Supreme Court of Nigeria

The Supreme Court on Monday struck out an appeal seeking the disqualification of President Muhammadu Buhari as a candidate in the February 23 presidential election.

The case was based on the allegation that Buhari submitted false information regarding his educational qualifications to the Independent National Electoral Commission.

A five-man panel of the apex court headed by Justice Mary Peter-Odili struck out the case after the appeal was withdrawn by the appellants’ lawyer, Ukpai Ukairo.

The apex court noted that the suit was statute-barred, affirming the earlier decisions of both the Court of Appeal and the Federal High Court.

But before striking out the suit, the court criticised the appearance of Abdullahi Abubakar, a lawyer from the Ministry of Justice, for Buhari.

The panel likened Abubakar’s appearance for Buhari in the President’s private capacity to using public office to defend a private suit.

One of the judges, Justice Dattijo Muhammad, recalled that former American President Bill Clinton had to engage private lawyers for his defence in the various private cases involving him while in office.

Speaking on the matter in her lead judgment, Peter Odili said, “The court notes the inappropriate appearance of Mr Abdullahi Abubakar, a state counsel from the Federal Ministry of Justice, representing the first respondent Muhammadu Buhari (retd.) in his personal capacity.

“This practice must be discouraged.”

She went on to dismiss the appeal following its withdrawal by the appellants’ counsel.

Three appellants were Kalu Agu, Labaran Ismail, Hassy El-Kunis, who had filed an appeal premised on 12 grounds before the Supreme Court to challenge the July 12, 2019 judgment of the Court of Appeal.

The trio accused Buhari of falsely claiming to possess a school certificate which he never had.

The People Democratic Party and its presidential candidate, Alhaji Atiku Abubakar, also raised a similar issue of Buhari allegedly lying about his certificates in their petition before the Presidential Election Petitions Tribunal.

Agu, Ismail and El-Kunis commenced their case before the Federal High Court in Abuja in 2018.

Justice Ahmed Mohammed of the Federal High Court in Abuja in his judgment delivered on May 2, 2019 struck out the suit for being statute-barred.

A three-man panel of the Court of Appeal led by Justice Tinuade Akomolafe-Wilson in a unanimous judgment delivered on July 12, 2019, affirmed the Federal High Court’s verdict dismissing the suit on the grounds that it was statute-barred and robbed the court of jurisdiction to hear it on merit.

Delivering the lead judgment of the Court of Appeal, Justice Mohammed Idris held that matter had become statute-barred having not been filed within the 14 days period which the cause of action arose, as stipulated under Section 285(9) of the Nigerian Constitution.

The appellants, through their counsel, Ukpai Ukairo, on July 24, 2019, filed a 12-ground notice of appeal before the Supreme Court, urging the apex court to set aside the verdicts of both the Federal High Court and the Court of Appeal.

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