Buhari eligibility suit fixed for March 24

A Federal High Court Abuja division, has adjourned till March 24 to rule on whether it has to take all pending applications in one fell swoop.

At the resumed hearing on Thursday, counsels representing the presidential flag bearer of the All Progressives Congress General Muhammadu Buhari (rtd) and the APC in a suit seeking the Independent National Electoral Commission to disqualify Buhari from contesting the March 28, presidential election, urged the Federal High Court Abuja not to rush the suit in the interest of justice.

Buhari, 1st defendant in the suit filed by an Abuja based legal practitioner, Barrister Chinwuike Okafor, is being represented by Wale Olanipekun SAN, while the APC's (2nd defendant) counsel is Chief Lateef Fagbemi SAN.

At Thursdays proceedings, counsel to the plaintiff, Chief Mike Ozekhome had informed the court of the need for expeditious hearing of the matter, adding that time was of the essence since the crux of the suit deals with the disqualification of General Buhari, whom the plaintiff alleged, is not qualified to contest the presidential election slated for March 28.

Ozekhome had invited the court to "take together and cumulatively" the originating summon and all pending applications challenging the jurisdiction of the court because "the presidential election will hold on March 28".

However, reacting, Olanipekun reminded the presiding judge, Justice Adeniyi Ademola that the court adjourned on February 23, to hear his application challenging service by substituted means and other pending applications.

"We are taking aback by the narrative of the plaintiff's counsel; I perceive his position as being targeted at the presidential election of March 28. My Lord, no law or authority has compelled court to decide pre-election matter before day of election proper", Olanipekun stated.

"My Lord, Section 87(11) of the Electoral Act cautions the court not to take any action or make an injunction that will stop the holding of primary or general election.

"Pre-election matter is not like election petition suit. There is no time limit set to decide pre-election matter. The court is not encouraged to rush pre-election matter because it is said that justice rushed, is justice crushed. Hurrying of justice is a stepmother of misfortune" Olanipekun said.

More so, Buhari's lawyer cited Section 138 (c) of the Evidence Act that enjoins courts to take judicial notice of newspaper publications.

Therefore, Olanipekun referred the court to a newspaper publication where the Chief Justice of Nigeria, Mahmud Mohammed had warned judicial officers on the occasion of swearing in of election petition tribunal members not to allow politicians or litigants to use them to scuttle the democratic process.

Hence, he vehemently opposed Ozekhome's submission.

Similarly, counsel to the APC, Fagbemi while objecting to the application of the plaintiff, said, "I have never seen where the issue of challenge to service by substituted means is lumped up with the originating summon, adding that they even announced appearance in protest.

"Issue of service is factual and legal. We have to thrash it out first before talking about the originating summon" Fagbemi said.

However, Ozekhome took exception to the statements of the defendants, saying he has always advocated that the general elections should hold on March 28.

"I am for election holding on March 28; I never said the court should decide the suit before election nor have intention to scuttle the democratic process," Ozekhome said.

"Our application has to do with disqualification of Buhari; deciding the case on time and having one candidate disqualified out of 16 flag bearers cannot scuttle the presidential election of March 28.

However, after counsels had argued on whether or not the court will take the originating summon alongside all pending applications as moved by Ozekhome, citing Order 29 rule 1-5 of the Federal High Court, Justice Ademola adjourned till March 24 for ruling.

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