ABUJA– The Supreme Court, on Friday, paved the way for the swearing-in of the President-elect, Asiwaju Bola Tinubu of the ruling All Progressives Congress, APC, on Monday, May 29.
The apex court, in a unanimous decision by a five-member panel, dismissed as lacking in merit, an appeal the opposition Peoples Democratic Party, PDP, filed to query Tinubu’s eligibility to contest the presidential election that held on February 25.
It held that the appeal, marked: SC/CV/501/2023, was brought before it in bad faith, stressing that the PDP, whose candidate, Alhaji Atiku Abubakar, came second in the presidential contest, was bereft of the locus standi (legal right) to challenge a nomination that was made by another political party.
PDP had in its appeal, prayed the court to void Tinubu’s candidacy, alleging that the Vice President-elect, Senator Kashim Shettima, had prior to the 2023 general elections, allowed himself to be nominated for more than one constituency.
It told the court that Shettima was nominated twice, both for the Borno Central Senatorial seat and for the Vice Presidential position.
PDP maintained that Shettima’s dual nomination, was in gross violation of provisions of Sections 29(1), 33, 35 and 84(1) and (2) of the Electoral Act, 2022, as amended.
Consequently, aside from urging the court to invalidate Tinubu and Shettima’s candidature, the Appellant, further applied for an order to compel the Independent National Electoral Commission, INEC, to expunge their names from the list of nominated or sponsored candidates that were eligible to contest the presidential poll.However,
the apex court, in its lead judgement that was delivered on Friday by Justice Adamu Jauro, accused the PDP of attempting to interfere in the internal affairs of the APC which nominated both Tinubu and Shettima for the presidential poll. It upheld the
concurrent decisions of the Court of Appeal and the Federal High Court in Abuja, which earlier dismissed case for being frivolous and over PDP’s failure to disclose a reasonable cause of action against Tinubu and Shettima.
The apex court agreed with the respondents that section 285 (14) (c ) of the 1999 Constitution, as amended, as well as section 149 of the Electoral Act, 2022, did not confer the Appellant with the right to challenge the Tinubu’s candidacy on the ground of Shettima’s alleged double nomination by the APC. The apex court held that section 84 of the Electoral Act only empowered an aspirant that participated in the primary election of a political party, to challenge the nomination of a candidate by the party.
It held that the PDP failed to establish the injury it suffered as a result of the nomination by the APC, adding that
the law did not permit a political party to dabble into domestic affair of another political party.
More so, the apex court held that PDP was unable to prove that its civil rights and obligations were in danger of being infringed upon.
It held that the lower courts were right when they declined to hear PDP’s case on its merit, since they lacked the requisite jurisdiction to do so.
The apex court further descended on the PDP, describing
the appeal as the action of “a nosy busy-body and a meddlesome interloper that is peeping into the affairs of its neighbour.”
Justice Jauro equally noted that the 180 days that was statutorily prescribed for the determination of such pre-election matter, had since elapsed, thus, rendering the action as statute barred.
In his contribution, head of the apex court panel, Justice Inyang Okoro, described the case PDP brought against Tinubu as “one of the most frivolous appeals that this court has been inundated with in recent time.”
He insisted that the appeal was aimed at bringing the judiciary to public ridicule, accusing the PDP and its members of using the social media to set a booby trap for the court.Likewise, another member of the panel, Justice Amina Augie, said it was wrong for the PDP to liken its appeal against Tinubu to Imo state 2019 governorship election dispute that involved the candidate of the APC, Uche Nwosu.
Justice Augie held that whereas Nwosu was confirmed to have participated in primary elections that were conducted by both the APC and the Action Alliance, AA, with his Form CF 001 submitted to INEC, it was not the same case in the appeal against Tinubu and Shettima.
More over, she noted that PDP’s candidate in the presidential election, Atiku, was already a governor-elect in 1999, when he was subsequently nominated to become a Vice Presidential candidate.
“So, the question is, what has changed since then?,” Justice Augie queried. The apex court held that evidence before it showed that Shettima withdrew as the candidate of the APC in the Borno senatorial election,
on July 6, 2022, and was replaced by the party on July 14, 2022, after INEC was duly notified about the development, in writing.
It held that Shettima was no longer a candidate of the APC for the Borno Central Senatorial District, as at the time he was nominated as the Vice Presidential candidate.
“Multiple nominations with the electoral act does not occur simply because he accepted a second nomination, the fact that the acceptance was immediately relinquished so as to pave way for another person to replace him as senatorial candidate cannot be overlooked or disregarded,” another member of the panel, Justice Emmanuel Agim added.
“In whichever angle this appeal is veiwed, it is frivolous and bound to fail.
“From the trial court, down to this court, it has been a waste of precious judicial time.
“The instant appeal was unnecessary and counsel should do better to advice their client against filing this sort of suit in future,” the apex court added.
Dismissing the appeal, the Supreme Court ordered the PDP to pay N2million damages to the respondents- INEC, Tinubu, APC and Shettima.
Court declines to stop Tinubu’s inauguration as President
In a related development, the Federal High Court sitting in Abuja, on Friday, declined to issue an order of interim injunction to stop Tinubu’s swearing-in as President.
The court, in a ruling that was delivered by Justice James Omotosho, held that it lacked the requisite jurisdiction to grant the prayer which was contained in an ex-parte application that was brought before it by three citizens who identified themselves as Concerned Nigerians.
The plaintiffs- Praise Ilemona Isaiah, Pastor Paul Isaac Audu and Dr Anongu Moses- had in their suit marked: FHC/ABJ/C5/657/2023, alleged that Tinubu lied on oath in the Form EC9 he submitted to INEC in aid of his qualifications to contest the election.
They told the court that the President-elect falsely declared that he was not a citizen of any other country, despite the fact that he was in possession of a Guinean Passport.
On the issue of educational qualification, the plaintiffs told the court that investigations revealed that the Tinubu that attended Chicago University in the United States of America, was a female.
Besides, they alleged that whereas the President-elect claimed that he was born in 1957, it was discovered that 1952 was his actual date of birth.
They argued that Tinubu’s action was in gross violation of Section 117 of the Criminal Code Act as well as Section 156 of the Penal Code Act.
Therefore, the litigants, among other things, urged the court to order Tinubu to be arrested, detained and prevented from being sworn in, pending the determination of cases before the Presidential Election Petition Court.
They equally prayed the court to ban Tinubu from vying for any elective position for the next 10 years.
The plaintiffs told the court that they were voters that participated in the presidential election that was declared in Tinubu’s favour.
Meantime, in its ruling, the court held that the suit was “unconstitutional, frivolous and vexatious,” adding that since the plaintiffs were bereft of the locus standi (legal right) to institute the action, it equally lacked the jurisdiction to entertain the suit.
The court stressed that under section 285 (14) of the 1999 Constitution, as amended, only an aspirant could challenge the qualification or nomination of a candidate in an election.
It further held that since the election has already been conducted, only the Court of Appeal has the jurisdiction to entertain cases arising from a presidential election.
While accusing the plaintiffs of wasting judicial time of the court by filing the suit which he described as an abuse of court process, Justice Omotosho held that the legal action was a deliberate ploy to tarnish the image of the judiciary.
He further held that the suit, by seeking to stop the inauguration that is few days away, was capable of destabilizing the democracy in the country.
Justice Omotosho said the court would not lend itself to be used as an instrument to destabilize the country, even as he threatened to refer the lawyers that helped the plaintiffs to file the case, to the Legal Practitioners Disciplinary Committee for instituting an action “capable of dragging the judiciary to the mud.”
Though Tinubu’s lead counsel, Prince Lateef Fagbemi, SAN, urged the court to impose N30m fine against the plaintiffs, however, Justice Omotosho, after listening to plea by their lawyer, Mr. Oliver Eya, awarded N10m fine against them and in Tinubu’s favour.
The court further awarded N5m in favour of the APC and another N1m which it said the lawyer must personally pay to each of the defendants in the matter.
Justice Omotosho said he took the punitive measure, “in view of the avalanche of frivolous suits” that have been filed by lawyers.
He held that all the cost awarded against the plaintiffs would attract 10% interest per annum, pending its final liquidation.
The court stressed that allowing every voter to file such action would amount to “opening the floodgate for unnecessary litigations.”
Meanwhile, scheduled judgement in the suit that five residents of the Federal Capital Territory, FCT, Abuja, also filed to stop Tinubu’s swearing-in, could not hold on Friday as the judge handling the matter, Justice Inyang Ekwo, was said to be unavoidably absent.
The had applied for an order to restrain the Chief Justice of Nigeria, Justice Olukayode Ariwoola, any other judicial officer and/or any other authority or person from swearing in any candidate in the February 25 presidential election as President or Vice-President of the Federal Republic of Nigeria, until it is judicially determined with finality or in accordance with the provisions of the Constitution that such candidate has fulfilled the requirement of Section 134(2) (b) of the Constitution.
The plaintiffs further want a declaration that they have a legal interest and constitutional rights to be heard on the question of whether a President-elect must secure at least 25% of votes cast, on the first ballot, in the FCT, Abuja.
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