Justice Ahmed Mohammed of the Federal High Court Abuja, yesterday ordered the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) and the Attorney General of the Federation (AGF) to appear before it on Thursday, over the participation of the Governor of the Central Bank of Nigeria (CBN), Mr.Godwin Emefielein the 2023 presidential election.
Justice Mohammed in addition ordered the CBN Governor to serve all court processes in relation to the suit he filed against INEC and the AGF who are 1st and 2nd defendants respectively.
Emefiele had amongst others, approached the Federal High Court for an order restraining the defendants from preventing or hindering his participating in the process of the presidential election slated for February next year.
Specifically, he argued that by virtue of being a public servant he cannot be barred from participating in the political primaries of political parties by Section 84 (12) of the Electoral Act, 2022.
He submitted that constitutional provisions stipulated that he can only resign his appointment as Governor of CBN 30 days to the presidential election which he is interested in contesting.
Amongst the court processes, he filed before the court was an application for the maintenance of status, which he predicated on the fact that he would be prejudiced against or hurt if the court does not restrain the defendants from taking any step that would jeopardise his desire to contest the presidential election.
Arguing the motion for maintenance of the status quo, Emefiele’s lawyer, Chief Mike Ozekhome, SAN, told the court that Emefiele “is in a dilemma” as to whether he can run in the forthcoming presidential election.
According to Ozekhome, time is of utmost importance, following the fact that the timeline for collection of nomination and expression of interest forms ends on Wednesday, May 11.
Ozekhome in addition told the court that the timeline for the primaries and congresses of political parties have been fixed for May 30 to June 1, and unless the court intervened there could be a carriage of great injustice against his client.
“He needs the protection of the court, the court needs to ensure that nobody does anything that will hurt him,” the senior lawyer submitted, adding that if the court refused to grant the order for maintenance of status quo restraining the defendants from hindering Emefiele from participating in the primary election under a political party of his choice within this period, the case would amount to a mere academic exercise by the time parties return to the court.
In a short ruling, Justice Mohammed made an order “directing the defendants to appear before him on Thursday why the order of status quo ante bellum should not be made by the court”.
Justice Mohammed also directed the applicant to serve all court processes including the motion exparte and hearing notice for Thursday, May 12 on the defendants.
In the main suit marked. FHC/ ABJ/ CS/610/2022, the plaintiff sought the interpretation of certain parts of the constitution that has to do with his aspiration of contesting the 2023 presidential election.
Among the issues raised for determination are whether any political party can validly rely on Section 84 (12) of the Electoral Act, 2022 to disqualify the plaintiff from participating in the congresses of any political party of his choice, “where the plaintiff is protected by the provisions of Section 137(1)(G), 318 of the Constitution and Section 84 (12) of the Electoral Act.
“Whether by Section 137 of the Constitution plaintiff can be compelled to resign earlier than 30 days his position of Governor of CBN to participate in the primary of any political party of his choice for the purpose of the 2023 February 25 presidential election.”
Emefiele is further asking the court to determine whether he is a political appointee, who is affected by Section 84 (12) of the Electoral Act.
He said where the issues are determined in his favour, then the court should declare that; the defendants cannot validly rely on Section 84 (12) to disqualify the plaintiff from participating in the congresses of any political party of his choice where he is protected by Section 137 of the constitution.
Emefiele also sought another declaration that by the provisions of Section 84 (3), a political party cannot by its constitution, guidelines or rules impose any nomination qualification or disqualification criteria or measures besides those prescribed under Sections 65, 66, 106, 107, 131, 137, 177 and 187 of the Constitution.
He further urged the court to declare that by the combined effect of Section 84 (3) of the Electoral Act, 2022 and 137 of the constitution, the plaintiff cannot be compelled to resign earlier than 30 days to the presidential election in February 25, 2023.
He sought another declaration that he can validly participate in the congresses of any political party of his choice as well as vote and be voted for.
In the suit dated May 4, 2023, but filed on May 5, 2023, Emefiele prayed the court for an order that the defendants cannot hinder or stop him from participating in the congresses or presidential primary election of any political party of his choice.
“An order of perpetual injunction restraining the defendants from hindering or stopping him from participating in the congresses or presidential primary election of any political party of his choice.”
According to him, Section 84 (12) of the Electoral Act, 2022 which barred political appointees from participating in the convention and congresses of political parties unless they resigned 30 days to such conventions or congresses does not affect him being a public officer.
He explained that being a public officer whose status is defined by Section 318 of the constitution, he can only resign as CBN Governor 30 days to the presidential election in line with Section 137 of the Constitution.
Ozekhome, while urging the court to hold that the constitution is Supreme above any other laws including the Electoral Act and the constitution, guidelines and rules of political parties, added that Section 84 (12) of the Electoral Act, 2022, had already been struck down for being inconsistent with the Constitution by Justice Evelyn Anyadike of the Federal High Court in Umuhia, Abia State.
He argued that although the judgment of Anyadike has been appealed against, it remains the law until it was set aside.
In the application of urgency in support of the suit, Emefiele submitted that it was within his right to contest the presidential election under any political party of his choice while still serving as Governor of the CBN, adding that all that was required of him was to give 30 days notice.
He, however, told the court that the defendants were “making frantic efforts to disqualify him in the presidential primary election scheduled for May 30 to June 1 for not resigning before the primary.”
The CBN Governor in addition said there was an urgent need for the court to hear the suit and, “determine the rights of parties before the presidential election,” adding that except this was done the plaintiff shall be wrongfully disqualified from participating in any of the primaries of any political party of his choice.