEC’s lawyer, Mson, said he was not opposed to the application for adjournment.
But despite the issue of lack of service raised by the Acting CJN, Gana’s lawyer, Akubo, urged the five-man panel to hear his client’s “innocuous application for accelerated hearing”.
Akubo said that going by the policy of the apex court, service did not necessarily have to be by serving paper copies of hearing notice on parties, but include phone calls which he said were made to the parties and by virtue of which INEC was represented in court by its lawyer on Thursday.
But the Acting CJN said, from the account in the file, only the Legal Adviser of the party was contacted and that there was no evidence to show that other respondents were individually called on phone.
Akubo had sustained his plea to the five-man panel to hear his application on the grounds that “the appeal is time-sensitive”.
But responding, Justice Muhammad said, “If we take your application, what are we going to tell the other parties as the reason for hearing this application behind them?
“What will they think of us?”
The Acting CJN noted that a letter by Akubo requesting to have the case listed for hearing, was only sent to the court on Monday.
He said justices of the court had to inconvenience themselves to list the case for hearing on Thursday due to the nature of the case.”
At the end of the day, the panel adjourned the case till Tuesday, February 26.”