Friday, 2nd June 2023

Fresh hurdles for Atiku as suit seeks disqualification, queries citizenship

By Leo Sobechi, Sodiq Omolaoye (Abuja), Kehinde Olatunji (Lagos), Monday Osayande (Asaba), Ann Godwin (Port Harcourt) and Chido Okafor (Warri)
01 June 2022   |   4:15 am
A constitutional lawyer, Mr. Johnmary Jideobi, yesterday, approached the Federal High Court in Abuja to challenge the eligibility of former Vice President Atiku Abubakar to contest the 2023 presidential election.

Atiku. Photo: CFR

• Wike could still fly PDP’s presidential flag, party chieftain insists
• S’ South govs didn’t betray Wike in shadow poll, says Okowa
• S’ West Muslim scholars reject ex-VP’s candidacy

A constitutional lawyer, Mr. Johnmary Jideobi, yesterday, approached the Federal High Court in Abuja to challenge the eligibility of former Vice President Atiku Abubakar to contest the 2023 presidential election.

The plaintiff, in the suit marked FHC/ABJ/CS/751/2022, maintained that Atiku, who is the flag bearer of the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP), is not constitutionally qualified to participate in the presidential contest.

Consequently, he posed two legal questions for the court to determine, after which he sought seven principal reliefs against Atiku, PDP and the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC), who were cited as 1st, 2nd and 3rd defendants in the matter.

The Attorney General of the Federation was also joined as 4th defendant. Specifically, the plaintiff, asked the court to determine: “Whether by the combined provisions of sections 1(1) & (2), 25 and 131(a) of the Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria, 1999 (as amended), only a Nigeria citizen by birth can contest the office of the President of the Federal Republic of Nigeria.

“Whether by the combined interpretation of sections 1(1) & (2), 25(1) & (2) and 131(a) of the Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria, 1999 (as amended), and giving the circumstances surrounding the birth of the 1st defendant, he can be cleared by the 2nd and 3rd defendants to contest office of President.”

THIS came as a PDP stalwart, Chief Jonathan Sunday Akuns, gave reasons why the party’s presidential ticket could eventually be given to Governor Nyesom Wike of Rivers State.

In a chat with The Guardian on the recent PDP presidential primary, Akuns, who contested the Plateau State governorship ticket, said the party’s National Working Committee (NWC) made a fundamental mistake by not amending the PDP constitution when it decided to neglect zoning and throw the contest open.

He said: “NWC’s decision cannot nullify the party’s constitution on rotation between the north and south. The court will disqualify whoever emerges from the north zone under this arrangement.

“Recall that at the last election (2019), the party zoned the presidency to the north, and no southerner participated. Of course, you know that after the Amaechi/Omehia replacement saga that went up to the Supreme Court, the electoral process has been amended, requiring whoever will be replaced by the court to follow the primary electoral process to the end.”

He noted further: “Wike got the highest votes among the southern candidates. So, with the current position of Wike in the contest, he is in a position to successfully challenge the outcome of the primary in court.

“Wike cannot leave PDP now. He must remain in PDP and seek the court’s interpretation of the zoning clause in the party’s constitution vis-à-vis the NWC’s decision to throw it open. I believe the party constitution is supreme and superior to the NWC’s decision.”

ALSO, Governor Ifeanyi Okowa of Delta State and Chairman, South South Governors’ Forum, yesterday, debunked Wike’s allegation that betrayal by southern governors robbed him of victory at the primary.

Okowa, who spoke in Asaba through his Commissioner for Information Mr. Charles Aniagwu, said: “How did Wike know who and who voted for him when the election was done secretly, and in such a transparent manner?

“Yes, Nyesom Wike did his very best in that election. But let him also understand that other people who came for the election were not just bystanders; they also came to win.”

He added: “What we watched was very transparent, and I wouldn’t know where the betrayal came from. More so, the voting was done secretly. So, who will be able to determine who voted otherwise?”

REACTING to Atiku’s emergence as flag bearer, the leader of Pan-Niger Delta Forum (PANDEF), Chief Edwin Clark, called for the resignation of the party’s National Chairman, Iyorchia Ayu, accusing him of electoral abnormality and tragic betrayal of patriotism.

In a statement he personally signed, yesterday, Clark decried outrageous financial inducement of delegates and the dollarisation of the electoral process, warning that it portends danger to the outcome of the 2023 general elections.

He said: “One can now appreciate the reasons given by Mr. Peter Obi for his withdrawal from the PDP, both as a member, and as an aspirant, few days before the party’s primary. And I would think that what he did was, without doubt, in respect, or obedience, to the position of the Southern and Middle Belt Leaders’ Forum.

“Unfortunately, some aspirants from the south believed that, with the resources and facilities at their disposal, their elders no longer matter, and disregarded, with impunity, the patriotic advice on the need to be steadfast on the position of zoning of the presidency to the south.

“They never minded that what we have been advocating was in their interest. They proved themselves to be selfish and arrogant, and thought they could win on their own steam. They failed; I can only hope that they have, now, learned their lessons.”

BUT a former spokesman of the Atiku Abubakar Campaign Organisation, Segun Sowunmi, cautioned Afenifere, PANDEF and Arewa Consultative Forum, among other cultural groups, to steer clear of political matters.

Sowunmi, who stated this during TVC’s Breakfast Today programme, noted that it would be a great service to the nation, if these groups allow political parties to manage their affairs, warning that they should not be seen as usurping political powers.

On whether the party has the capacity to manage the fallout of the presidential primary, Sowunmi said PDP would reach out to everybody and reconcile all groups.

IN a related development, a group, Concerned Yoruba Muslim Scholars in Nigeria (CYMSN), rejected Atiku’s candidacy, insisting on the emergence of a Muslim of Yoruba extraction.

Addressing a press conference in Abuja, yesterday, Acting President General, Sheikh AbdurRasheed Mayaleke, lamented that Yoruba Muslims have been relegated to the background on issues of the presidency.

He said: “It is no longer news that the opposition PDP, has chosen a northerner as its presidential flag bearer, even against the expectation that the candidate would come from the south, based on the power rotation convention adopted.

“It is against this backdrop that we urge the ruling All Progressives Congress (APC) to choose a southerner, and this time around, a Muslim, as its presidential candidate, more so, that there is underlying agreement at the inception of the party’s formation in 2014 to that effect.”