*Justice Salami, 4 others determine the rules of the game
*May 23 for hearing of CPC’s suit

By Jide Ajani & Ikechukwu Nnochiri

Call them Lawyers’ Supports Club For Goodluck Jonathan. It couldn’t have come with a drama more political. The scene was funny.  Lawyers struggled to put their names on the list of legal practitioners intent on defending the victory of President Goodluck Ebele Jonathan.  It was like the biblical attempt to beat the doomsday.

In this case, however, the lawyers wanted to enter their names into the book of Lawyers’ Supports Club For Goodluck Jonathan.  It had to take the insistence of Wole Olanipekun, SAN, former President, Nigeria Bar Association, NBA, to edit the list and stop further entries.  At the end of the day, 10 SANs and 20 lawyers entered their names before the book was closed.

It is intriguing to note that campaigns for the presidency has shifted to the Abuja division of the Court of Appeal, where the presidential election petition tribunal, last Tuesday, held its inaugural sitting on the case seeking to sack President Goodluck Jonathan from office this year.

The Congress for Progressive Change, CPC, had gone to court with a view to in-validating the victory of the Peoples Democratic Party, PDP, in the April 16 presidential election.

It is asking a five-man panel of justices headed by the President of the Court of Appeal, Justice Isa Ayo Salami, to cancel all the election results credited to President Jonathan in 24 states of the Federation, including the Federal Capital Territory, Abuja.
Other justices on the panel that will determine the fate of the suit are, Justices M.L Garba, M.A Owoade, I.I Agbube and Obande Ogbuinya.

However, the CPC suit started on a shaky footing, following its withdrawal of a previous motion ex-parte it filed in the matter on May 6.

The motion which had sought an order that could compel INEC to grant its forensic experts access to all the sensitive materials and ballot papers that were used during the 2011 general elections, was withdrawn and struck out, just as the CPC filed a new one dated May 16.

Whereas the CPC team comprised of few lawyers, led by Mr James Ocholli, SAN, on the other hand, Senior Advocates of Nigeria and lawyers alike, jostled that Tuesday to have their names on the list of lawyers that will argue the case for President Jonathan.

After a total of 10 SANs and 20 lawyers succeeded in putting their names on the list, the lead counsel to the president, Chief Wole Olanipekun, SAN, declined to add more names.

Sunday Vanguard’s investigations revealed that most of the SANs were not detailed by President Jonathan to appear in court for him.

Some of those defending Jonathan in the matter were, Dr Alex Izinyon, SAN, Ighodalo Imadegbelo, SAN, Paul Erokoro, SAN, Chief Assam E. Assam, SAN, and John Okoriko.

Following a no objection stance by counsel to INEC, Chief Adegboyega Awomolo, SAN, that of the PDP, Joe Kyari Gadzama, SAN, and President Jonathan’s team, CPC successfully withdrew its earlier application!  The tribunal set-down May 23 to commence full-blown hearing of the matter.

The CPC, in the suit, is praying the tribunal to not only nullify the presidential election on the premise that President Jonathan and his running mate, Architect Namadi Sambo, were not duly elected by the majority of lawful votes cast at the poll, but to equally order INEC to conduct a re-run election between it and the PDP.

Immediately the matter was adjourned, counsel on both divides besieged newsmen to canvass their cases.
While the CPC insisted that it has gathered enough prima-facie evidence that could sack President Jonathan from office, counsel to the respondents dismissed the suit as a distraction and total waste of valuable judicial time.

Speaking to newsmen after the proceedings, lead counsel to Jonathan, Olanipekun, maintained that the CPC had no case, just as he expressed the determination of his team to puncture the case in its entirety.

He further disclosed the preparedness of President Jonathan to allow the CPC to subject all the ballot papers used in the general elections to any kind of forensic test it may opt for.

The CPC is categorically seeking the nullification of the results that were garnered by the PDP in all the 17 states in the South , as well as those of Sokoto, Kaduna, Plateau, Kwara, Benue, Adamawa, Nasarawa states, in the North and the Federal Capital Territory, FCT.

The party had equally boasted that it would prove at the hearing of the petition that there was substantial variation in the voters’ register used by the INEC for the conduct of the presidential and governorship elections respectively, as well as the extent both the INEC and its chairman manipulated the register to the advantage of the incumbent administration.

The party alleged that the ballot papers meant for certain polling units were illegally diverted to other units and were subsequently used for ballot stuffing, even as it has equally asked the tribunal to declare that President Jonathan failed to fulfill the requirement of section 134 (2) of the 1999

Section 140 (1) of the Electoral Act imbues the tribunal with the powers to nullify the 2011 presidential election if the CPC successfully proves its case before it.

According to the section, “subject to subsection (2) of this section, if the tribunal or the court as the case may be, determines that a candidate who was returned as elected was not validly elected on any ground, the tribunal or the court shall nullify the election”.

Whereas the sub-section 2 of the same section 140 provides that “where an election tribunal or court nullifies an election on the ground that the person who obtained the highest votes at the election was not qualified to contest the election or that the election was marred by substantial irregularities or non-compliance with the provision of this ACT, the election tribunal or court shall not declare the person with the second highest votes or any other person as elected, but shall order a fresh election”.

Meanwhile, at a time when the lawyers were doing their thing in Abuja, politicians entered the fray down South.  A team of politicians, specifically the state chairmen of the CPC, in the South addressed a press conference.

They said the chairmen of the party in the southern states have decided not to follow Buhari to court; claiming that they have decided to withdraw their support for the presidential candidate of their party at the tribunal – interestingly, Buhari would be suffering this fate a second time as the leaders of his first political party, the All Nigeria Peoples Party, ANPP, took him to the middle of the sea of presidential petition and dumped him there.

This time, however, state chairmen of the CPC is the South-West geo-political zone quickly came to his rescue, insisting that the South-East and South-South chapter chairmen of the CPC were on their own. But as the politicians engage in their masturbation, Justice Salami has fixed tomorrow for the hearing of the suit proper.

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