The Federal High Court, Abuja, delivered a judgment on Friday, imposing a penalty of N17 million against three applicants and their lawyer in a suit aimed at halting the swearing-in of Bola Tinubu on May 29.
In his judgment, James Omotosho described the suit as “frivolous, vexatious, and an abuse of court processes.” The oral applications made by counsel for Mr. Tinubu, Lateef Fagbemi, a Senior Advocate of Nigeria (SAN), and the lawyer representing the APC, Abdulganiyu Arobo, urged the court to dismiss the suit on constitutional grounds.
Agreeing with the lawyers, Mr. Omotosho held that the applicants, who were neither candidates nor members of a political party in the election that declared Mr. Tinubu as president-elect, lacked locus standi and legal right to institute the matter. He further stated that the court lacked jurisdiction to entertain the case, as it should have been filed at the Presidential Election Petition Court since it involved post-election matters.
As a punitive measure, the judge ordered the applicants to pay N10 million to Mr. Tinubu and N5 million to the All Progressives Congress (APC). Additionally, the applicants’ lawyer, Daniel Elombah, was directed to pay N1 million each to Mr. Tinubu and the APC for filing a vexatious suit. Mr. Omotosho ruled that the applicants and their lawyer must pay 10% per annum on the sum until the fines were fully paid off.
It is worth noting that a similar hefty fine of N40 million was imposed by the Court of Appeal in Abuja against a candidate, Ambrose Owuru, in the 2019 presidential election for filing a “strange” suit requesting to be sworn in as president instead of Mr. Tinubu.
In a separate development, the Supreme Court dismissed a suit seeking the disqualification of Mr. Tinubu and his running mate in the February 25 presidential election, and awarded a cost of N2 million against the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP).
The suit ruled upon by the Federal High Court was filed by three applicants – Praise Ilemona Isaiah, Paul Isaac Audu, and Anongu Moses – through their lawyer, Daniel Elombah. The suit named the President of Nigeria, Mr. Tinubu, the APC, the Attorney-General of the Federation (AGF), the Director-General of the State Security Services (SSS), the Inspector-General of Police, and the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) as defendants.
The applicants sought an order of interim injunction to restrain Mr. Tinubu from being sworn in as Nigeria’s president until the hearing and determination of the motion on notice.
During the ruling, Mr. Omotosho emphasized that the applicants had no legal right to file the suit and the court lacked jurisdiction to hear the case. He further stated 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 was unconstitutional and ultra vires, as the Court of Appeal held the original jurisdiction for such matters 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,” the judge stated. He expressed concern about the attitude of lawyers filing such suits, which could potentially destabilize the country’s democracy.
Mr. Omotosho highlighted that counsel should advise their clients on the consequences of filing these types of suits instead of indulging in actions that could tarnish the judiciary’s reputation. He emphasized that the suit should have been filed at the Presidential Election Petition Tribunal, as the Court of Appeal was already hearing the Presidential Election Petition Tribunal.
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The judge concluded that even if the plaintiffs had the legal right to file the suit, it was statute barred since suits challenging the qualification or nomination of a candidate should have been filed within 14 days of the event. Consequently, the court refused the application for an interim injunction restraining Tinubu from being sworn in as Nigeria’s president and dismissed the main suit seeking the nullification of Tinubu’s candidacy.
After the ruling, Mr. Fagbemi, representing Tinubu, requested a cost of N30 million, describing the suit as an abuse of the court process. Mr. Arobo, the APC’s counsel, also requested a cost of N20 million against the plaintiffs and an additional N20 million against their lawyer, emphasizing the need to curb such misconduct by lawyers and their clients.
In response to protests outside the court, the judge questioned the conduct of the lawyers who had brought the protesters, advising against such actions that could lead to anarchy. He emphasized the duty to keep the nation unified and cautioned against making inflammatory statements in court.
The judgment serves as a reminder of the importance of filing legitimate suits within the appropriate jurisdiction and time limits, while discouraging the filing of frivolous suits that can hinder the functioning of the judiciary.