Law News
Buhari’s victory diffuses certificate saga suits

One cannot hurriedly forget the apprehension generated by the numerous suits filed against the presidential candidate of the All Progressives Congress, Muhammadu Buhari, challenging his eligibility to contest in the March 28, 2015 presidential election.

Two days to the presidential election, the National Publicity Secretary of the APC, Alhaji Lai Mohammed, raised the alarm over an alleged plot to disqualify Buhari through a court order.

Within the same period, courts were flooded with suits challenging the use of card readers and the Permanent Voter Card for the conduct of the general elections.

The anti-card reader suits were perceived by many as being aimed at achieving related goals of either stopping Buhari from contesting or thwarting whatever could give the opposition party an edge in the election.

However, as of the time the widespread apprehension generated over the eligibility of a candidate who turned out to be the winner of the election reached the climax, the court had yet to hear the cases.

Given the heat and the uncertainties generated by the myriads of suits challenging Buhari’s eligibility to stand for the election, the last week’s development in some of the cases came as an anti-climax.

The development defied some legal pundits’ forecast that if Buhari emerged winner in the election, the plaintiffs, who were believed to be supporters of or sympathetic of the incumbent President Goodluck Jonathan’s re-election bid, would be more fanatic in the pursuit of the suits.

The plaintiffs who filed their suits mainly at the Federal High Court in Abuja were challenging the eligibility of Buhari to stand the election on the grounds that the former Head of State failed to submit his certificates of academic qualifications to the Independent National Electoral Commission.

The APC and its presidential candidate never took the cases as a joke as they assembled the “who is who” in the legal profession to defend them.

One of the 10 cases generated by the certificate saga was seeking the prosecution of the APC presidential candidate for allegedly lying on oath that his certificates were with the military authorities.

The applicants in the suit were motivated to file the various actions when the Nigerian Army went public denying that Buhari’s certificates were with the army authorities.

Due to the inability of the plaintiffs to drive the suits to a conclusion before the election day, two of the plaintiffs last Wednesday withdrew their separate suits in view of the victory Buhari recorded in the poll.

The withdrawal of the cases before a Federal High Court in Abuja last Wednesday, saw the number of suits relating to Buhari’s certificate saga drop from 10 to three.

The cases were still being bogged down by preliminary issues as of the time that they were struck out.

Eight of the 10 confirmed suits were filed before the Federal High Court in Abuja, one before a Chief Magistrate’s Court in Abuja and one other before the Federal High Court in Umuahia, Abia State.

The one before the Chief Magistrate’s Court, a direct criminal complaint, is seeking the trial of Buhari for alleged perjury for making a false claim on oath of possessing academic qualifications.

The suit, before Chief Magistrate Abubakar Babashani of the FCT Magistrate Court, wanted Buhari “to be brought to book for allegedly claiming on oath that he had a certificate he did not obtain.”

The four complainants were Shield Ufot, Jimmy David, Ogueri Enwerem and Tochukwu Okorie.

They had told the press that the suit was filed on behalf of the Niger Delta Salvation Front.

In their suit, the complainants claimed that “Buhari, with the intent to mislead a public officer as to compliance with the provisions of Section 31 of the Electoral Act, 2010, deposed to various affidavits in the High Court of the Federal Capital Territory, Abuja, wherein he stated that he attended Katsina Provincial Secondary School, Katsina State and obtained a West African School Certificate and that the certificates he claimed to have obtained are with the Nigerian Army.”

“That the Nigerian Army, in whose custody Maj. Gen. Muhammadu Buhari (retd.) claimed the certificates are, issued a statement and denied being in possession of the school certificates,” the plaintiffs added.

But the plaintiffs in the nine other suits were seeking a court order disqualifying Buhari from the March 28 presidential race.

The cases were designated: FHC/ABJ/CS/116/15 (between Hon. Donald Daunemigha and Gen. Muhammadu Buhari); FHC/ABJ/CS/13/15 (Hon. Sergin Onuka Ibe v. Gen. Muhammadu Buhari); FHC/ABJ/CS/01/15 (Mr. Chukwunweike Okafor vs Buhari and two others); and FHC/ABJ/CS/14/15 (Barr. Max Ozoka v. Buhari and two others).

Others were FHC/ABJ/CS/3/15 (Barr. Friday Ojealaro V. Gen. Muhammadu Buhari and two others; FHC/ABJ/CS/20/15 (Barr. Friday Ojealaro v. Buhari and three others) and FHC/ABJ/CS/68/15 (Ayakeme Whiskey vs INEC and another).

The above mentioned cases were all before Justice Adeniyi Ademola.

Another case before the Federal High Court in Abuja seeking Buhari’s disqualification was filed on February 10, 2015 by one Presidential View and Endorsement Platform and Barr. Smart Iheazor (FHC/ABJ/CS/1040/15). The defendants in the suit were Buhari and INEC.

The one before the Federal High Court in Umuahia was filed by Selekaye Victor Ben against Buhari and the Nigerian Army. The suit was numbered FHC/ABJ/CS/114/2015.

Buhari, in his acceptance speech during the presentation of certificates of return to him and the Vice President-electý, Prof. Yemi Osinbajo (SAN), described the issues raised over his academic qualification as unfortunate.

The cases were still pending when Buhari said this at the International Conference Centre in Abuja, where the results of the presidential election were collated.

He said, “Some unfortunate issues about my eligibility have been raised during the campaign. I wish to state that through devotion to this nation, everything I have learned and done has been to enable me to make the best possible contribution to public life. If I had judged myself incapable of governing, I would never have sought to impose myself on it. I have served in various capacities and have always put in my best.

“But despite the rancour of the elections, I extend a hand of friendship and conciliation to President Jonathan and his team. I hereby wish to state that I harbour no ill will against anyone.”

Earlier before the elections, some of the cases had been struck out on the grounds of lack of diligent prosecution.

Justice Ademola had struck out three of the cases before March 28.

One of the three cases was filed separately by Ayakeme Whiskey (FHC/ABJ/CS/68/15), which was a duplication of an earlier one filed by him. The two others were filed by Friday Ojelaro (FHC/ABJ/CS/20/15 and FHC/ABJ/CS/3/2015).

Last Wednesday, the plaintiffs in two of the three pending suits before Justice Ademola withdrew, consequent upon which the judge struck the suits out.

Buhari’s legal team led by Chief Akin Olujinmi (SAN), who is a former Attorney General of the Federation and Minister of Justice, had about seven other Senior Advocates of Nigeria and other juniors to the proceedings.

The team had appeared in court last Wednesday in readiness for the hearing, only for Chief Mike Ozekhome (SAN), who represented the plaintiff, Chukwunweike Okafor, in the suit FHC/ABJ/CS/01/15, to tell the judge that his client decided to withdraw his suit to enable the incoming Buhari-led government to focus on the task of governance.

Ozekhome said he suggested the idea of withdrawing the suit to his client on the telephone the night before, pointing out that his client could not be seen to be weeping more than the bereaved as the incumbent President Goodluck Jonathan, who lost to Buhari in the March 28 poll, had conceded defeat.

Ozekhome had said, “We have filed a notice of discontinuance. I called the plaintiff last night and asked him to discontinue the matter. I don’t think he should weep more than the bereaved since the sitting President called to congratulate the General (Buhari) on his victory.

“In the interest of justice, we will allow the President-elect to do his job without interference.”

Olujinmi and the counsel for INEC, Mr. Hassan Liman (SAN), did not oppose the application for discontinuance, leading Justice Ademola to strike out the case.

The same scenario played out when the second case, FHC/ABJ/CS/14/15 filed by Max Ozoaka, was called.

Ozoaka’s lawyer, Dr. Chike Amobi, also said he had, on behalf of his client, filed a notice of discontinuance of the suit on the same grounds as of Ozekhome.

The defendants’ lawyers did not also oppose the application and the judge also struck out the case.

The judge and the defence lawyers commended the plaintiffs’ counsel for their action, which they said was in the spirit of best practices at the Bar.

With the Wednesday’s development, the remaining eligibility suit against Buhari still pending before Justice Ademola and, in fact, the Federal High Court in Abuja, is the one filed by Ayakeme Whiskey.

No date has been fixed for the hearing in the suit.

The same fate seems to have befallen the case filed before the Umuahia Division of the Federal High Court and the other before the magistrate’s court in Abuja.

While nothing has been heard about the Umuahia case, the last that was heard of the direct criminal suit was the probing of the presiding Chief Magistrate of the Federal Capital Territory, Abuja, Abubakar Babashani, for allegedly refusing to hear the case.

Babashani had appeared before a panel of the Ombudsman Unit of the FCT High Court which interrogated him on why he allegedly neglected his judicial duty.

The Salaudeen Abdullateef-led four-man panel was to release the report of its investigation soon after it concluded its two-day sitting.

The four complainants – Shield Ufot,Jimmy David, Ogueri Enwerem and Tochukwu Okorie – had, through their lawyer, Mr. Ezekiel Ugochukwu, petitioned the Director of Magistrate Courts of the FCT, leveling allegation of bias against Babashani.

The petition was titled, “Case of abuse of office and manifest bias by His Worship, Abubakar Babashani, in the criminal complaint by Shield Jones & Ors. vs Muhammadu Buhari.”

The petition read in part, “However, after filing the criminal complaint, His Worship, Chief Magistrate Abubakar Babashani refused to give directives as required of him by law either for the police to investigate and report back to the court, assign the matter to another magistrate or proceed to hear the matter.

“On several occasions when we enquired at the registry of the court, we were informed that His Worship was not on seat to attend to our file.

“We approached His Worship earlier today (February 9) to seek explanation for his refusal to make the necessary directives.

“At first, His Worship informed us that he got directives from the Honourable Chief Judge of the Federal Capital Territory not to hear our matter but when we sought to know in what form the directive came, His Worship further informed us that he will not sit on our mater because a revenue collector’s receipt was not attached to the file and he will not accept Aso Bank’s teller as evidence of payment for filing the suit.”

The petitioner said it was brought to the notice of the magistrate that for more than one year, the FCT High Court had not issued a revenue receipt to any litigant as evidence of payment for filing any processes in the court but accepted Aso Bank’s teller as evidence of payment for any process filed in the court.

“We are equally aware of many cases filed in the Chief Magistrate Court which were heard and some are still being heard by His Worship, Abubakar Babashani,” he added.

Since the panel concluded its sittings, our correspondent’s inquiry about its report had yielded no result.

With just only one of the cases concerning Buhari’s certificate saga still pending, the recent developments and the attitude of the applicant, might have put paid to the legal questions concerning the President-elect’s eligibility to occupy the highest office in the land.

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