Nigeria: Supreme Court Dismisses Perjury Case Against PMB

President Muhammadu Buhari and his wife, Aisha during the presidential inauguration at the Eagle Square, Abuja
3 September 2019

The Supreme Court has struck out the suit seeking the disqualification of President Muhammadu Buhari from the 2019 presidential election over alleged perjury.

The suit was filed by Kalu Kalu, Labaran Ismail and Hassy El-Kuris, all legal practitioners.

Delivering judgment on the case yesterday in Abuja, the apex court's panel of five justices headed by Justice Mary Odili held that the suit was statute barred and consequently dismissed it.

During the introduction of appearances, the justices queried why the state counsel from the Federal Ministry of Justice, Mr. Abdullahi Abubakar, would represent a private individual.

Abubakar had announced his appearance for the first respondent (Gen. Muhammadu Buhari rtd) in the suit.

They warned him to desist from such acts of using public office to defend a private litigation.

While addressing the counsel, Muhammad Dattijo, cited the President Bill Clinton's numerous private cases while in office.

"Clinton in his numerous private litigations never used government organs but rather personally sponsored all his private cases," he said.

He declared that Abubakar's actions contravened the code of conduct for public servants, which has dare consequences.

In her judgment, Odili said that "the court notes the inappropriate appearance of Mr. Abdullahi Abubakar, state counsel from the Federal Ministry of Justice, representing the first respondent, Gen. Muhammad Buhari rtd in his personal capacity.

"This practice must be discouraged, appeal haven been withdrawn is hereby dismissed," Odili said.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 approached the apex court to nullify the candidacy of President Buhari in the last presidential poll over allegations of perjury.

The appellants specifically wanted Buhari's nomination and subsequent victory at the February 23 presidential election nullified because the president allegedly lied on oath in his form 001 that he submitted to INEC for the purpose of clearance for the election.

They asked the Supreme Court to set aside the judgment of the appellate court and hear the matter on merit and grant the reliefs sought in the originating summons.

Among the reliefs sought by them were a declaration that Buhari submitted false information on 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 prayed for an order of court directing INEC to remove Buhari's name as the candidate of the All Progressives Congress (APC) and another order restraining the president from parading himself as the candidate in the 2019 presidential election and also APC from recognising him as its candidate.

In a unanimous judgment delivered by Justice Mohammed Idris, the Court of Appeal had on July 12, 2019 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.

Through their counsel, Ukpai Ukairo, the appellants presented 12 grounds for the setting aside of the judgment of the Court of Appeal, amongst which were: "That the learned Justices of the Court of Appeal erred in law in relying on a preliminary objection to strike out and dismiss 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."

According to Ukairo, 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 September 28, 2018 when the second respondent held its primary election wherein the first respondent was elected as a candidate of the second 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 their suit challenging the educational qualification of Buhari before the conduct of the 2019 general election.

But the appellate court in its judgement held that the suit had been caught up by the Fourth Alteration to the 1999 Constitution which stipulates a 14-day 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 being 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 its candidate for the 2019 general election.

But the appellate court held that the cause of action took place on October 18, 2018, the date Buhari submitted his form 001 to INEC for the purpose of clearance for the presidential election.

The appellants had filed the suit on November 5, 2018, claiming October 25, the date INEC published the list of successful candidates in the 2019 general elections as the date the cause of action arose, making the suit to be competent.

The three-man panel of the justices of the Court of Appeal dismissed the suit based on the preliminary objection filed by the APC's lawyer challenging the jurisdiction of the case on the grounds that it was 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 made the suit incompetent.

The decision had prompted the appellants to approach the apex court for redress.

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