*Berates president for using govt lawyer for personal case
Alex Enumah in Abuja
The Supreme Court yesterday berated President Muhammadu Buhari for engaging a government lawyer in his personal litigations, warning that such actions run contrary to the Code of Conduct for Public Officers.
The apex court expressed its displeasure while delivering judgment in a suit seeking the disqualification of the President in the 2019 presidential poll over alleged act of lying under oath.
Though the apex court in a unanimous decison delivered by Justice Mary Odili, dismissed the suit for lacking in merit, having been cut up by the Fourth Alteration to the 1999 Constitution, the court however frowned at the appearance of Abdullahi Abubakar, lawyer to President Buhari in the suit.
Abubakar, is a Principal State Counsel at the Federal Ministry of Justice. His announcement as lawyer to the president in a personal litigation however, angered the justices.
According to the apex court justices, it is wrong for the president to deploy taxpayers’ money in his private litigation, noting that President Bill Clinton of the United States of America in all his legal travails did not spend the public fund on his defence.
The Supreme Court, while holding that the action of the lawyer contravenes the provisions of the Code of Conduct for Public Officers, however warned him to henceforth desist from such actions.
“Clinton in his numerous private litigation, never used government organs but rather personally sponsored all his private cases”, the apex court said.
Justice odili added, “The court notes the inappropriate appearance of Mr. Abdullahi Abubakar, state counsel from the Federal Ministry of Justice, representing the first respondent Gen. Muhammad Buhari (rtd) in his personal capacity.
“This practice must be discouraged; the appeal having been withdrawn is hereby dismissed”.
The appellants, Kalu Kalu, Labaran Ismail and Hassy El-Kuris had approached the Supreme Court to nullify the candidacy of President Buhari in the February 23 presidential poll over allegations of lying under oath.
The move to ventilate their grievances at the apex court was occasioned by the dismissal of their suit at the Court of Appeal in Abuja, on grounds that it was statute-barred and as such cannot be heard.
But delivering judgment in the suit, the five-member panel of justices presided by Justice Mary Odili, upheld the decision of the Court of Appeal, which had earlier dismissed the suit for lacking merit having not filed within 14 days as prescribed by law.
When the matter was called the presiding Justice, Mary Odili, had sought to know from the appellant’s counsel, Ukpai Ukairo whether the suit was statute-barred or not.
Responding, Ukairo advanced several reasons why he believed that the suit was not statute-barred and pleaded with the court to hear the case on its merit.
The Supreme Court held that Buhari’s form CF001, which was the bone of contention was received by INEC on October 14, whereas the case was instituted in the middle of November thereby indicating that the suit being a pre-election matter, was filed outside the 14 days provided by the law.
Following the hint, Ukairo subsequently made an oral application for the withdrawal of the legal action, prompting the apex court to dismiss it without cost.
In the original suit, the appellants specifically wants Buhari’s nomination for the February 23 presidential election nullified on the grounds that President Buhari lied on oath in his form 001 he submitted to INEC for the purpose of clearance for the presidential election.
In the Notice of Appeal marked: CA/A/436/2019, the appellants are asking the apex court for an order to set aside the judgment of the Court of Appeal and hear the matter on merit and grant the reliefs sought in the Originating Summons.
The Court of Appeal in a unanimous judgment delivered by Justice Mohammed Idris, had on July 12, 2019, held that the singular fact that the suit was filed outside the 14 days provided by the law robbed the court of jurisdiction to entertain the suit.
The suit was accordingly dismissed for being incompetent and lacking in merit.
In the Notice of Appeal dated and filed July 24, 2019, the appellants through their counsel, Ukpai Ukairo, presented 12 grounds for the setting aside of the judgment of the Court of Appeal, Abuja, amongst which are; that the “Learned Justices of the Court of Appeal erred in law in relying on a preliminary objection withdrawn and struck out by the Court of Appeal in striking out and dismissing the appeal.