Appeal Court President, Monica Dongban-Mensem: In God’s name, go!, By Chidi Anselm Odinkalu

This was a judicial hatchet job. Any claim that the President of the Court of Appeal was not herself a member of the Panel is laughable.

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Appeal Court President, Monica Dongban-Mensem: In God’s name, go!, By Chidi Anselm Odinkalu
Monica Dongban-Mensem

By Chidi Anselm Odinkalu

Nearly one year after the country began voting in February last year, Nigeria’s Supreme Court is still casting the final votes in the 2023 elections. It has been a long, tortured and traumatic election season. First the people voted. Then the Independent National Election (INEC) decided what it announced as the results. By March last year, those two phases were done.

Since then, judges have been casting their own votes and the courts have been busy announcing their own results. Last Friday, the Supreme Court affirmed seven governors as duly elected. In the cases concerning Kano, Plateau, and Zamfara States, the court overturned the Court of Appeal which had sacked the governors. These governors ultimately survived because there was another instance after the Court of Appeal to which they could take their grievance. Many legislators, whose own cases must end at the Court of Appeal, were not so lucky.

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Kano, Plateau, and Zamfara are three highly flammable theatres. The final verdicts in these cases saved the country a lot of needless bloodletting.

Plateau State has been the site of resilient atrocities for over three decades, since 1994. A vast number of inquiry reports into various massacres and atrocities in the state over this period attest to this.

For the past decade, Zamfara has competed with Borno State for the prize of the most prolific killing field in Nigeria.

Kano, the site of many eruptions since 1953, is the most densely populated state in Northern Nigeria and arguably also the country’s most politically volatile state.

It was not in dispute who got the highest votes in these states in the 2023 elections. But, following the vote by the people in March last year, the Court of Appeal under the direction of Judge President, Monica Dongban-Mensem, decided to alter the outcomes in these cauldrons with casual malevolence.

In Zamfara State, they purported to unseat the Governor but did him the favour of ordering a rerun in three Local Government Areas, which they voided. The court’s perverse reason for this was that “it was wrong for the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) to adopt results from the IReV, because IReV is not part of the collation system, but for viewing purposes.”

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In Kano, the Court of Appeal issued a judgment in favour of both parties in the contest for the governorship of the state, claiming in one length to uphold the decision of the election petition tribunal invalidating the election of the incumbent on the slate of an opposition party, while in another breadth nullifying the same decision. In a reasoning that had the effect of overruling the Supreme Court, the Court of Appeal implausibly held that the Governor was not a member of the party that sponsored him in the Kano governorship election.

Plateau was the state where the Court of Appeal was most willful. It is also the state of origin of Judge President Monica Dongban-Mensem. Two days before her 63rd birthday, on 11 June 2020, Mrs. Dongbam-Mensem became the seventh President of the Court of Appeal. At the time, the governor of the State was Simon Bako Lalong, a lawyer who, like Mrs. Dongbam-Mensem, hails from Shendam in the Central Senatorial Zone of the Plateau State.

The following year, Mr. Lalong appointed Monica’s daughter, Buetnaan Mandy Dongban Bassi, a judge of the High Court of Plateau State. Her mother sat on the National Judicial Council (NJC) which approved her appointment. Two years later, in September 2023, the same NJC sent Buetnaan’s husband and Monica’s son-in-law, Paul, to the Court of Appeal.

In his previous life as Speaker of the Plateau State House of Assembly, Mr. Lalong used to be a member of the Peoples’ Democratic Party (PDP) when belonging to that party was fashionable. With impressive timing, however, he flipped to the All Progressives Congress (APC), becoming state governor on its platform in 2015. In the 2023 election, he was the Director-General of the presidential campaign of the ruling APC.

In that election also, Mr. Lalong, who was born nearly six years after Mrs. Dongbam-Mensem in May 1963, ran on the platform of the APC to represent the people of Plateau Central in the Senate. If he had won, Mrs. Dongban-Mensem would have been his constituent and confidant. They come from the same neighbourhood. In the event, he lost to Napoleon Bali of the PDP.

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Mr. Lalong thereafter challenged his loss before the election petition tribunal. For parliamentary elections, all disputes end at the Court of Appeal. The Court sits in panels of three Justices designated by the President of the Court.

In Plateau State, all appeals went to a panel presided over by Justice Oluwayemisi Williams-Dawodu who has been a Justice of Appeal since March 2014. She was joined by Justice Abdulaziz Waziri, who was appointed to the court in 2021; and Okon Abang whose term on the court began only in October 2023.

On 7 November, this Court of Appeal panel nullified the election of Senator Bali, claiming that “the PDP and its Senatorial candidate have no legal ground to participate in the election having failed to obey the judgment of a Plateau High Court that the party should conduct lawful elections for the purpose of having officers for Wards, Local Governments and State Council.” In his place, the court returned Simon Lalong as the winner of the election in which he had been roundly defeated.

Lalong was one beneficiary among many from a judicial hit-list methodically compiled by the Court of Appeal in Monica Dongban-Mensem’s home state. By the time its demolition job was over, the Court had sacked two PDP Senators from the state and five members of the House of Representatives elected on the PDP ticket.

In the 25-member state House of Assembly, the Court of Appeal removed 16 members elected on the platform of the PDP, handing their seats and control of the state parliament – with malice aforethought – to the APC.

Their victims included: Timothy Datong (Riyom); Rimyat Nanbol (Langtang); Moses Sule (Mikang); Salome Waklek (Pankshin); Bala Fwangje (Mangu South); Maren Ishaku (Bokkos); Dagogot (Quaanpan North); Nannim Langyi (Langtang North); Nimchak Rims (Langtang South); Danjuma Azi (Jos North-West); Gwottson Fom (Jos South); Abubakar Sani Idris (Mangu North); Happiness Akawu (Pengana); Ibrahim Abalak (Rukuba/Irigwe); Philip Jwe (Barkin Ladi); and Cornelius Deyok (Qua’apan South).

In all these cases, the Court claimed that the PDP should not have fielded candidates. Their reasoning overruled a long line of Supreme Court decisions. This was not a mistake; it was judicial malpractice on a very corrupt scale. At the minimum, the panel should have been called to order when they issued the first decision. But the Judge President who sent them there was getting what she wanted.

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Instead, inebriated with hubris from the corrupt demolition job they accomplished in Jos, one of the members of the panel, Justice Abdulaziz Waziri, traveled to Yola in Adamawa State last December to celebrate the mandates they had laid to waste, claiming that the PDP “had no structures on the ground at the point they were presenting their candidates.” He alone could explain what he meant.

This was a judicial hatchet job. Any claim that the President of the Court of Appeal was not herself a member of the Panel is laughable.

Such is the state of the judiciary in Nigeria at this time that the three-person panel whom Monica Dongban-Mensem sent to Plateau State could not have wrought that amount of destruction without her active consent, if not instruction. It is simply inconceivable that a Justice of Appeal, like Okon Abang – sworn in only in October 2023 – could have gone to the home state of the President of the Court to confidently wreak so much political damage without her explicit instruction.

Last Friday, the Supreme Court ruled that the Court of Appeal in Plateau was rogue, procured and perverse. It set aside the reasoning of the Court which denied the people their chosen representatives. But because the Court of Appeal is the final court in these matters, the decision of the Supreme Court is no remedy for the political ruin procured under the baleful influence of Monica Dongban-Mensem.

The ruin caused and supervised by this President of the Court of Appeal is incalculable.

The legislators whose mandates she has stolen are entitled to feel done over.

The people of the Plateau whose will she has ruined are entitled to feel cheated.

She and her cohort of carefully selected judicial mobsters have brought the judiciary into irreparable disrepute.

Even now, those three Justices on the Plateau Court of Appeal panel should still be brought to account.

While we await that, the only thing left to say to Mrs. Dongbam-Mensem is: in God’s name, please go!

A lawyer and a teacher, Odinkalu can be reached at [email protected]