Of all the people who filed suits to challenge President Muhammadu Buhari’s qualifications to stand for election to office of president regarding his West African School Certificate, WASC, in the run-up to the general election last year, it is only Nnamdi Nwokocha-Ahaaiwe who has refused to back down from pursuing the case in court. Others have since lost interest and moved on, Davidson Iriekpen asks why
Nigerians were taken by surprise when the Federal High Court, Abuja gave a ruling on May 26, 2016 dismissing the preliminary objections filed by President Muhammadu Buhari in response to your suit challenging his eligibility to stand for election because the general belief was that all the legal actions bothering on his qualification to stand for election to office of President or regarding his WAEC certificate had since been disposed off; what happened in this case?
My action is still pending. It went under the radar because General Buhari adopted an approach and tactics of delaying the matter; in fact the strategy was that the merits of the case would never be heard until after the President serves out his term in office. Their first tactics of course was to ensure that the case which was filed and served on them in February 2015 would not be heard and determined until after the general elections to avoid the possibility of General Buhari being barred from contesting the election. After the general election, the next tactics is to ensure the substantive action will never be heard and determined by the court. These were actualised by the filing of all sorts of frivolous objections that delayed the matter until the court was now able to give a ruling on them on the 26th May 2016 after over one year of the case being instituted. Ordinarily, this sort of matter should be given accelerated hearing and disposed within a month or two of its being instituted being a matter of the utmost national importance but for some reason, the president’s legal team wouldn’t have anything to do with an expeditious disposition of the case.
Why is that?
You mean why they do not want the case to be concluded expeditiously? We can only speculate. It is significant that no defence has been filed for the president and his party the APC in this case. After over a year they were served. Interestingly, INEC who are 1st defendants in the case promptly filed a purported defence within time upon being served but the 2nd and 3rd defendants being the APC and General Buhari have not filed any defence. so I guess that tells the whole story.
So what do we expect on the next adjourned court date being June 16, 2016?
Well, the information I have is that General Buhari’s legal team in execution of their tactics of not wanting the substantive case and the issues raised therein to be heard, are planning to file an appeal against the ruling of the Federal High Court and thereafter apply to stay proceedings in the latter court. In their calculation, the appeal will take another one or two years. If they lose, they will appeal on that interlocutory matter to the Supreme Court where it may take another three years. I am keeping an open mind about it.
So what exactly is President Buhari contesting in these interlocutory applications?
He claims he was not properly served with the originating summons. He is not saying he was not served, but that he was not properly served; that he was served at an address in Abuja instead of an address in Kaduna where he was resident as at the time of service. The court had granted an order permitting us to serve him by substituted service at the national headquarters of APC in Abuja and we did but General Buhari contends that unless he is served at an address in Kaduna, the service is not proper. Now, of course, the Federal High Court has ruled that he was properly served and that ruling is what he wants to appeal. Now you would expect that a President who rode to power on the altar of personal integrity and anti-corruption would take the first opportunity to answer to the substance of the case and clarify and/or defend the substantive issues. But Nigerians can now clearly see the hypocrisy playing out here. For example, if I hear a rumour that someone is claiming in some court that I am a fake lawyer, I will not wait to be served but will do everything to discover the court where he filed such action and defend it. I will go to the court myself and apply for a certificate tone copy of the processes so I can defend it because I am sure I am duly qualified to practice law; I will not start using technicalities to frustrate the case being heard expeditiously as it is in my interest for the matter to be concluded as soon as possible so I can continue my legal practice without any distractions.
So we are not expecting the substantive issues to be argued on June 16, 2016 as the judge has indicated?
It’s not likely, not only because I expect General Buhari to file an application to stay all further proceedings in the Federal High Court pending the outcome of an appeal or to bring a fresh preliminary objection on some other frivolous ground other than the one already disposed of, but because I will myself also be bringing an application to amend my originating summons. My application will be heard on the 16th of June 2016. The reason is that I filed the originating summons before the general elections and my prayers then was to disqualify General Buhari and bar him from contesting the elections not being constitutionally qualified to do so; now that the elections are over and General Buhari has assumed the office of President, my prayers need to be amended so I can pray the court to declare his election a nullity, order the 1st defendant (INEC) to withdraw his Certificate of Return and issue same to the party and its candidate which came second at the election and had a qualified candidate
This is the PDP and Dr. Goodluck Jonathan? Does this not confirm the speculation that this is a ploy by the PDP to come back to power through the back door?
To answer your first question, Yes. That is an idle and false speculation. I had no discussion with anyone in the PDP before I brought the action, nor have I since. I have never met Dr. Goodluck Jonathan in person. I have equally received no support whatsoever from anyone in the PDP. I am a lawyer and I saw and appreciated that the Constitution of the Federal Republic was being raped with impunity and therefore brought this action to address it. I have nothing against General Buhari as a person, but I believe he is not qualified to be President as provided by our Constitution which is the grundnorm. If he is not qualified, then he should not occupy that office; there is nothing sentimental about it. If Chief Gani Fawehinmi were alive today and brought a similar action, which he surely would have, will you accuse him of doing so to favour the PDP or anyone? So why should my own action be perceived in that light?
Because we knew you are a registered card-carrying member of PDP
I am a registered member of the PDP for sure but I am a lawyer and a citizen first and foremost. That my action might end up favoring my party is really beside the point.
So what is the substantive case all about?
I don’t want to go into that in detail because it is still a matter before the court. I will only give you the background which is a matter of public record anyway, without commenting on the specific issues before the court. As everyone now knows from available records at the disposal of the general public, General Buhari registered for the Cambridge West African School Certificate when he was in his final year in Provincial Secondary School, Katsina. He was given an Examination number, but before he could sit for the examination, the Nigerian Army started recruiting with the minimum requirement being possession of a WASC or the equivalent at that time. The recruitment was supposed to be for those who had already sat for their WASC and obtained a certificate, i.e. the High School graduates of the previous year and not for General Buhari’s set who would be qualified to apply the following year after sitting for their WASC. Since he did not have any WASC not having yet sat for the exam, General Buhari got his Principal to issue him a recommendation letter in lieu of his WASC. All these are matters of public records and I am sure you also saw a bromide of that recommendation letter when it was published. General Buhari was enlisted into the Nigerian Army with his Principal’s recommendation letter and not his WASC. Having been enlisted, General Buhari reported at the Army Depot for training and commenced his military career; he never went back to sit for the WASC and that is why the Nigeria Army called a press conference at the height of the controversy and stated unequivocally that no WASC had ever been found in his file. You will recall that the Director of Army Public Relations (DAPR) at their January 2015 press conference said as follows and I quote: “In his personal file in the Nigerian Army, he does not have his original copy of his WASC, nor the Nigerian Army have the certified true copy of his WASC results, neither do we have a photocopy. We don’t have that but we do have other documents to show how he was recruited into the Nigeria Army as was entered on Form 199A”. Needless to say, that “other documents” which the Army has which shows how General Buhari was recruited is the Principal’s recommendation letter. You may also recall that at the height of the controversy in early 2015, some Nigerians wrote to the University of Cambridge requesting the School to furnish them with details of the contents of General Buhari’s file relating to the Cambridge WASC he registered for but the university responded that they can only act at the written request of the candidate himself. General Buhari blatantly refused to request Cambridge to release those details so we could confirm conclusively if he ever sat for the exam he registered for and if any certificate was ever issued to him. Indeed, you may also recall that upon assuming and being sworn into the office of President, one of General Buhari’s first official visits was to England, and the popular joke then which went viral on social media was that he would use the opportunity of that visit to go to Cambridge University and request them to release a copy of his certificate if it ever existed, but that never happened.
This is serious; are you saying the president never even sat for the examination?
I am not the one saying so. The public records say so and the army said as much too. He joined the army with a letter of recommendation from his Principal instead of any WASC and of course this means that his entire career in the army is a complete fraud along with all the ranks he was awarded. He denied some other candidate who was qualified and had his WASC an opportunity of being enlisted into the army and this puts all the ranks obtained and offices held by General Buhari in question.
Considering the serious repercussions this case will have in the polity if the court finds merit in your case, are you not concerned for your personal safety?
Of course, I am concerned and my family and friends are too; I am not naïve and some subtle threats have already been made. For now it is small comfort that if anything happens to me, even if disguised as an accident or anything, Nigerians will know exactly who is responsible. In any case, it was Professor Wole Soyinka, I think, who once said in one of his books that The Man Dies In Him Who Keeps Quiet In The Face Of Tyranny or something of the sort. Speaking of which, I am amazed at the conspiracy of silence by Nigerians. It is astounding not, that in the light of this very apparent rape of our constitution, laws, indeed the very essence of our democracy, all of our civil society advocates and activists have gone deaf and dumb in the face of tyranny. All those voluble persons (and I don’t want to name them; they know themselves and Nigerians know them too), who pretend they are activists or keepers of the moral conscience of the nation astonishingly can’t see or appreciate what is happening. This country really misses Chief Gani Fawehinmi; he was the only fearless, credible, true and genuine conscience of the nation, not the pretenders we have today; all the others only make noise when it suits them and their interests but look the other way once they are compromised. None of us today, can tie Gani’s shoe-laces. Even the Ambassadors in Nigeria of the leading world democracies who would normally make statements on issues of this sort are mute: they have left us to our fate. I think only the British Prime Minister has said something that could be related to this issue when he said that Nigeria has graduated from being corrupt under the previous dispensation to being “fantastically corrupt” under the current President. No corruption can be more fantastic than when the head of a country; it’s President and custodian of its Constitution and laws, illegally and unlawfully ascends into office corruptly and with impunity. You know the saying about when the head of a fish is rotten; the rest is fantastic.