By Taiye Agbaje
A Federal High Court, Abuja, on Friday, awarded a total sum of N17 million against three applicants and their lawyer in a suit, seeking to stop the swearing-in of Sen. Bola Tinubu on May 29 as fifth Nigeria’s democratic president.
Justice James Omotosho, in a ruling, described the suit as being “frivolous, vexatious and an abuse of court processes.”
Justice Omotosho held that the applicants, who were neither candidates or members of a political party in the election that produced Tinubu as president-elect, lacked locus standi (legal right) to institute the matter.
He further held that the court lacked jurisdiction to entertain the matter being a post-election matter which ought to have been filed at the Appeal Court.
In awarding the fines, the judge ordered that N10 million be paid to Tinubu by the applicant, N5 million to All Progressives Congress (3rd defendant) by the applicants while their lawyer, Daniel Elombah, was directed to pay the sum of N1 million each to Tinubu and APC for filing a vexatious suit.
Omotosho ruled that the applicants and the lawyer must pay 10 per cent per annum on the sum until the fines were completely paid off.
The development followed oral applications by counsel for Tinubu, Lateef Fagbemi, SAN, and the APC’s lawyer, Abdulganiyu Arobo, after the court dismissed the suit for being ultra vires.
The News Agency of Nigeria (NAN) reports that three applicants; Praise Ilemona Isaiah, Pastor Paul Isaac Audu and Dr Anongu Moses had filed the ex-parte motion marked: FHC/ABJ/CS/657/2023, through their lawyer, Daniel Elombah.
In the suit, they sued the president of Nigeria, Tinubu, All Progressives Congress (APC), the Attorney-General of the Federation (AGF) and Director-General Department of State Services (DSS).
Others are the Inspector-General of Police and the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) as 1st to 7th defendants respectively.
In the motion dated May 18 and filed May 22, the applicants sought an order of interim injunction restraining the 2nd defendant (Tinubu) from being sworn in as the president of the Federal Republic of Nigeria pending the hearing and determination of the motion on notice.
In a 10-ground of argument attached to the motion, the applicants said that the APC candidate contested the last presidential election and was declared to have won the poll by INEC (7th defendant).
They said though Tinubu was billed to be sworn in as president on May, 29, they however said they had uncovered that Tinubu, contrary to the affidavit he deposed to in INEC’s Form EC9, beside being a Nigerian, he was also a citizen of Guinea Republic, thereby committing the offence of perjury, among others
Justice Omotosho had, on Tuesday, ordered Oliver Eya, who moved the motion on behalf of Elombah, to address the court on whether the court had jurisdiction to hear the suit, locus standi of the applicants and the legal right they sought to protect.
The judge then fixed today for ruling.
When the matter was called for ruling, Justice Omotosho said that the applicants did not have legal right to file the suit.
He also held that the court did not have jurisdiction to hear the case and that any decision reached would have amounted to a nullity.
“The subject of jurisdiction is a serious one and indeed it is the life wire of any proceeding.
“A court that adjudicates on a matter it has no jurisdiction would have wasted its time, that of the litigants, the court staff and indeed material, human and financial resources.
“This court is mindful of how precious its time is and would not want to waste such time on a matter it clearly lacks jurisdiction over.
“The applicants have no locus standi to bring this application ‘neither is the subject matter within the jurisdiction of this court.
“I therefore hold that any suit challenging the qualification, disqualification or inauguration of the President-elect and Vice President-elect by any High Court or Federal High Court is unconstitutional, ultra vires and vexatious as it is the Court of Appeal that has original jurisdiction according to Section 239 (1) of the Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria 1999 as amended.
“In particular, this suit is vexatious, frivolous and ought not to be filed as it is an abuse of court process. I take judicial notice that the Court of Appeal is already hearing the Presidential Election Petition Tribunal and as such suits seeking to stop the inauguration of a President-elect and Vice President-elect are to be filed at the Presidential Election Petition Tribunal as the proper venue.
“I must comment on the attitude of lawyers filing these sorts of suits as these suits are capable of destabilising the democracy of this country.
“Counsel who are supposed to be ministers in the temple of justice are filing frivolous suits challenging the qualification or inauguration of the President-elect in High Courts few days to inauguration of the President elect.
“To the mind of this court, learned counsel are violating the Rules of Professional Conduct by filing vexatious suits capable of heating up the polity.
“Counsel are supposed to advise their clients about the consequences of filing these types of suits.
” Instead counsel go ahead to file these suits capable of dragging the name of the judiciary through the mud,” he said.
The judge said that a simple look at the constitution would have shown where the suit ought to have been filed, the capacity of the plaintiffs, the time within which to file same as the lawyer was aware even by the contents of the original process.
He said the lawyer “shirked these important details by filing this utterly vexatious, frivolous, abusive and embarrassing suit.”
“This court will not allow itself to be used as an instrument of destabilisation neither will it infringe on the constitutional jurisdiction of the Court of Appeal that has the original jurisdiction and already exercising the jurisdiction,” he said.
He said even if the plaintiffs had legal right to file the suit, “suits challenging the qualification or nomination of a candidate ought to be filed within 14 days of the occurrence of the event hence the suit is statute barred.”
The judge, consequently, refused the application for interim injunction restraining Tinubu from being sworn in as the Nigeria’s president and dismissed the main suit wherein the applicants prayed for the nullification of Tinubu’s candidacy.
After the ruling, Fagbemi, who appeared for Tinubu, then prayed the court for a cost of N30 million having decsribed the suit as an abuse of court process.
Corroborating Fagbemi’s submission, Arobo, who appeared for APC, asked for the cost of N20 million against the plaintiffs and another N20 million against their lawyer.
He said this would caution lawyers and their clients from indulging in the condemnable act.
“The whole of this country will not know what my lord has done to save this nation.
“The trial court and Court of Appeal have determined this matter,” he said.
Arobo said despite this, the counsel still went ahead.
He said if the lawyer was sanctioned, it would cut down the excesses of some counsel.
“The first duty of a lawyer is to protect the sanctity of judicial process as minister in the temple,” he said.
The judge, however, asked lawyers who brought protesters to the court.
“I heard they are saying Nigeria belongs to them and not to court.
“I want to advise that when you have surrendered yourselves to court, you should not be doing this.
“It can lead to anarchy. We hold duty to keep this nation as one. They have right to protest but not to come to court and be saying what they are saying counsel,” Omotosho said.
Eya, who appeared for the applicants, denied bringing the protesters to court.
The lawyer begged the court for filing a frivolous suit.
He said since issues had not been joined by the respondents, they were not entitled to the cost sought.
He said since Order 50 of the court allowed an applicant to withdraw or discontinue their suit, the case could still be withdrawn since issues had not been joined.
“My lord, we are very sorry for this. We passionately appeal and apologise to the court for filing this matter.
“We urge the court to use this matter to sound a warning to the plaintiffs and counsel, admonishing them,” Eya said.
NAN reports that in an affidavit filed supporting the request, one of the plaintiffs, Mr Isaiah, urged the court to accede because Mr Tinubu is scheduled to be inaugurated president of Nigeria on 29 May – in less than one week.
The plaintiffs alleged that Mr Tinubu, contrary to the affidavit he deposed to in FORM EC9 of INEC claiming to hold the citizenship of only Nigerian, is also a citizen of Guinea Republic. The alleged failure by Mr Tinubu to fully disclose the countries he holds citizenship amounts to perjury.
“The act of perjury is not a minor case in Nigerian Law, as it is a deliberate and willful act of deceiving the court or the judges by telling lies and stating facts on oath contrary to what the deponent knows to be the truth” the plaintiffs argued in their filings.
Citing Section 117 of the Nigerian Criminal Code, the offence of perjury attracts a punishment of 14 years imprisonment.
Furthermore, the plaintiffs argued that if Mr Tinubu “is sworn in as President of the Federal Republic of Nigeria, he will be clothed with immunity from prosecution.”
The plaintiffs arguing as Nigerian elections said, “Irreparable damage will be caused to both the plaintiffs and Nigerians if the 2nd defendant/respondent is not restrained from presenting himself to be sworn in as President of Nigeria.”
“In another document, obtained under subpoena from Chicago State University, tagged ‘Academic Record,’ it was reliably discovered that the Tinubu in question was born in 1954. Meanwhile, Mr Tinubu had claimed in his official documents that he was born in 1952.
“The real and original Bola Tinubu, who enrolled in the Chicago State University, was actually a female, and not a male,” the plaintiffs alleged.
“An order nullifying the candidacy of the 2nd defendant as fielded by the 3rd defendant (APC) as its political party flag bearer for the presidential election of Feb. 25.(NAN)