….As court fixes May 4 for hearing
By Ikechukwu Nnochiri
Former Vice President, Alhaji Atiku Abubakar, has asked the Abuja Division of the Federal High Court, to dismiss a suit seeking to bar him from vying for the presidency.
Atiku, who was the presidential candidate of the Peoples Democratic Party, PDP, in the last general election, maintained that the suit which was lodged against him by a group under the aegis of the Incorporated Trustees of Egalitarian Mission for Africa, lacked merit.
In a 28-paragraphed counter-affidavit deposed on his behalf by one Nanchang Ndam, the former Vice President said the suit would only succeed in “wasting the judicial/precious time of the court.’’
Aside from Atiku, other Defendants in the suit marked FHC/ABJ/CS/177, are the PDP, the Independent National Electoral Commission, INEC, and the Attorney-General of the Federation.
The Plaintiff had in its Originating Summons, posed three questions for the court to determine.
It asked the court to determine “Whether by section 25 of the Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria, 1999 (as amended), is the sole authority that spells out ways by which a person can become a Nigerian citizen by birth?
“Whether by the provisions of section 131(a) of the Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria, 1999 (as amended), only a Nigeria citizen by birth can contest for the office of the President of the Federal Republic of Nigeria?
“Whether by the combined interpretation of section 25(1) & (2) and 131(a) of the Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria, 1999 (as amended), and giving the circumstances surrounding the birth of the 1st Defendant (Atiku), he can be cleared by the 2nd and 3rd Defendants to contest for the office of the President of the Federal Republic of Nigeria?
Upon determination of the questions, the Plaintiff is seeking a declaration that by the provisions of the Constitution, “only a Nigerian citizen by birth can contest for the office of the President of the Federal Republic of Nigeria.
It is equally asking the court to declare that giving the circumstances surrounding Atiku’s birth, he cannot be cleared by either PDP or the INEC, to vie for the Presidency. The Plaintiff, which told the court that it was a Non-Governmental Organization that was duly registered in 13 African countries, argued that Atiku was not a Nigerian by birth and thus not eligible to contest to become the President of Nigeria.
It told the court that it had specific concerns for promoting the principles of equality, rule of law and human rights in Africa generally, but with particular interest in Nigeria.
In a 12-paragraphed affidavit deposed to by one Michael Okejimi, the Plaintiff noted that Atiku was born on December 25, 1946.
He said the 1st Defendant had in his own testimony that was gazetted and published in most national dailies, stated that he is from Jada town in Adamawa State.
“Jada used to be in Ganye Local Government Area in Adamawa. That Ganye is regarded as the mother of the whole Chamba tribe.
“That Ganye, however, was never part of Nigeria legally as at the date of birth of the 1st Defendant.
“That the area had been entrusted to Britain by a League of Nations mandate in 1919 and later as Trust Territory by the United Nations in 1946.
“That the defeat of Germany in World War 1, Cameroon became a League of Nations mandate territory and was split into French Cameroons and British Cameroons in 1919.
“That while France integrated the economy of their part of Cameroon with that of France, the British, administered theirs from neighboring Nigeria, making 1st Defendant’s Jada a British franchise.
“That a plebiscite was held in British Cameroons to determine whether the people preferred to stay in Cameroon or align with Nigeria.
“That while Northern Cameroon preferred a union with Nigeria, Southern Cameroon chose alignment with the mother country. That on June 1, 1961, Northern Cameroon became part of Nigeria, and on October 1, 1961, the Southern territory dissolved into Cameroon.
“That Ganye, which incorporates the 1st Defendant’s birthplace of Jada was the headquarters of British Cameroons, but it joined Nigeria following the plebiscite.
“That when the 1st Defendant was on November 25, 1946, born to a Fulani trader and farmer, Garba Abubakar, Jada village and other parts of Chamba land in the then Northern Cameroon, were still known as British Cameroon.
“That none of the 1st Defendant’s parents or grandparents was born in Nigeria. That the 1st Defendant’s father died a citizen of Northern Cameroon in 1957 prior the referendum of June 1, 1961, that made Northern Cameroon became part of Nigeria.”
“That the 1st Defendant’s ancestral origin is deeply rooted in the then Northern Cameroon.
That the 1st Defendant is not a Nigerian citizen by birth.
“That the 1st Defendant is not qualified to be elected into the office of the President of the Federal Republic of Nigeria”, the Plaintiff added.
However, in the preliminary objection be jointly filed with the PDP, Atiku, maintained that he is “a bonafide citizen of the Federal Republic of Nigeria”.
He told the court that aside serving as Vice President from 1999 to 2007, he held many public/private offices in Nigeria, including serving as Governor of Adamawa State and as a Commissioned Officer of the Nigeria Customs Service.
He said both his parents, grandparents and great grandparents were born in Nigeria and they lived, died as Nigerians and were buried in Nigeria. Atiku told the court that he is qualified and eligible to be elected into the office of the President of Nigeria, adding that the Plaintiff filed the suit malafide.
“I know as a fact that this suit as filed by the Trustees of the Plaintiff is aimed at maligning the person and integrity of the 1st Defendant”.
He further queried the locus standi of the group to challenge his nationality, saying it failed to show before the court, the interest it has above other citizens of Nigeria to be entitled to the requisite jurisdiction to institute the action.
He, therefore, urged the court to dismiss the suit in its entirety.
When the matter was called up yesterday, Justice Inyang Ekwo held that it was ripe for hearing since all the parties had joined issues.
Counsel to the Plaintiff, Akiola Oladimeji, told the court that the parties had filed and exchanged processes in respect of the matter.
The court subsequently adjourned the case to May 4, stressing that the substantive suit would be heard alongside Atiku’s preliminary objection.
It ordered service of hearing notice on all the parties.