By Andy Chukwu
The Supreme Court on Monday dismissed a suit seeking the disqualification of President Muhammadu Buhari from the last presidential election for lying on oath.
The court dismissed the suit shortly after it was withdrawn by the appellants’ counsel, following hints from the apex court that it is pointless going ahead with the matter having been caught up by the Fourth Alteration to the 1999 Constitution.
The appellants, Kalu Kalu, Labaran Ismail and Hassy El-Kuris, had approached the Supreme Court to nullify the candidacy of President Buhari in the February 23 presidential poll over allegations that he lied under oath.
They claimed that Buhari lied on oath in the form CF001 he submitted to the electoral commission, INEC, for the 2019 election.
However, during the court session on Monday, the five-member panel led by Mary Odili asked the appellant’s lawyer if the case was statute-barred or not before proceedings.
Though Ukairo gave several reasons to convince the apex court that it was not-statute barred, the justices, however, drew his attention to Buhari’s form CF001 which was the matter before the court and which was received by INEC on October 18.
The case had been instituted on November 15 at the Federal High Court in Abuja, thereby indicating that the suit being a pre-election matter was filed outside the 14 days provided by the law.
Following the observation, the appellant’s counsel subsequently withdrew the action and the suit was dismissed without cost in the unanimous judgment delivered by Justice Odili.
“This appeal having been withdrawn is hereby dismissed,” Odili said.
The appellants’ grievances had arisen from the dismissal of their suit at the Court of Appeal in Abuja, on grounds that it was statute-barred and as such could not be heard.
They had approached the apex court to nullify the candidacy of President Buhari in the presidential poll over allegations of perjury.
The appellants specifically wanted Buhari’s nomination and subsequent victory at the February 23 presidential election nullified on the grounds that President Buhari lied on oath in his form that he submitted to INEC for the presidential election.
They asked the court for an order to set aside the judgment of the Court of Appeal and hear the matter on merit and grant the reliefs sought in the originating summons.
Among the reliefs sought is a declaration that Buhari submitted false information regarding his qualification and certificate to INEC for the purpose of contesting election into the office of the President of Nigeria and that he should be disqualified.
They also asked for an order of court directing INEC to remove Buhari’s name as a candidate of All Progressive Congress (APC).
They also asked for another order restraining Buhari from parading himself as a candidate in the 2019 presidential election and also APC from recognising him as its candidate.
The Court of Appeal, in a unanimous judgment delivered by Mohammed Idris, had on July 12 held that the singular fact that the suit was filed outside the 14 days provided by the law robbed the court of jurisdiction to entertain it.
The Federal High Court had in May declined to grant the request of the appellants on the grounds that the suit was not filed within the time allowed by law and therefore sustained the preliminary objection raised by Buhari at the hearing.
The appellants had presented 12 grounds for the setting aside of the judgment of the Court of Appeal, amongst which are:
That ”Learned Justices of the Court of Appeal erred in law in relying on a Preliminary Objection withdrawn and struck out by the Court of Appeal in striking out and dismissing the appeal.
“The Learned Justices of the Court of Appeal erred in law and breached the right of the appellants to fair hearing by relying on a preliminary objection, withdrawn by the 2nd Respondent and struck out by the Court, thus being a case not made out or relied upon or abandoned by a party in entering a decision in a judgment.
“They erred in law in holding that ‘the failure of the Registrar to sign the Originating Summons is fatal and goes to the issue of jurisdiction and thereby struck out the Originating Summons.
“The Learned Justices of the Court of Appeal erred in law in holding that delving into the other issues raised in the appeal will be regarded as an academic exercise as the case has been held to have been statute barred by virtue of Section 285(9) of the 1999 Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria (as amended) 4th alteration and robs this court of its jurisdiction”.
The appelants’ counsel said the appellants in the brief of argument distilled two issues for determination: “Whether the Learned Trial Judge was right in relying on the processes filed by the 1st defendant through a Law Officer in the Ministry of Justice?
“Whether the Learned Trial Judge was right in holding that the suit was statute-barred by computing the number of days from the 28th day of September, 2018 when the 2nd Respondent held its primary election wherein the 1st Respondent was elected as a candidate of the 2nd Respondent?”
The appellants had approached the appellate court to nullify and set aside the judgment of the Abuja division of the Federal High Court which declined to hear the suit.
But the appellate court held that the suit had been caught up by the Fourth Alteration to the 1999 Constitution which stipulates 14 days time period within which an election matter must be filed.
Though the appellate court agreed with the trial court that the suit was statute-barred, having been filed out of time, it, however, disagreed with the trial court on the date the cause of action took place.
Justice Ahmed Mohammed had in his judgment held that the cause of action took place on September 28, 2018, when the APC held its primary election to select the candidate of the party in the 2019 general election.
The appellate court, however, held that the cause of action took place on October 18, 2018, the date Mr Buhari submitted his form 001 to INEC for the purpose of clearance for the presidential election.
The appellants had filed the suit on November 15, 2018, claiming October 25, the date INEC published the list of successful candidates in the 2019 general election as the date the cause of action arose, making the suit to be competent.
The three-member panel of the Court of Appeal had also dismissed the suit based on the preliminary objection filed by the APC’s lawyer challenging the jurisdiction of the suit on the grounds that it is incompetent.
The justices held that the failure of the Registrar of the Federal High Court to transmit the record of proceedings was fatal to the originating summons and makes the suit incompetent.
The decision had prompted the appellants to approach the apex court in their further quest for justice.
Buhari’s educational qualification is one of the grounds of the petition filed by the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) and its presidential candidate, Atiku Abubakar, at the presidential election tribunal.
Atiku is alleging, among others, that Buhari lied on oath about his educational qualifications and that the electoral commission manipulated the result in favour of the president.
The tribunal is yet to deliver judgement in the appeal.