Posted by By Rotimi Ajayi, Kayode Matthew, Ise-Oluwa Ige, Emmanuel Ulayi & Umoru Henry on
HOPE. That is all left for Vice President Atiku Abubakar ahead of next month’s general elections after the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC), yesterday, failed to clear him for the presidential race.
* Clears Yar'Adua, Kalu, Buhari, Ojukwu, 20 others for presidential polls
ABUJA — HOPE. That is all left for Vice President Atiku Abubakar ahead of next month’s general elections after the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC), yesterday, failed to clear him for the presidential race.
The commission said no court injunction could even reverse its decision. Two others were disqualified. They are Alhaji Tajudeen Ariori (ACPN) and Dr Sanni Mustapha (PRP). In all, INEC cleared 24 candidates for the presidential election and they include Alhaji Umaru Yar’Adua (PDP); General Muhammadu Buhari (ANPP); Chief Chukwuemeka Odumegwu-Ojukwu (APGA) and Chief Orji Kalu (PPA).
Moments after the release of the INEC list, Vice President Atiku Abubakar returned to Abuja from London on crutches, accusing President Olusegun Obasanjo of masterminding his disqualification and vowed to resist it.
He immediately launched a legal action at a Federal High Court, Abuja praying for an injunction to restrain INEC from dropping him.
Reactions also came from the VP’s party, Action Congress (AC); his running mate, Senator Ben Obi and Lagos lawyer, Mr. Bamidele Aturu, among others.
Chairman of INEC, Professor Maurice Iwu, at a press conference in Abuja where he read out the names of the approved presidential candidates declared that the commission was resolved to contest every court decision after the time limit set by the Electoral Act for the substitution of candidates.
His words: “After the election, parties may either continue the cases in the regular court or proceed to the election tribunal. If INEC accedes to court judgments seeking to change candidates now, fundamental logistical problems would be created. And this may critically affect the ultimate efficiency and success of the elections.”
Cleared for the elections are Umaru Musa Yar’Adua of the People’s Democratic Party (PDP); People’s Progressive Alliance (PPA) Presidential candidate, Orji Uzor Kalu; All Nigeria People’s Party (ANPP) presidential candidate, Muhammadu Buhari; All Progressive Grand Alliance (APGA) candidate, Dim Chukwuemeka Odumegwu-Ojukwu; Professor Patrick Utomi of ADC; Sir Lawrence Adedoyin of APS; Chief Emmanuel Osita Okereke of ALP; Chief Adebayo Adefarati of AD and Dr. Iheanyinchukwu Godswill Nnaji of BNPP.
Others are Maxi Okwu of CPP; Attahiru Bafarawa of DPP; Rev. Chris Okotie of Fresh Party; Chief Ambrose Owuru of HDP; Major. Mojisola Adekunle-Obasanjo (rtd) of MMN; Dr. Oladapo Agoro of NAC; Dr. Osagie Obayuwana of NCP; Alhaji Aliyu Habu Fari of NDP; Dr. Akpone Solomon of NMDP; Mallam Aminu Garbarti Abubakar of NUP and Professor Isa Odidi of ND.
Daltima Baboyi Liman of the NNPP; Dr. Brimmy Asekharuagbom Olaghere of NPC; Arthur Nwankwo of PMP and Chief Sunny Joseph Okogwu of RPN also made the list.
Prof Iwu said: “Every step we have taken at the Commission and every policy we have initiated or pursued, whether it pertains to the 2007 elections or not, has paid heed not only to the provisions of the constitution, but also to the yearnings of Nigerians to have elections that will reflect their true will. In all our actions and policies, we have remained principled and consistent. We are and must remain undeterred.
“We have reached another significant mark in the schedule for the 2007 elections with the publication of the list of nominated candidates for the office of president and legislative Houses of the Senate and the Representatives.
“Permit me to, at this juncture, clear some misconceptions about the recent judgment in the case instituted by one of the 50 political parties in the country, the Action Congress, against the commission.
“The judgment of the Federal High Court in the case is clear vindication of the commission’s long held and widely publicised view that it does, in fact, have not just the right but the duty to: (1) verify the particulars and information provided by the candidates, to see if they are factually and legally consistent and (2) screen the candidates to assure that they meet the criteria clearly outlined in the 1999 constitution. These are contrary to the assertions in the propaganda by those who were either uninformed or out to be mischievous.
“In the words of the Court, ‘Sections 137 and 182 of the 1999 Constitution also contain provision that ab-initio disqualifies an intending candidate aspiring to the office of President and Governor respectively.... However, the defendant (INEC) under its powers to organise, undertake and supervise all elections... is not expected to close its eyes to a violation of the Constitution and/or the Electoral Act 2006. It has a duty to ensure that all conditions precedent and requirements stipulated by the constitution and Electoral Act 2006 are met by candidates intending to participate at such elections.’
“Let me, for the sake of emphasizing the fact and the basis of the decision of the Commission, go an extra mile in reproducing a relevant section of the Constitution here. Section 137 (1) of the Constitution, which deals with conditions of disqualification for the office of President, states: ‘A person shall not be qualified for election to the office of President if:
subject to the provision of Section 28 of the Constitution, he has voluntarily acquired the citizenship of a country other than Nigeria or, except in such cases as may be prescribed by the National Assembly, he has made a declaration of allegiance to such other country, or
he has been elected to such office at any two previous elections, or
under the law in any part of Nigeria, he is adjudged to be a lunatic or otherwise to be of unsound mind; or
he is under a sentence of death imposed by any competent court of law or tribunal in Nigeria or a sentence of imprisonment or fine for any offence involving dishonesty or fraud (by whatever name called) or for any other offence, imposed on him by any court of tribunal or substituted by a competent authority for any other sentence imposed on him by such a court or tribunal; or
within a period of less than 10 years before the date of the election to the office of President he has been convicted and sentenced for an offence involving dishonesty or he has been found guilty of the contravention of the Code of Conduct; or
he is an undercharged bankrupt, having been adjudged or otherwise declared bankrupt under any law in force in Nigeria or any other country; or
being a person employed in the civil or public service of the Federation or of any State, he has not resigned, withdrawn or retired from the employment at least 30 days before the date of the election; or
he is a member of any secret society; or
he has been indicted for embezzlement or fraud by a Judicial Commission of Inquiry or an Administrative Panel of Inquiry or a Tribunal set up under the Tribunals of Inquiry Act, a Tribunals of Inquiry Law or any other law by the Federal or State Government which indictment has been accepted by the Federal or State Government, respectively; or
he has presented a forged certificate to the Independent National Electoral Commission.’
“The Constitution proceeds in clear terms to state in Section 137 - (2): ‘Where in respect of any person who has been:
adjudged to be lunatic;
declared to be of unsound mind;
sentenced to death or imprisonment; or
adjudged or declared bankrupt, any appeal against the decision is pending in any court of law in accordance with any law in force in Nigeria, subsection (1) of this section shall not apply during a period beginning from the date when such appeal is lodged and ending on the date when the appeal is finally determined or, as the case may be, the appeal lapses or is abandoned, whichever is earlier.’”
Professor Iwu continuing, said: “The Constitution clearly outlined the cases where an appeal can be made. It clearly did not include (i) above dealing with indictment of candidates. There are other cases where an appeal is not provided for to discharge a preclusion or disqualification to contest for the offices of President.
“Pursuant to the above provisions of our Constitution and consistent with our obligation to uphold the Constitution, the list about to be released will not contain names of candidates who have not met the Constitutional requirements, specifically Sections 65 and 66 for members of the National Assembly and Sections 131 and 137 for the office of President.
“It may be pertinent here to also point out that Section 32(5) of the Electoral Act refers to disqualification of candidates who have deposed to false information in their affidavit. It does not in the opinion of the Commission and in the opinion of all the legal experts we have consulted refer to those who have given correct information but who are precluded or disqualified by constitutional provisions.”
Prof. Iwu who promised that the 2007 elections would be transparent, free and fair, said the manual for election observation by local and international observers was out, even as he said accreditation of observers was being worked out.
He said the commission had been monitoring the campaigns by the various political parties with particular attention to cost and content geared towards ensuring that the provisions of the laws were complied with. “Let it be underscored that the 2007 elections will be transparent, free and fair. The manual for election observation by both local and international observers is out. Accreditation of the observers is being worked out as well.
“While all this is going on and the campaigns by the political parties and candidates go on, the Commission is closely monitoring the campaigns, with particular attention to cost and content, to ensure that the provisions of the laws are complied with,” he said.
The INEC boss said the Commission was aware of deliberate efforts by some politicians to criminalise the nation’s national institutions and government agencies by surreptitiously obtaining court verdicts in cohort with compromised INEC staff that create an impression of the Commission’s inability to defend its positions in court.
“We would want to reaffirm our commitment and determination to prosecute any such offenders to the extent allowed by law. We are also encouraging all Nigerians committed to the furtherance of democracy in our country to assist us in identifying these culprits and acts.
“In terms of logistics preparations, the construction and/or acquisition of the central store and the zonal stores for securing electoral materials have been completed. Past challenges associated with the supply of electoral materials to all parts of the country will no longer impair the smooth conduct of elections in the country.
“The receipt of the ballot boxes has commenced. Printing of the ballot papers, designed to meet high security qualities, is in an advanced stage. Although the initial plan was to have pictures of candidates in all the elections printed on the ballot papers, the incredible numbers and frequencies of substitution of candidates by parties complicated the logistics arrangement. For now, therefore, only the presidential and governorship elections will therefore have the pictures of the candidates on the ballot papers.
“The ballot papers will vary from one constituency to another and from one state to another. The prospect of rigging across constituency boundaries will therefore be made extremely difficult, just as rigging within any constituency will be effectively checkmated,” he said.
Atiku returns, vows to fight on
Just moments after INEC's press conference, the Vice President returned to Abuja from London on crutches following the surgery on his right knee.
A presidential plane, 5N-FGS, which flew in the VP touched down at the Nnamdi Azikiwe Airport at 4.22 p.m.
The VP wearing a brown jacket and black trousers disembarked and exchanged pleasantries with his friends and associates who had gone to receive him. These included the National Chairman of AC, Chief Bisi Akande; Chief Yomi Edu; Ms Funke Adedoyin; Alhaji Lawal Kaita; and Dr. Iyorchia Ayu. But reporters were not allowed to reach the tarmac.
He told his supporters that he would contest the elections. “They know I would win and they are afraid. I am taking INEC to court,” he said.
He was later helped into a black Mercedes Benz S550 with number plate AW 687 BWR and left in a long convoy for his private residence at 18, Akenzua Street, Asokoro where he addressed a press conference. He accused President Obasanjo of instigating his disqualification.
He said: “Obasanjo forced me out of the PDP so that I won’t have a platform to contest and when he now realised that other platforms would be available for me, he constituted an administrative panel deliberately to indict me. He is using the same panel report to influence INEC, because he has actually influenced it to stop me from running.”
The Vice President, however, said he was not surprised by the decision of INEC, adding that he would fight the victimisation all the way to the Supreme Court
Akande berates INEC
Also speaking, Chief Akande declared that the Action Congress was not prepared to fold its arms and allow INEC to get away with yesterday’s decision. He said: “We believe that this is the time to draw the nation’s attention to the blatant partisanship of the INEC.
“We the Action Congress feel compelled to address you and fellow compatriots today on the grave political situation in our country and a situation certain to lead to political crisis of monumental proportions.
“INEC believes that it has finally executed its conspiracy with President Olusegun Obasanjo and the People’s Democratic Party (PDP) to stop our candidate, Vice President Atiku Abubakar, from contesting the April presidential elections. This, for us, however, is only a temporary distraction as our candidate has no legal impediment and will definitely contest the April presidential elections.
“We would like to say unequivocally that INEC, which is supposed to be an unbiased umpire in the conduct of next month’s elections, has acted rather irresponsibly and recklessly by purporting to disqualify our Presidential candidate Vice President Atiku Abubakar.
“As already confirmed by two courts of competent jurisdiction, the so-called panel which purportedly indicted Vice President Atiku Abubakar was composed exclusively of President Obasanjo’s cabinet ministers who effectively are his own personal appointees who turned around to confirm the so-called indictment at the Federal Executive Council.
“The court, therefore, having found that President Obasanjo was the investigator, the accuser, the prosecutor and the judge quashed the purported indictment and pronounced the same null and void.
“We must also say that the judgment of Justice B. O Kuewumi is clear and unambiguous. It says that INEC has no power under the constitution or the Electoral Act to disqualify any candidate. From all indications, INEC by it actions and utterances is in chains and clearly acting a script written by the Presidency and the PDP.
“Professor Iwu and his commission must always remember that the history of this country’s attempts at democracy have always been marred by the misdeeds of our electoral Commissions.
“In the current circumstance, we are bold enough to state that there has never been an Electoral Commission so openly and overtly partisan, biased and vindictively selective in application of the Electoral laws as the present one. We see the manipulation in Anambra State to favour the PDP candidate who recruited the INEC Chairman into office. We see sheepish obedience to stop Atiku Abubakar by all means.
In a separate statement, the AC said: “It did not come to us as a surprise because it was an agenda that has long been pushed by INEC’s paymasters, irrespective of the fact that it is illegal and unconstitutional.
“For us, however, this is nothing but a temporary distraction at best and an irritant at worst, as our candidate will definitely contest the April presidential election. As it is customary for us as firm believers in the rule of law, we have since gone back to court to compel INEC to restore our candidate’s name on the list of candidates eligible to contest the presidential polls, as there is no basis to disqualify him," it said.
Atiku writes INEC
Vice President Abubakar also wrote through his lawyers, a letter to INEC on the development. The letter which was jointly signed by Prof Ben Nwabueze (SAN), Alhaji Abdullahi Ibrahim (SAN), Rickey Tarfa (SAN), Adeniyi Akintola (SAN) and Emeka Ngige (SAN) on Atiku’s behalf reads:
“Our attention has been drawn to the statement issued by the INEC yesterday concerning the eligibility or otherwise of our client to contest the forthcoming elections as presidential candidate of the Action Congress.
“The statement credited to you and your organisation is to say the least very unfortunate. The judgment of Honourable Justice B. Kuewunmi suit No FHC/ABJ/CS/2007 of 7/73/07 is clear and unequivocal and it is to the effect that INEC has no power under the law to disqualify His Excellency, Alhaji Atiku Abubakar or any other candidate validly mandated by his party to contest elections.
“To that extent, our client stands qualified to contest the said election until a court of competent jurisdiction rules otherwise. We are not mindful of the fact of your appeal against Justice Kuewunmi’s judgment but that notwithstanding the said appeal cannot by itself operate as a stay of execution in law.
“Our attention has also been drawn to your insinuations regarding the provisions of S. 137 of the Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria 1999 vis-a-vis persons indicted in one form or the other.
“Your attention is equally drawn to the proviso to S.137 of the Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria 1999 wherein it is stipulated that where any appeal against the decision is pending in any court of law, S.137 (1) relating to disqualification shall not apply and you are certainly aware of the pending cases against your Commission in respect of the subject matter. You may also wish to seek interpretation of this in a court of law.
“It is important to let you know that only the court of law is empowered to interpret the constitution and neither yourself nor your August body INEC can assume such powers.
“If your Commission is in any doubt as to the applicability of the said section of the constitution to our client, it is incumbent upon your Commission to go to court for clarifications or interpretation of the said section of the Constitution.
“It is not the function of your Commission or any government official to interpret the constitution, that function is the exclusive preserve of the judiciary.
“It is also pertinent to point out to you that the judgment of Kuewunmi J. was written and delivered in plain English which in its simple and ordinary meaning conveyed the order of the court. That order is meant to be obeyed by all including your Commission.
“The attempt by your Commissions to play the ostrich on this issue shall be resisted by this legal team using all lawful means to compel your Commission to obey the said court order.
“A copy of this letter is being sent to the head of the Nation’s Judiciary, the National Assembly and the Nigerian Bar Association,” they signed off.
...goes to court
The letter was followed up with an action instituted at the Federal High Court, Abuja.
In the originating summons filed along side a motion on notice and a motion ex-parte, Alhaji Atiku Abubakar and his party, AC, are praying the court for a declaration that INEC can only exclude Atiku from contesting election upon pronouncements of a competent court.
In their motion on notice, Atiku and AC are praying for an order of interlocutory injunction restraining INEC and its chairman, Professor Iwu or their agents from excluding Atiku Abubakar from contesting the April 2007 election into the office of the President pending the hearing and determination of the originating summons.
The plaintiffs, in their originating summons, are praying the court for the following reliefs:
A declaration that the Provisions of Section 137 (1) of the Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria, 1999 is not self executory and does not confer a right or powers on the Defendants to exclude the 1st Plaintiff from being presented as the presidential candidate of the 1st Plaintiff or from so contesting in the forthcoming election.
A declaration that the Defendants can only exclude the 1st Plaintiff from contesting election to the office of the President of the Federal Republic of Nigeria upon pronouncements of a competent court in that respect.
A declaration that the Defendant does not possess the powers either under paragraph 15 of the 3rd Schedule to the Constitution or Section 137 (1) of the Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria to unilaterally declare the Plaintiff as unqualified to contest the office of President in the forthcoming general elections.
A declaration that the Defendants’ act of disqualifying the Plaintiff from contesting the office of President in the forthcoming general elections is ultra vires, null, void, and of no effect; such powers being vested exclusively in the courts or tribunal constituted by law.
An order directing the Defendants not to exclude the 1st Plaintiff from contesting the election to the office of the President of the Federal Republic of Nigeria and if excluded, an order directing the Defendants to include the name of the 1st Plaintiff as Presidential flag bearer of the 2nd Plaintiff.
An order of perpetual injunction restraining the Defendants from excluding and or attempting to exclude the name of the 1st Plaintiff as the Presidential candidate of the 2nd Plaintiff into the office of the President of the Federal Republic of Nigeria except upon the pronouncement of a competent court of law.
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