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Eligibility suits: Buhari scales first hurdle as court defers judgement
The palpable tension raised by series of suits filed at the Federal High Court Abuja, seeking the Independent National Electoral Commission to disqualify the presidential standard bearer of the All Progressives Congress General Muhammadu Buhari (rtd) from contesting the election gave way on Wednesday following the adjournment of the suits to April 22 and 23.
The dates were arrived at shortly after the trial judge; Justice Ademola Adeniyi refused to join a chieftain of the All Progressives Congress in Rivers state, Barrister Chukwuma Ochu, and human rights activist Ebun-olu Adegboruwa in one of the suits.
The judge said the adjournment would affect all the over 10 pending suits against Buhari in his court. All the suits relate to Buhari’s alleged school certificate scam.
Barrister Chukwunweike Okafor had sued Buhari, the APC and INEC, wherein he is seeking a declaration that by the combined provisions of Sections 31(1)(2) and (3) of the 2010 Electoral Act as amended and INEC Form CF 001, the 1st defendant (Buhari) is mandatorily obliged by the law to comply strictly with the provisions laid down under the Electoral Act as amended and INEC Form CF 001 as it relates to attaching evidence of his birth certificate and evidence of his educational qualifications as required under INEC Form CF 001.
But since the suit was filed on Monday January 26, 2015, it has been slowed down due to series of interlocutory applications filed by the defendants.
However, in a ruling on whether or not the court will take the originating summon alongside all pending applications as moved by Chief Mike Ozekhome SAN, counsel to the plaintiff, citing Order 29 rule 1-5 of the Federal High Court, Justice Ademola on Tuesday said “all the pending applications have been consolidated” and the court would take all the applications in one fell swoop.
In deciding the fate of the two parties who had sought to be joined in the suit yesterday, the court struck out their different applications and concurred with the submission of Ozekhome that “they are meddlesome interlopers and busy bodies, only coming to waste the precious time of the court in ensuring speedy delivery of justice in the matter.
The court said Ochu and Adegboruwa could not convince it on how their personal interest would be affected by the outcome of the suit if not joined as parties.
“The parties seeking to be joined in the suit have nothing to lose if they are not made parties in the suit. They are interlopers, who want to waste time of the court. The two joinder applications lack merit; they are hereby discountenanced and accordingly struck out, the court ordered.
In the build up to the differing of the case to April 22, the plaintiff’s counsel had informed the court of the need for expeditious hearing of the matter, adding that time was of the essence since the crux of the suit deals with disqualification of General Buhari, whom the plaintiff alleged, is not qualified to contest the presidential election slated for March 28.
Ozekhome had invited the court to “take together and cumulatively” the originating summon and all pending applications challenging the jurisdiction of the court because “the presidential election wherein we demand Buhari’s disqualification will hold on March 28“.
Reacting, Buhari’s lead counsel Wole Olanipekun SAN reminded Justice Ademola that the court was yet to hear his application challenging service by substituted means and other pending applications.
He said “We are taking aback by the narrative of the plaintiff’s counsel; I perceive his position as being targeted at the presidential election of March 28. My Lord, no law or authority has compelled court to decide pre-election matter before day of election proper.
“My Lord, Section 87(11) of the Electoral Act cautions the court not to take any action or make an injunction that will stop the holding of primary or general election. Pre-election matter is not like election petition suit. There is no time limit set to decide pre-election matter. The court is not encouraged to rush pre-election matter because it is said that justice rushed, is justice crushed. Hurrying of justice is a stepmother of misfortune” Olanipekun said.
He also cited Section 138 (c) of the Evidence Act that enjoins courts to take judicial notice of newspaper publications.
Therefore, he referred the court to a newspaper publication where the Chief Justice of Nigeria, Justice Mahmud Mohammed had warned judicial officers on the occasion of swearing in of election petition tribunal members not to allow politicians or litigants to use them to scuttle the democratic process.
Similarly, Chief Lateef Fagbemi, counsel to the APC while objecting to the application of the plaintiff, said, “I have never seen where the issue of challenge to service by substituted means is lumped up with the originating summon, adding that they even announced appearance in protest.
“Issue of service is factual and legal. We have to thrash it out first before talking about the originating summon” Fagbemi said.
On its part, 3rd defendant in the suit, INEC also contended that assuming without conceding that they were properly served the court process, the issue in dispute was perjury, which they claimed is a criminal offence.
Hence, the electoral body had invited the court through its preliminary objection to the originating summon to hold that the suit was wrongly commenced by way of originating summons.
Okafor among other reliefs, is asking the court to declare that “the information contained in Buhari’s affidavit dated November 24, 2014, stating that the Secretary of the Military Board was in custody of his WASSC was false and thereby disqualified him from contesting the 2015 general elections.”
He is contending that Buhari’s form CF001 with the INEC, wherein he stated that he obtained the minimum educational qualification of West African Senior School Certificate could not be valid as the said certificate was allegedly false or not genuine.
The plaintiff is also the court to declare that “the information contained in Buhari’s affidavit dated November 24, 2014, stating that the Secretary of the Military Board was in custody of his WASSC was false and thereby disqualified him from contesting the 2015 general elections.”
The lawyer is therefore seeking an order of the court “compelling INEC to withdraw, remove and/or delete the names of the 1st and 2nd defendants from the list of persons or political parties eligible to contest for the Office of the President of Nigeria in the 2015 general elections.”