The Court of Appeal in Abuja has rejected an appeal challenging President Muhammadu Buhari’s academic qualification to stand for the last presidential election.
Justice Mohammed Idris, in the lead judgment of a unanimous decision of a three-man panel, upheld an earlier judgment by a Federal High Court in Abuja, dismissing the suit on the grounds that it was statute-barred and robbed the court of jurisdiction to entertain the suit.
Justice Idris held that issues raised in the case have become statute-barred, the suit having not been filed at the trial court within the 14 days the cause of action arose as stipulated under section 285(9) of the Nigerian Constitution.
He noted that the cause of action did not arise on September 28, 2018, when Buhari emerged as a presidential candidate in the All Progressives Congress (APC) primary election, as held by the lower court.
Justice Idris said: “I have read the affidavit filed in support of the originating summons and found out that the crux of the complaints in this case by the appellant is the submission of information said to be false to the Independent National Electoral Commission in fulfillment of the condition to contest the presidential election.
Justice Idris added that from the plaintiff’s affidavit, the cause of action arose on October 18, 2018, when President Buhari submitted his Form CF001, curriculum vitae and a supporting affidavit to INEC as the APC’s presidential candidate.
The judge observed that the appellants filed their suit at the Federal High Court on November 5, 2018, outside the 14 days period from October 18, 2018.
He faulted the appellants’ lawyers’ argument that the cause of action arose on October 25, 2018 when INEC published publicly the details of presidential candidates.
The judge said the argument by the lawyers amounted to an afterthought because they failed to raise the issue in their affidavit evidence, but chose to leave to the court to decide.
Justice Idris held that the appellants’ failure to file the suit before the Federal High Court within 14 days after the cause of action arose robbed the court of the jurisdiction to hear the case on merit.
The judge further held that neither can the Federal High Court be ordered to re-hear the case nor could the Court of Appeal evoke its power under Section 15 of its Act to hear the case, because the 180 days within which a pre-election matter could be heard and determined under Section 285(1) of the Constitution, has passed.
Justice Idris said the case, having been struck out on the grounds of lack of jurisdiction, it would amount to embarking on an academic exercise for the court to proceed to consider all other issues raised in the appeal.
In the earlier part of the judgement, Justice. Idris upheld the preliminary objection filed by the respondents by striking out the appeal on the grounds that the Federal High Court’s registrar failed to transmit the record of appeal to the Court of Appeal within the period stipulated by law.
The appeal by Kalu Kalu Agu, Labaran Ismail and Hassy Jyari El-Kunis was against the May 2, 2019 decision by Justice Ahmed Mohammed of the Federal High Court, Abuja.
Agu, Ismail and El-Kunis, who were plaintiffs at the trial court, had, in an originating summons prayed the court to, among others, disqualify Buhari from contesting the presidential election on the grounds that he submitted false information regarding his academic qualification and certificate to the INEC as a candidate in the February 23, 2019 poll.
They accused Buhari of falsely claiming to possess a school certificate he never had.
In a judgment on May 2, 2019, Justice Mohammed struck the suit out on the grounds that it was statute-barred.