There is palpable tension in the polity as the suits seeking the disqualification of the presidential candidate of the All Progressives Congress, Muhammadu Buhari, in the March 28 election come up for hearing at the Federal High Court, Abuja, on Tuesday.
There are no fewer than 10 suits seeking Mr. Buhari’s disqualification from the race on different grounds. All have now been consolidated for a hearing since they are all seeking the same relief.
Justice Adeniyi Ademola had on March 19 adjourned hearing on the suit to March 24.
In one of the suits, Chukwunweike Okafor is seeking an order compelling the Independent National Electoral Commission to remove or delete Mr. Buhari’s name and that of the APC from the list of persons and political parties eligible for the office of President.
In the suit, Mr. Buhari, the APC and INEC were listed as first, second and third defendants, respectively.
Mr. Okafor asked the court to hold that the information supplied by the APC flag-bearer in Form C.F 001 that his West African School Certificate was with the Nigerian Army was false and should be disqualified from the race.
In another suit, Max Ozoaka asked the court to disqualify Mr. Buhari on the ground that the INEC Form Cf 001 the APC candidate submitted to INEC was incomplete.
He contended that Mr. Buhari failed to accompany the form with all relevant academic credentials.
Mr. Ozoaka also raised objections regarding some of the information contained in other documents submitted by the APC candidate, including voter’s card.
Addressing the court at the last hearing, Mr. Buhari’s team of lawyers, comprising five Senior Advocate of Nigeria, led by Wole Olanipekun, said all the suits were targeted at stopping the APC presidential flag bearer from participating in the election.
The lawyers also contended that no court has the power to stop INEC from conducting the presidential election on March 28.
They asked the court not to allow itself to be used for the purpose, stating that Section 87 (11) of the Electoral Act cautions courts not to do anything or take action or issue any injunction that will stop the holding of primary or general elections.
“My lord, it appears that this matter is targeted at stopping the presidential election, if that is the case my lord. This court should not be used for that purpose,” Mr. Olanipekun said.
Earlier, counsel to Mr. Okafor, Mike Ozekhome, SAN, had asked the court to expedite hearing on the suit to enable it determine the fate of the APC candidate before the poll.
He reminded the court that the election was only nine days away, adding, “We have a plethora of court processes that are already filed in this matter.”
Mr. Ozekhome added, “The position of the law as adumbrated in a legion of cases, starting from the apex court, is that in an action commenced by originating summons such as ours, which is meant to construct certain section of the Electoral Act and the constitution, the originating summons should be taken together and cumulatively with process challenging the jurisdiction of this court to hear the suit.
“This matter should be expeditiously heard and determined before March 28 so that we don’t have situation of having a pretender put on the throne.”
His submission however angered Mr. Olanipekun, who argued that the suits were pre-election matters that could be heard and determined after the election.
According to him, “There is no law, authority or decision that compels any court to give judgement in a pre-election matter before the election itself. The matter is not time-bound, it is not like election petition.
“My lord, the Supreme Court has held that pre-election matter remains a live issue before or after election. What we are saying is that the court is not encouraged to rush pre-election matters because it is said that justice rushed is justice crushed.
“That was the decision in the Ibe Vs Onuora, 1998, at page 558 and page 363. Moreover, section 158 © of the Evidence Act enjoins your lordship to take judicial notice of newspaper publications.”
Counsel to the APC, Lateef Fagbemi had argued that the issue of legality of the service of the court process on defendants should be determined first.
Hasan Liman, counsel to INEC, objected to the consolidation of the originating summons and the preliminary objections for hearing. He also asked the court to insist that all the parties to the suits should file their pleadings.