….blasts Ministry of Justice for defending Buhari’s certificate
By Ikechukwu Nnochiri
ABUJA–The Supreme Court, on Monday, dismissed a suit that challenged President Muhammadu Buhari’s eligibility to contest the 2019 presidential election.
In a unanimous judgement by a five-man panel of Justices, the apex court, held that the legal action that three citizens, Kalu Agu, Labaran Ismail and Hassy El-Kuris, filed to query President Buhari’s educational qualifications, had become statute barred.
The apex court held that the Court of Appeal in Abuja acted rightly when it declined jurisdiction to entertain the matter.
It will be recalled that the appellate court had in a verdict it gave on July 12, said it lacked the powers to determine whether or not President Buhari committed perjury based on allegation by the litigants that he lied about his educational qualifications in the Form CF 001 he submitted to the Independent National Electoral Commission, INEC, to contest the February 23 presidential election.
Specifically, the court, held that the appellants, failed to challenge the qualifications President Buhari claimed in his form, within 14 days after he tendered it before the INEC, as stipulated by section 285(9) of the 4th alteration to the 1999 constitution.
Consequently, the appellate court said it had no cause to set-aside the Judgement of the Federal High Court in Abuja, which had on May 2, dismissed the suit.
Meantime, though the Supreme Court upheld the appellate court’s decision, it however lambasted the Federal Ministry of Justice for appearing before it to defend President Buhari’s certificate.
The apex court panel which was headed by Justice Mary Odili, said it was bad for the Ministry or the Attorney General of the Federation to use public fund to defend a case in which Buhari was sued in his personal capacity.
The court wondered why a Principal State Counsel from the Federal Ministry of Justice, Mr. Abdullahi Abubakar, should be the one to announce appearance for a private individual.
Frowning at the development, Justice Muhammad Dattijo, said it was high-time Nigeria started practicing democracy as it is done in countries like the United States of America, where he noted that the Justice Ministry never appeared to defend numerous private cases that were filed against Bill Clinton while he held sway as President.
“Clinton, in his numerous private litigations, never used government organs, but rather personally sponsored all his private cases”, Justice Dattijo noted.
He warned lawyers in the Justice Ministry against embarking on actions that amount to gross contravention of the Code of Conduct for public servants, stressing that such action could attract consequences.
While adopting Justice Dattijo’s observation, Justice Odili, said: “The court notes the inappropriate appearance of Mr Abdullahi Abubakar, state counsel from the Federal Ministry of Justice, representing the first respondent Gen. Muhammad Buhari Rtd in his personal capacity.
“This practice must be discouraged, appeal haven been withdrawn, it is hereby dismissed”, Odili said.
The appellate court had in its lead judgement that was delivered by Justice Mohammed Idris, held that the Originating Summon the appellants entered against Buhari, was defective, noting that registry of the high court failed to transmit the record of proceedings within 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.
Besides, 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.
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.
Among other things, the appellants, prayed the 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.