The Federal High Court, Abuja, on Friday, awarded N17 million against three applicants and their lawyer in a suit seeking to stop the swearing-in of Bola Tinubu on 29 May.
Delivering judgement, James Omotosho described the suit as “frivolous, vexatious and an abuse of court processes.”
This followed oral applications by counsel for Mr Tinubu, Lateef Fagbemi, a Senior Advocate of Nigeria (SAN), and the APC’s lawyer, Abdulganiyu Arobo, who urged the court to dismiss the suit for being unconstitutional.
In agreement with the lawyers, Mr Omotosho held that the applicants, neither candidates nor members of a political party in the election that produced Mr 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 that should have been filed at the Presidential Election Petition Court.
The judge, punitively, ordered the applicants to pay N10 million to Mr Tinubu and N5 million to the All Progressives Congress (APC).
The court also ordered the applicants’ lawyer, Daniel Elombah, to pay N1 million each to Mr Tinubu and APC for filing a vexatious suit.
Mr 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.
Earlier on Thursday, the Court of Appeal in Abuja awarded a whopping N40 million fine against a candidate, Ambrose Owuru, in the 2019 presidential election for filing a “strange” suit in which he prayed to be sworn in as president instead of Mr Tinubu.
The Supreme Court earlier on Friday awarded N2 million cost against the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) after dismissing a suit seeking the disqualification of Mr Tinubu and his running mate in the 25 February presidential election.
The suit, filed last year, impliedly sought to stop Mr Tinubu’s inauguration on Monday.
Mr Tinubu’s victory at the 25 presidential elections had triggered a chain of suits, including three pending before the Presidential Election Petition Court.
The News Agency of Nigeria (NAN) reports that the case that the Federal High Court ruled on Friday was filed by three applicants – Praise Ilemona Isaiah, Paul Isaac Audu and Anongu Moses.
They 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, Mr Tinubu, the All Progressives Congress (APC), the Attorney-General of the Federation (AGF) and the Director-General of the State Security Services (SSS).
Others are the Inspector-General of Police and the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC).
In the motion dated 18 May and filed 22 May, the applicants sought an order of interim injunction restraining Mr Tinubu from being sworn in as Nigeria’s president pending the hearing and determination of the motion on notice.
In a 10-ground 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.
They said though Mr Tinubu was billed to be sworn in as president on May 29, they said they had uncovered that Mr Tinubu failed to declare his alleged Guinean citizenship alongside his Nigerian citizenship in the affidavit he deposed to in INEC’s Form EC9.
By this, the applicants argued Mr Tinubu committed an offence of perjury, among others, which disqualified him from running for president.
Mr Omotosho had, on Tuesday, ordered Oliver Eya, who moved the motion on behalf of Mr 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 (Friday) for the ruling.
When the matter was called for ruling, Mr Omotosho said the applicants had no 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 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, and 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 the 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 an interim injunction restraining Tinubu from being sworn in as Nigeria’s president and dismissed the main suit wherein the applicants prayed for the nullification of Tinubu’s candidacy.
After the ruling, Mr Fagbemi, who appeared for Tinubu, then prayed to the court for a cost of N30 million, describing the suit as an abuse of the court process.
Corroborating Mr Fagbemi’s submission, Mr 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.
Mr Arobo said despite this, the counsel still went ahead.
He said if the lawyer were sanctioned, it would cut down the excesses of some counsel.
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“The first duty of a lawyer is to protect the sanctity of judicial process as a 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 a duty to keep this nation as one. They have the right to protest but not to come to court and be saying what they are saying, counsel,” Mr Omotosho said.
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