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Nigerians want Appeal Court President, Monica Dongban-Mensem, sacked over controversial election petition rulings



President of the Court of Appeal, Justice Monica Dongban-Mensem

Nigerians are asking for the head of the Appeal Court President over perceived ridiculous rulings in the election petitions from the 2023 general election in Plateau State.

It could be recalled that the Court of Appeal presided over by its President, Justice Monica Dongban-Mensem, had, in its judgment on Friday, November 24, 2023, nullified the elections of all candidates of the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) in the state resulting in heavy protest.

The appeal court sitting in Abuja had sacked the State Governor, Mr. Caleb Mutfwang, and declared Nentawe Yilwatda, candidate of the All Progressives Congress (APC) as governor.

The appellate court also sacked four PDP members of the House of Representatives and two senators, including Senator Napoleon Bali and Hon. Simon Mwadkon, as well as the 16 PDP lawmakers in the State House of Assembly elected on the platform of the PDP, on same grounds.

The 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).

The court ruled that the PDP could not sponsor candidates in the last election because the party violated section 177 of the 1999 constitution and declared all the second runners-up in the March 18 elections as winners.

In her ruling, the lead Justice, Elfrieda Williams-Dawodu, therefore, ordered the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) to withdraw the certificates of Return issued to the PDP candidates and reissue same to the first runners-up.

In a sharp turn of events, however, on Friday, January 12, 2024, the Supreme Court reversed the sack of Plateau State Governor.

The apex court, in a unanimous decision by a five-member panel of Justices, said the Court of Appeal overreached itself by going into the issue of party congresses, which is an internal affair of the PDP.

Justice Emmanuel Agim who delivered the judgment held that the appeal by the governor had merit.

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The Supreme Court also expressed worry that a lot of people have suffered as a result of the Court of Appeal’s decision.

“This is a thorough misuse of the order of the High Court. I wonder why this case came to court.

“The legal profession should wake up. The appeal is allowed and judgment of the Court of Appeal is set aside.

“Judgment of the Tribunal is hereby restored,” the apex court held.

The PDP has, meanwhile, sent petitions to the National Judicial Council (NJC) and the Federal Judicial Service Commission (FJSC) over the alleged injustice against its members in Plateau State.

The party said it would explore all legal options to reclaim its mandate.

Reacting in an essay entitled “Monica Dongban-Mensem: In God’s Name, Go!, and dated Tuesday, January 16, 2024, a former Chairman of Nigeria’s National Human Rights Commission (NHRC), Prof. Chidi Anselm Odinkalu refused to spare words to berate the Court of Appeal president, Justice Dongban-Mensem.

former Chairman of Nigeria's National Human Rights Commission (NHRC), Prof. Chidi Anselm Odinkalu

Ex-Chairman of Nigeria’s National Human Rights Commission (NHRC), Prof. Chidi Anselm Odinkalu

Writing, Prof. Odinkalu after noting that Plateau State is the state of origin of Dongban-Mensem, recounted how two days before her 63rd birthday, on 11 June 2020, she became the seventh President of the Court of Appeal and how the then governor of the State, Simon Bako Lalong, appointed Monica’s daughter, Buetnaan Mandy Dongban Bassi, a judge of the High Court of Plateau State.

Odinkalu recalled that Dongban-Mensem, her mother, sat on the National Judicial Council (NJC) that approved her appointment and 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.

After further noting that Lalong, flipped to the All Progressives Congress (APC) ahead of the 2023 election, and lost his senatorial bid to represent the people of Plateau Central in the Senate and challenged his loss before the election petition tribunal where, for parliamentary elections, all disputes end at the Court of Appeal in panels of three Justices designated by the court president, Dongban-Mensem, Odinkalu said:

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“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.”

He said further: “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!”

Meanwhile, in a press release entitled “President of Court of Appeal should quit over massive injustice to Plateau voters,” a civil rights advocacy group, Human Rights Writers Association of Nigeria (HURIWA) lambasted the Court of Appeal Justices led by Justice Monica Dongban-Mensem.

HURIWA said the decision of the Supreme Court of Nigeria which validated the election of the governor of Plateau State Barrister Caleb Muftwang has shown that the Court of Appeal willfully staged a judicial coup ‘d tat against the voters in Plateau State by unconstitutionally planting APC legislators to replace PDP legislators at both the National Assembly for Plateau State and substantial number of validly elected PDP state legislators in Plateau State House if Assembly.

HURIWA stated also that the well-grounded judicial verdict reinstating the New Nigerian People’s Party’s elected governor of Kano State back to his position by invalidating the illegality committed by the court of Appeal and the Tribunal of first instance, saved Nigeria from witnessing some of the most callous and most brutal civil insurrection.

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It called out the head of the Court of Appeal under whose leadership “such groundswell of unconstitutional acts were committed willfully by Justices of the court of Appeal she appointed”.

The group asked Dongban-Mensem to “accept responsibility for these colossal illegality in Plateau state particularly and quit the stage for a fresh President of the Court of Appeal to be inaugurated”.

It also called on Simon Lalong and all the Plateau APC members illegally railroaded into the National Assembly and Plateau State House of Assembly by the Appeal court in a crooked manner to resign immediately or be recalled by Plateau State electorate immediately so as to right the injustice since those victimised can’t go for redress at the nation’s apex court anymore.

Head of Human Rights Writers Association of Nigeria (HURIWA), Emmanuel Onwubiko

Head of Human Rights Writers Association of Nigeria (HURIWA), Emmanuel Onwubiko

The group, in a statement by the National Coordinator Comrade Emmanuel Onwubiko, citing the historical evidence by Professor Odinkalu petitioned the National Judicial Council to force the President of the Court of Appeal Monica Dongban-Mensem to resign honourably or be sacked.

Failure to do that, the Rights group said it will not waste time to mobilise the civil rights movements in Nigeria to take steps to compel the national hierarchy of the judiciary to do the needful to reform the decadent appeal court of Nigeria which, it said, “has been exposed by the supreme Court for misreading the extant statutes governing elections in the Country”.

Comrade Onwubiko also questioned the competence of that branch of the judicial for now until actions are adopted to cleanse the judicial system in Nigeria.

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