Court of Appeal President Justice Zainab Bulkachuwa has constituted a fresh panel of three Justices to hear appeals relating to the dispute over the governorship candidate of the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) in Ondo State.

The panel has Justice Ibrahim Saulawa (Acting Presiding Justice of the Calabar division of the court) as head.

Other members are Justices Ignatius Igwe Agube and Ita Godwin Mbaba (both of the Owerri division).

Our correspondent learnt yesterday that members of the new panel will meet today and agree on when to begin sitting and work out a schedule of sitting, following which hearing notices will be sent to parties.

The panel is to act in place of the last one, headed Justice Jumai Sankey, that withdrew on Tuesday following a petition by factional chairman of the PDP in Ondo, Prince Biyi Poroye.

Justice Bulkachuwa, in a letter dated November 1, 2016, a copy of which was served on the court’s Chief Registrar, informed members of the new panel of their appointment.

By the letter, a copy of which our correspondent sighted in Abuja yesterday, the new panel is to hear and determine four appeals.

They include: CA/A/402//2016, filed by the Ahmed Makarfi faction of the PDP against Benson Akingboye and two others; CA/A/551/m/2016 filed by Ahmed Makarfi and Ben Obi against Biyi Poroye and 10 others and CA/A/551A/m/2016 filed by Clement Faboyede and another against 10 others.

The panel is also to hear an appeal marked: CA/A/EPT/567/2015 filed by Diri Kelly Adonye and INEC and two others.

Two pending appeals in relation to the Ondo PDP crisis are yet to be assigned to any panel.

They are: CA/A/551C/2016 filed by Eyitayo Jegede against Prince Biyi Poroye and 10 others; and CA/A551B/2016 filed by the PDP against Biyi Poroye and nine others.

In her letter to members of the new panel, Justice Bulkachuwa directed them to independently design their work schedule, including dates of hearing of the appeals.

They are also to liaise with the Presiding Justice of the Abuja division of the court, Justice Abdu Aboki.

Part of the letter reads: “You are hereby empannelled to sit and determine the above appeals in Abuja Division expeditiously.

“Hon. Justice I. M. M Saulawa will be presiding in the panel.

“Fixation of dates to be worked out with the Presiding Justice, Abuja division.”

On Tuesday, Justice Sankey had, while speaking about petition by Poroye, said it contained many allegations, including a claim that members of her panel were induced to act in favour of the appellant.

Other members of her panel were Justices Emmanuel Agim and Oluwayemisi Williams Dawudu.

Justice Sankey said: “The petitioner is not only complaining about the speed with which the panel is going about the case, he also said that the setting up of the panel is unnecessary because the case did not require any urgency.

“The petitioner accused me of being very poor. He said because I was ill some years ago, I have become so poor that I am open to corruption. He is using my illness of about five years ago to say I am so poor that I am now open to corruption.

“I carry my poverty with pride. I will not steal anybody’s money,” Justice Sankey said.

Justice Agim wondered why the petitioner failed to explore the legitimate process of asking a judge to withdraw from a case rather than resorting to casting aspersions at innocent judges via a petition, containing unsubstantiated allegations.

“One of the allegations in the petition is that the reason we are doing this case is that we have been paid money,” Justice Agim said.

While announcing her panel’s witndrwawl from the appeals, Justice Sankey said: “Ordinarily, since no facts have been placed before this court formally, to show a likelihood of bias on the part of the panel, and since learned Senior Advocates for the petitioner and first respondent has disassociated himself from the petition, we would have been minded to continue with the hearing of these appeals.

“This position will accord with settled law on bias against a judge on the basis of which his recusal is sought. It is that a judge, upon such a mere allegation, should not simply throw in the towel and abandon the case. “Such an attitude has been described as an abdication of judicial responsibility. It is the duty of the judge to consider the facts placed before him to find out if they are not just spurious and whimsical, but discloses a reasonable basis that there is a real likelihood of bias.

“Even though this petition has fallen short of showing any likelihood of bias, nonetheless, we consider it more desirable to recuse ourselves at this stage in respect of all appeals and applications connected to the Ondo State governorship election.

“All the files in this regard are now sent back to the Honourable President of the Court of Appeal for re-assignment.”