There are indications, despite denials and assurances to the contrary, that the plot to either stop the March 28 and April 11 polls or ensure Professor Atahiru Jega is removed as chairman of the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC), is indeed thickening.
Indications emerged at the weekend that the multi-faceted plot continued to unfold, and that it involved not just the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) but its sympathisers and collaborators in other political parties, the latest of which is the All Progressives Grand Alliance (APGA).
In the latest move, APGA, which has adopted the ruling party’s President Goodluck Jonathan as its flagbearer, just like 22 others, is asking the Federal High Court in Awka, Anambra State, to stop General Mohammadu Buhari (rtd), the All Progressives Congress (APC) presidential candidate from contesting in the March 28 Presidential election.
In the suit, for which hearing on the ex-parte motion has been scheduled for March 23, APGA and Chief Alphonsus Ubanesse Igbeke, former Senator representing Anambra North Senatorial District, want Buhari barred from contesting the election.
They contend that he breached relevant provisions of the Nigerian Constitution and the Electoral Act 2010.
In the motion ex-parte, dated March 11, 2015, the plaintiffs, through their lawyers, C. N. Nsobundu, and Emeka Nri-Ezedi, want Justice M. I. Abubakar, to allow them to serve General Buhari and INEC the originating summons and other processes in the suit.
Specifically, the plaintiffs are praying the court to halt General Buhari’s presidential ambition because in the form he submitted to INEC seeking to contest the election, he indicated interest in contesting as flag-bearer of the All Progressives Congress Party (APCP). No party by that name, the plaintiffs contend, exists in Nigeria’s political space today.
The plaintiffs contend that the only party that bears a semblance of the platform that Buhari cited as the party he is standing election in is the All Progressives Congress (APC).
They also want the court to determine whether General Buhari who failed to show the proof that he is a citizen of Nigeria by birth in his INEC Form CF001 is qualified to vie for the office of president of Nigeria.
The contention here is that in failing to attach his birth certificate to his INEC Form, Buhari had left a huge gap in his profile that makes people wonder whether he is truly a Nigerian.
The plaintiffs also say General Buhari failed to attach any evidence of his purported educational qualifications to his INEC form and consequently fell below the minimum standards for candidates standing election for the office of president.
APGA and Senator Igbeke are also praying the court to determine whether Buhari who “falsely” claimed in his voter’s card, submitted alongside the INEC form, that he was public servant as at January 22, 2011, should not be disqualified from contesting the coming presidential election.
They further averred that the APC presidential candidate who deposed to an affidavit at an Abuja High Court in November 2014, claiming that “all my academic qualifications documents as filled in my Presidential Form, President APC/100/2015 are currently with the Secretary, Military Board as at the time of this affidavit,” ought to be disqualified from contesting the said election for lying on oath.
After hearing the motion ex-parte by the plaintiffs’ lawyer, Justice Abubakar granted them leave to serve General Buhari with the originating summons and other processes in the suit, out of the jurisdiction of the court, outside Anambra State and in Kaduna State.
General Buhari would be served the processes at 4A & B Sultan Lane, Off Sultan Road, Kaduna, while INEC would be served at INEC Office, House of Assembly Road, Awka.
Justice Abubakar also granted an order for the urgent hearing of the suit by abridging/limiting the time within which the defendants shall enter appearance and file their defence to the originating summons to five days and the time within which the plaintiffs shall file a reply to the defence to the originating summons to three days.
He also gave an order for the substituted service of the originating summons and other processes in the suit on the first defendant by publishing the processes in two Nigerian national dailies.
Meanwhile, a Federal High Court in Abuja has been asked to restrain the Senate from co-operating with any plot to sack the INEC boss by not considering any person nominated by the Presidency as replacement.
The prayer was part of the three-count charge contained in a suit filed by Kabir Akingbolu, a lawyer, in suit FHC/ABJ/CS/228/2015, which has the Attorney General of the Federation (AGF) and the Senate as defendants.
In the suit, the plaintiff is arguing that the alleged plot by the Presidency to use the Head of Civil Service of the Federation to compel Jega to proceed on a three-month terminal leave was absurd, because the INEC Chairman is not a civil servant by virtue of the provisions of Sections 153, 155 and 157 of the Constitution.
Akingbolu further urged the court to, among others, determine whether, by the combined effect of Sections 157 and 158 of the Constitution, the alleged plan by the Head of Service to request the INEC Chairman to proceed on terminal leave is not incongruous with the intention of the provisions of the Constitution.
He is also seeking the determination of whether Jega, who is currently on a sabbatical leave from the Bayero University, Kano, could be asked to proceed on the pre-retirement leave envisaged under the Civil Service Rules, whether it is possible to ask him to proceed on such leave, whether it could be done earlier than three months to the end of his tenure, which is June this year.
Akingbolu, in a supporting affidavit, stated that he learnt of the plot by the Presidency, acting through the Head of Service, to compel Jega to proceed on three-month pre-retirement leave.
He seeks, among others, a declaration that the Chairman of INEC is not a civil servant within the meaning of Civil Service Rules; a declaration that the submission of any name to occupy the post of INEC Chairman before the expiration of the tenure of the present chairman, is illegal.
Akingbolu is seeking an order of perpetual injunction, restraining the Senate “from sitting, honouring, considering or sitting to consider any name of person or persons nominated by the Presidency for the post of Chiarman of INEC, irrespective of whether such name is submitted or directed to it as an interim or substantive Chairman of INEC.”
Although the plaintiff has served the defendants, the suit filed on March 11 is yet to be assigned to any judge for consideration.
And in another development, INEC has appealed the March 4, 2015 judgment by Justice Ahmed Mohammed of the Federal High Court, Abuja, ordering it to issue a certificate of registration to a group, the Young Democratic Party (YDP).
YDP had, shortly after the judgment, addressed a press conference, threatening to compel a postponement of the rescheduled elections, if INEC failed to include its name and those of its candidates on the ballot papers, even when it was yet to conduct primaries and the period for parties to submit list of candidates had lapsed.
In a notice of appeal it filed last Monday, INEC faulted Justice Mohammed’s judgment and urged the Court of Appeal, Abuja, to set it aside.
It raised five grounds of appeal, including that the trial judge erred in granting audience to a group not yet registered as a party.
It also accused the group of misleading the trial court by withholding necessary evidence, which showed that it had earlier submitted the logo of an already registered party as its own in its application for registration.
INEC has also filed an application of stay of execution of the judgment before the trial court. The application is expected to be heard on March 23.