On Monday, a Federal High Court in Abuja set Feb. 21, 2022, for judgment in a suit challenging former Vice President Atiku Abubakar’s eligibility to run for president.
After hearing arguments from counsel for the parties in the suit, Justice Inyang Ekwo set the date.
According to the News Agency of Nigeria (NAN), a group called the Incorporated Trustees of Egalitarian Mission for Africa (EMA) sued Atiku, the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP), the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC), and the Attorney General of the Federation (AGF) as the first to fourth respondents in a suit marked: FHC/ABJ/CS/177/2019.
The EMA is contesting Atiku’s eligibility to run for president on the grounds that he is not a naturalized Nigerian citizen.
NAN also reports that the Adamawa State Government, through its Attorney-General (AG), sought a court order to be joined in the suit on July 27.
The court granted the AG of Adamawa’s request to be joined in the case as the 5th defendant in a motion dated April 26 and filed June 24.
The Adamawa government had told the court that Atiku was qualified to run for president.
It stated that Atiku, the primary target of the suit, is a Nigerian citizen from Adamawa who was elected governor of the state in 1999 and served as the country’s vice president from 1999 to 2007.
It stated that the suit threatened not only the ex-vice president’s right to run for president but also “the citizens of Nigeria, of Adamawa origin, covering 12 out of the 21 Local Government Areas in the state.”
When the case was called on Monday, the plaintiff’s counsel, Akinola Oladimeji, informed the court that the hearing of his originating summons was scheduled.
“We have amended originating summons in response to 1st to 5th defendants counter-affidavits,” he said.
According to Eyitayo Jegede, SAN, who represented Atiku (1st defendant), a notice of preliminary objection was filed.
After withdrawing two previous motions, one of which challenged the court’s jurisdiction, Jegede urged the court to dismiss the plaintiff’s application.
He contended that a previous case relied on by the applicant in filing the suit had nothing to do with the current case.
The senior lawyer also argued that the case was already stale because it was linked to the 2019 election, in which his client ran for office, challenged the results, and was defeated.
He stated that this exemplified the futility of the plaintiff’s case.
Adedamola Falokun, counsel for the second defendant (PDP), said hr also filed a notice of preliminary objection, which corroborates Jegede’s submission.
He referred to the case as a pre-election matter and urged the court not to waste its time on it.
“I stand in alignment with the learner SAN that this matter is stale. They filed this before 2019 election that the 1st defendant (Atiku) should not be cleared.
“The 1st defendant had been cleared, he contested and lost in the election. And you are still talking about 2019 when we are in 2021 and in few days, we will be in 2022,” he said.
The lawyer contended that there was no single line in the plaintiff’s application that specifically stated on good grounds why Atiku should be barred from running for office.
He urged the court to dismiss the plaintiff’s suit with punitive damages. Lawyers for the fourth (AGF) and fifth (AG of Adamawa) defendants also presented their cases.
Oladimeji, the plaintiff’s lawyer, disagreed with the defendants’ counsel. He stated that the suit sought to ascertain Atiku’s citizenship. He clarified that the suit was not a campaign suit.
“For the purposes of clarity, a pre-election matter is filed by an aspirant in an election. The plaintiff is not an aspirant, it is only seeking an interpretation into the questions raised,” he said.
Oladimeji contended that, despite being born in Nigeria, Atiku was not a Nigerian citizen. He stated that just because a mistake had been made in the past did not mean that it should be repeated.
He stated that the group’s interest was for the court to interpret the constitution within the bounds of the law. Justice Ekwo adjourned the case until Feb. 21 for a decision.