By Ikechukwu Nnochiri
ABUJA – A three-man panel of Justices of the Court of Appeal in Abuja, on Friday, adduced reasons why it could not determine a suit that challenged President Muhammadu Buhari’s eligibility to contest the 2019 presidential election.
The appellate court panel, in a unanimous decision, said it lacked the jurisdiction to inquire into the academic qualification President Buhari claimed in the Form CF001 he submitted to the Independent National Electoral Commission, INEC, for the purpose of the February 23 presidential poll.
The court said it was satisfied to allow the Judgement of the Federal High Court in Abuja, which had on May 2, dismissed the legal action that three citizens, Kalu Agu, Labaran Ismail and Hassy El-Kuris, filed to query President Buhari’s educational qualifications.
The appellants who identified themselves as electorates and tax payers, had prayed the court to invoke its original jurisdiction to determine whether or not President Buhari supplied false information about his educational qualification and certificates, in the affidavit and bio data he tendered to INEC.
In the appeal marked CA/A/436/2019, the litigants, urged the court to determine whether the office of the Attorney General of the Federation and Minister of Justice, was competent to file processes to defend their allegation that President Buhari lied on oath about his qualifications.
They prayed the appellate court to not only set-aside the verdict of trial Justice Ahmed Mohammed of the high court that dismissed their case, but go ahead and hear all the substantive legal issues they raised against Buhari in their suit No. FHC/ABJ/CS/1310/2018.
Cited as respondents in the matter were President Buhari, the All Progressives Congress, APC, and INEC.
Delivering the lead judgement on Friday, Justice Mohammed Idris held that the matter had become statute barred.
He held that the Originating Summon was defective since the registry of the high court failed to transmit the record of proceedings with the period allowed by the rules.
“Once the Originating Summon is dead all the other processes are also dead as something cannot be placed on nothing”, Justice Idris held.
Aside upholding preliminary objection the respondents entered against the suit, the appellate court noted that the appellants failed to challenge information President Buhari supplied to INEC within 14 days as stipulated by section 285(9) of the 4th alteration to the 1999 constitution.
The appellate court held that going by affidavit evidence before it, the cause of action arose on October 18, 2018, when the said Form CF 001 was submitted to INEC, and not on September 28, 2018, when the APC held its primary election to nominate President Buhari as its candidate.
The court noted that the litigants filed their suit on November 5, 2018.
It held that delving into the merit of the case would amount to an academic exercise since the 180 days prescribed for trial of such case had elapsed.
The appellate court held that the 180 days within which it could have been able to invoke section 15 of its Act to hear the matter on merit, expired on May 4.
Justice Idris held that both the appellate court and the trial court had lost jurisdiction to entertain the matter.
“We are of the view that the appeal lacks merit. Judgement of the trial court is hereby affirmed”, he held.
Other appellate court justices that concurred with the lead judgement were Justices Atinuke Akomolafe-Wilson and Emmanuel Agim.
The appellants had among other things, prayed the high court to determine; “Whether having regard to the information in the Affidavit contained in the 1st Defendant’s INEC FORM CF001 regarding his educational qualifications/certificates, the Defendant has submitted false information to the 3rd Defendant.
“Whether from the facts and exhibits contained in the affidavit in support of this Originating Summons, and having regard to section 31(5) and (6) of the Electoral Act, 2010 ( as amended ), the 1st Defendant is disqualified from running for the office of President of the Federal Republic of Nigeria in the 2019 General Elections.
“Whether the 1st Defendant having submitted false information to the 3rd Defendant, the 2nd Defendant can validly present the 1st Defendant as its Candidate for the office of President of the Federal Republic of Nigeria for the 2019 General Elections.
“Whether the 3rd Defendant can validly receive, accept or act upon the false information in the Affidavit and documents submitted by the 1st as Candidate of the 2nd Defendant for the office of President of the Federal Republic of Nigeria for the 2019 General Elections.
As well as, “Whether the 3rd Defendant ought to have rejected the said false information and documents submitted by the 2nd Defendant for the 1st Defendant”.
Upon determination of the questions, they prayed the court to hold that President Buhari was ineligible to contest the presidential election.