The former senator representing Kogi West, Dino Melaye has been caught on tape allegedly bribing the acting Chief Judge of Cross River State, Justice Akon Ikpeme, who was the tribunal judge who handled his election case in 2017 against Smart Adeyemi.
Ikpeme was sworn in by Governor Ben Ayade of Cross River on December 3, 2019, following the retirement of Justice Michael Edem, Chief Judge of the state.
In an audio tape published by SaharaReporters, Ikpeme confirmed she took bribes from Melaye to rule on the Kogi State Election Petition Tribunal in his favour.
The former tribunal judge, who was adjudicating in his case following the 2015 election, is overheard asking for a bribe from Melaye in United States dollars.
She also asks Mr. Melaye to assist a person Dino repeatedly referred to as her “daughter” secure a job at the Cross Rivers State Ministry of Health.
It could not be confirmed if Mrs. Ikpeme’s daughter got a job with the Cross Rivers state government, but in a second call between her and Mr. Melaye, the former senator bragged that he had already spoken to the state governor, Prof. Ben Ayade with regards to the job offer.
Justice Ikpeme had in 2016 dismissed a petition by Melaye’s opponent, Smart Adeyemi, contesting the emergence of the lawmaker at an election tribunal.
According to SaharaReporters, several lawyers involved in the case have affirmed that the female voice on the recording was that of Justice Ikpeme, who they say speaks exactly as captured on the tape.
The lawyers, who acted for Melaye in the case said that he stopped paying their fees after a while and began to sound over-confident about the case.
They suspected his refusal to pay legal fees owed them was because he had bribed Ikpeme and other judges involved in his case.
One of the lawyers, who didn’t want to be identified, said Melaye panicked when his opponent, Smart Adeyemi, suddenly procured the services of a legal titan, Wole Olanipekun (SAN), to defend the case against him, who allegedly did not win the primaries to secure his party’s nomination as required by law.
During that period, Melaye issued a statement denouncing the All Progressives Congress (APC) National Leader, Bola Tinubu, as plotting to oust him because of his support for then-Senate President, Bukola Saraki.
After Justice Ikpeme first dismissed the case of Adeyemi for filing outside the prescribed timeframe, the Court of Appeal returned the case to the lower tribunal, curiously insisting that the case be heard by Ikpeme’s panel.
Justice Ikpeme is said to have subtly suggested that the Court of Appeal President, Justice Bulkachuwa, was in the deal as well.
Adeyemi’s legal team wrote petitions to Justice Bulkachuwa to disqualify Ikpeme panel but she didn’t budge and Adeyemi lost for the second time on technicalities.
Apparently, Melaye had bribed Justice Ikpeme for the second time.
Adeyemi’s appeal at the National Assembly Election Petition Appeals Tribunal suffered a similar fate.
It is interesting to note that of the three senators from Kogi State, only Melaye’s election was not nullified at the tribunal on account of irregularities.
Ikpeme’s appointment comes at a time when Governor Ayade is cracking down on perceived critics of his government.
He has also been accused in the past of bribing judges to swing cases in his favour.
In August 2019, Ayade ordered the arrest of journalist, Agba Jalingo, for publishing an expository piece, which revealed how he diverted public money through the state-owned Cross River Microfinance Bank.
Jalingo is currently standing trial for alleged treason.