Despite the posturing, both sides of Nigeria’s political divide affirm the imminence of today, May 29, 2023, as Inaugural for President Bola Ahmed Tinubu and Vice President Kashim Shettima.
Yet, they approach the date from different perspectives. Pro-Tinubu supporters are eager, and even envision a move-up of the milestone. But those opposed to a Tinubu presidency pray that the day be indefinite or eternal.
Moreso as they’ve erected traps, hurdles and roadblocks to halt Tinubu’s advance, and arrest his lifelong ambition to be President.
Most threatening of those obstacles are the numerous court cases filed to disqualify Tinubu from contesting in the February 25 presidential election; thrash his declaration as President-elect; and prevent his inauguration as 16th President and Commander-in-Chief of the Armed Forces of Nigeria.
But one after another, the courts have demolished the entrapment, and shattered the opposition’s dream to stop the inauguration.
The latest blow was a Supreme Court judgment on May 26 – three days to swearing-in of Tinubu and Shettima at the Eagle Square in the Federal Capital Territory, Abuja.
The court dismissed an appeal by Peoples Democratic Party, which prayed to disqualify Tinubu on the grounds that Shettima received double nominations for Senate and Presidency in the 2023 election cycle, contrary to the provisions of the amended Electoral Act 2022.
A panel of five Justices of the court described PDP’s pleadings as not only frivolous, unnecessary and meritless, but also a waste of time of the court.
In a lead judgment by Justice Adamu Jauro, the court said the PDP lacked the locus standi (legal right) to “dabble in the internal affairs of the APC,” and labelled the party as a “nosey, busybody, meddlesome interloper” and a “peeper.”
Urging lawyers to discourage their clients from filing similar cases in future, the court affirmed the N2m damages the lower courts had imposed on the PDP.
On the same May 26, an Abuja Federal High Court dismissed a suit that sought to stop Tinubu’s swearing-in as frivolous and an abuse of court process.
Three applicants – Ilemona Isaiah, Pastor Paul Isaac Audu and Dr Anongu Moses – filed the suit, pleading for injunction to stop Tinubu’s inauguration because he possesses both Nigerian and Guinean citizenship, which he failed to disclose in INEC’s Form EC9, thereby committing perjury.
But presiding Justice James Omotosho ruled that not being candidates nor members of a political party in the election that produced Tinubu as President-elect, the applicants lacked the locus standi to institute the matter.
The judge held that the court lacked jurisdiction to entertain the suit – a post-election matter that should be filed at the Appeal Court.
The previous day on May 25, the Appeal Court in Abuja fined a Lawyer, Chief Ambrose Albert Owuru, N40m for relitigating a 2019 petition that ended at the Supreme Court with a dismissal.
Owuru – candidate of Hope Democratic Party (HDP) in the 2019 poll – claimed he’s adjudged as winner of a “referendum” before that year’s presidential election.
Owuru and HDP’s petition, and appeal to sack the winner of that election – President Muhammadu Buhari – were dismissed by the Appellate Courts in August and October, 2019, respectively.
Four years on, Owuru and HDP resurrected the matter at a Federal High Court in Abuja, praying that he be inaugurated as President Buhari’s successor, based on the said 2019 “referendum” or Tinubu or any other President-elect’s swearing-in be put on hold until their petition was determined.
But presiding Justice Inyang Ekwo dismissed the petition as an abuse of court process – exactly the same reasoning handed down by a three-man panel of the Appeal Court, with Justice Jamil Tukur giving the lead judgment.
Justice Tukur described the appeal by Owuru and HDP as an invitation for the court to review its earlier decision on the matter on August 22, 2019, which it “cannot do.”
He held that having been litigated up to the Supreme Court – which pronounced judgment on it on October 28, 2019 – the matter couldn’t be reopened afresh.
Consequently, Justice Tukur dismissed the appeal as an abuse of judicial process, and ordered Owuru and HDP to pay N10m as cost to each of the respondents: the President, the Attorney General of the Federation, the Independent National Electoral Commission and President-elect Tinubu.
Relatedly, the Appeal Court, in mid May 2023, upbraided a lawyer to former Minister of State for Education, Prof. Chukwuemeka Nwajiuba, who sought leave of the court to join a dismissed matter he wasn’t a party to at the Federal High Court in Abuja.
The plaintiff – Incorporated Trustees of Kingdom Human Rights Foundation International – had filed the suit to stop Tinubu’s participation in the February 25 poll, over alleged failure to disclose the source of funding for his N100m APC’s nomination forms.
Trial Justice Binta Nyako dismissed the writ in January 2023 for lack of locus standi, and being statute barred. The plaintiff didn’t appeal the verdict, but five months later, Nwajiuba sought to be joined as an interested party to the dead suit.
An obviously displeased three-man panel of Justices threatened to punish, and recommend Nwajiuba’s lawyer to be derobed if he didn’t withdraw the application – which he did, to save his career.
Recall that Nwajiuba had picked the APC nomination forms, but didn’t participate in the June 6-8, 2022, primaries won by Tinubu, alleging “marginalisation of the South-East,” as reason for boycotting the poll.
In July 2022, Nwajiuba sued to disqualify Tinubu from the February 25 poll, alleging that the primary was corrupted, even as he asked the court to declare him the winner of the primaries in which he scored one vote to Tinubu’s 1,271 votes to clich the APC ticket.
The case journeyed up to the Supreme Court, which, on March 30, 2023, dismissed the appeal following its withdrawal by Nwajiuba’s lawyer.
Meanwhile, a case by Registered Voters of the FCT against Tinubu’s failure to obtain 25% of votes cast in the Territory, is due for ruling tomorrow, May 30.
The five applicants claim that a candidate for President must secure 25% of votes in the FCT, in addition to scoring 25% of votes in not less than two-thirds (24) of the 36 States of the Federation.
Notably, the status of the FCT forms part of the petitions at the Presidential Election Petitions Court (PEPC), which will interprete several sections of the amended 1999 Constitution, particularly section 299 that says the FCT should be regarded as a State.
There’re more cases at different courts and stages of proceedings, to prevent Tinubu’s swearing-in; sack him after inauguration; arrest and prosecute him for alleged criminal offences; or displace him by anti-democratic elements.
So, it remains a night of long knives for President Tinubu and Vice President Shettima, and their new administration that rests on a “Hope Renewed” for a beleaguered nation and traumatised citizens!
Mr Ezomon, Journalist and Media Consultant, writes from Lagos, Nigeria.