By Ikechukwu Nnochiri
ABUJA - The Federal High Court sitting in Abuja, yesterday, terminated further hearing on two separate suits that challenged the qualification of General Muhammadu Buhari, rtd, to participate in the 2015 presidential election.
Justice Ademola Adeniyi struck out the suits following notices of discontinuance that was entered before the court by the plaintiffs.The plaintiffs,Chukwunweike Okafor, and Mr. Max Ozoaka, through their respective lawyers, Chief Mike Ozehkome, SAN, and Dr. Chike Amobi, told the court that they decided to withdraw the matter in order to allow the President-elect, Buhari, to effectively run the affairs of the nation without distractions.
“My Lord we have a notice of discontinuance and we have served all the parties. I called the plaintiff and advised that he should discontinue the suit to avoid distraction for the incoming government.
“Since Jonathan has conceded defeat and also encouraged his supporters to do the same, after such heroic act, we saw no reason to weep more than the bereaved”, Ozekhome added.
Responding to the development, Buhari, through his lawyer Chief Akin Olujumi, SAN, said he would not oppose the application to withdraw the suits against him, even as he commended both the plaintiffs and their lawyers for “doing the wise thing”.
Buhari told the court that he would not press for cost to be awarded against the plaintiffs for initiating the legal actions against him.
Similarly, the All Progressives Congress, APC, which was also cited as a defendant in the suits, lauded the plaintiffs for their decision to discontinue, contending that going ahead with the subject matter of the case would have amounted to a waste of time.
On its part, the Independent National Electoral Commission, INEC, through its lawyer, Mr. Hassan Liman, equally did not object to the withdrawal applications dated April 22.
While striking out the suits, Justice Adeniyi commended all the parties for “exhibiting high sense of commitment”.
Justice Adeniyi had earlier stressed that its decision on the very first suit against Buhari, which was filed by Mr. Okafor, would impact on about eight other eligibility suits pending before the court.
However, the ruling of the court yesterday will not affect another suit that was lodged against Buhari by Chief Ayakeme Whiskey (FHC/ABJ/CS/68/15), who had maintained that the subject matter of his own action transcended the issue of eligibility.
Meantime, no date has been fixed for hearing of that suit.
The plaintiffs had in the suits that were withdrawn yesterday, prayed the court for a declaration that the 1st defendant, Buhari, was not eligible to participate in the 2015 presidential election for failure to comply with the terms for submission of list of candidate and affidavit of personal particulars of persons seeking election to the office of President.
They sought similar reliefs, including, “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 is mandatorily obliged by 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 the 1st defendant’s birth certificate and evidence of his educational qualifications as required under INEC Form C.F 001.
“A declaration that the Curriculum Vitae and Voters Registration card attached by the 1st defendant in his INEC Form C.F 001 and submitted to the 2nd defendant, INEC, as a Presidential Candidate in 2015 general election is not in conformity with the form prescribed by the Electoral Act/INEC Form C.F. 001 and is manifestly in contravention of the said Act/INEC Form C.F. 001 and therefore null and void”.
Specifically Mr. Ozoaka, sought for an order of court declaring as invalid the INEC Form C.F. 001 as filled and submitted by Buhari “for being inchoate and manifestly in contravention of the provisions of the Electoral Act”.
He argued that Buhari’s failure/ refusal to attach evidence of his birth certificate and educational qualifications, “which are conditions inherent/ precedent as prescribed in the form”, was in breach of relevant laws in Nigeria pertaining to presidential election.
He prayed the court not to only declare the Form CF. 001 that was submitted to INEC by Buhari for the 2015 presidential election as incompetent, but to also declare that the Voters Card that was attached to the form was false on the ground that as at when the voters card was issued, the 1st defendant was not a “public servant” as he allegedly stated.
“An order declaring the said voters card as void for containing false information about the identity/occupation of the 1st defendant.
“An order disqualifying the 1st defendant from contesting and/or participating in the Presidential election fixed for February 14, 2015 or any date that the 2nd defendant may fix on the ground that the information contained in the 1stbdefendant’s INEC Form CF. 001 is false.
“An order restraining the 2nd defendant from permitting the 1st defendant from participating in the Presidential election fixed for February 14, 2015 or any other date that the 2nd defendant may fix”.
Ozoaka posed eight questions for the determination of the court, among which included; “Whether having regards to the provision of section 31(8) of the Electoral Act, as amended, and INEC Form C.F. 001 filed by the 1st defendant and the fact that the 1st defendant stated therein that he is a member of the All Progressives Congress Party (APCP), whether the 1st defendant is a member of a political party recognised by law in Nigeria which will enable him to participate in the 2015 presidential election.
“Whether or not the identification/voters card submitted by the 1st defendant to the 2nd defendant wherein the 1st defendant is shown to be a “public servant” as at January 22, 2011, is true or false?
“Whether or not the document purported to be the Statement of Result/Result Sheet of the 1st defendant’s Secondary School Certificate Examination (SSCE) provided by the Government College Katsina and the Katsina State Ministry of Education and referred to at the Press Conference of the 1st defendant held on January 21, 2015, is truly and correctly that of the 1st defendant, having regard to the name of the 1st defendant as stated in his affidavit submitted to the 2nd defendant and the name in the said document”.
In a 30 paragraphed affidavit that was deposed to by the plaintiff, he averred that the 1st defendant retired from Nigerian Army on August 1985 after he was removed from office as military Head of State pursuant to a military coup.
“That the 1st defendant left the Petroleum (Special) Trust Fund as its Executive Chairman in May 1999. That I know for a fact that the 1st defendant stated on oath that his certificates evidencing his educational qualifications are in the possession of the Nigerian Army.
“That I know for a fact that at a press conference held on January 20, 2015, the Nigerian Army spokesman, Brigadier General Oluseye Lajide stated that the Nigerian Army is not in possession of the 1st defendant’s certificates evidencing his educational qualifications”.
He told the court that a Statement of Result that was eventually made available to the press by the 1st defendant through Government College Katsina and a University of Cambridge West Africa School Certificate Result sheet, had the name of one “Mohammed Buhari”, “and not the name of the 1st defendant as copiously appeared and used in the 1st defendant’s voters card. Affidavit and other documents attached to his INEC Form C.F. 001”.
Both Buhari and the APC had queried the competence of all the suits, even as they challenged the jurisdiction of the court to hear them.
The two defendants also challenged the propriety of orders of Justice Adeniyi which had permitted the plaintiffs to serve the Originating Summons on them through substituted means.
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