Olukayode Ajulo, a lawyer, is former National Secretary of the Labour Party (LP). He speaks on the 2019 general election and issues relating to the contention of the nationality of Atiku Abubakar, presidential candidate of the People’s Democratic Party (PDP).
What is your impression of the 2019 general election?
The election has come and gone. Elections, we must be informed, is in different stages. It does not start from the actual conduct of the election. It is a process backed by law. From the release of the timetable, acceptance of nominations from the parties after primaries, the election proper, declaration of election result and return and issuance of Certificate of Return to winners of the election to the election petition. All these processes are backed by law.
As it is today, we have had the election and it reflects the will of the people. The law believes in imperfection of some election hence the provision of Election Tribunals and further avenue for parties to challenge the result. Therefore, election did not just end after the declaration of results. Until after the courts give final verdicts, the general process is still ongoing and it is after the courts’ final verdict that we can sit down to have a comprehensive assessment/appraisal of the whole election process. In fact, there is plethora of authorities on the fact that election does not end after the declaration of the results. As far as I am concerned as a lawyer, the court is now in charge hence we have left the ballot box to real balloting in court. Though not everyone has gone to court but by the time you look at the number of people that have gone to court, I am of the opinion that we still need to allow the process to progress to the real final stage when the courts will give their verdicts.
The citizenship status of Atiku is being challenged by the All Progressives Congress (APC). What do you make of this since we are talking about the former Vice President of the country?
As a lawyer, who must be on the right side of the law, I know my limits particularly when a matter is before the court; and as a counsel to one of the parties in the election, whatever I am going to say is going to be circumspect to the point that it will not prejudice the matter before the court.
It is so clear beyond conjecture that the APC raised a lot of fundamental preliminary objections especially on the claim of Atiku that he has right to be nominated and voted for whereas the constitution has a special condition that to be able to be voted for as the president you must be a Nigerian citizen by birth.
Section 131 of the Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria 1999 (as amended) is very clear; and the APC has challenged his claim as a preliminary objection and its left for the court to determine if he’s a Nigerian citizen by birth considering his pedigree as being born in Cameroun with Cameroonian parents in 1946. Anyway, let’s allow the court to determine if he is not within the categories of persons who may contest for the election by the reason of birth and that much I think I am allowed by the law to say.
Mind you, it is only in respect of the office of the president and the governor that such restriction is placed and as a person who is well grounded in the laws of this country, I think there is a reason for that.
The part of Cameroon where Atiku was born became part of Nigeria after the plebiscite. Are you saying that Section 131 (a) of the 1999 constitution which stipulates citizenship by birth qualification to contest for president disqualified him?
Like I have said earlier, going into that issue now may prejudice our matter in court. I think it is so clear and I think you can see that all my response has been within the ambit of what the law permits. Let’s be real, has anybody ever asked what that plebiscite is for, why it was conducted? I mean the purpose of that plebiscite? Has anyone ever asked if the plebiscite is even conducted according to the laws laid for conducting same? I am a researcher and I have consulted with experts in the field of international law and jurisprudence and I know the condition precedent for the conduct of a plebiscite.
We all saw what played out in the aftermath of Crimea becoming a part of Russia. I put it to everybody out there that before a plebiscite could be conducted, particularly one which relates to a territory under the control of United Nations who gave the territory out to the British as Trust Territory, the said plebiscite ought to be sanctioned by a resolution of the United Nations before same is conducted. In fact, I have contacted the United Nations if actually there is a resolution and if the plebiscite was indeed conducted and up till now the United Nations is yet to reply. Look, there are many things to be said, but it is only wise for us to wait for what the court has to say on this point.
How do you reconcile that position with Sections 25, 26 and 33 of the constitution?
One thing I just want to let you know is this; there is need for us to educate ourselves in order to understand the background to the issue at hand and so as not to take it out of context. Civil right is where my passions in law lies, however what we must always bear in mind is that no right is absolute and where a person’s right stops is where another person’s right starts and vice versa. And there is always a condition precedent to the exercise of most rights. No right is automatic; every right has its own exception/limitation.
Yes, it is true that no one should be prejudiced by the circumstances of his birth. However, there is an exception for every right. For example, there is a right to freedom of speech and however this right is still circumscribed by the right of other persons. Therefore, your right must be exercised within the ambit of the law. For example, you can’t say you have a right to freedom of movement and then find your way to my bedroom, without authorisation or justification, I will deal with you. The constitution stipulates the condition precedent to the right Atiku is laying claim to and I am of the view that he has not, in fact, and cannot, fulfil that condition precedent.
But he was once Nigeria’s Vice President, what do you say to that?
Please, long repetition of wrong occurrences, won’t make it right. In fact, in Australia, one of their members of Parliament had to resign when it was discovered that his nationality was questionable. I don’t think ours is beyond rectification and that is why the issue is being raised. I was a student when Atiku became a vice president. President Olusegun Obasanjo inspired that thought and this further inspired me to go into research to know who is a Nigerian citizen by birth because if somebody who had not only worked with Atiku but was also the president then can raise this issue of Atiku being of ‘dubious parental background’ in his book, ‘My Watch,’ then there must be more than what meets the eyes. My position is still unchanged, and that is, that Atiku was a vice president is not an automatic qualification to contest for the presidency.
The security situation in the country is getting worse by the day, killings by armed bandits in Zamfara and Benue on one hand and by state security- SARS in Lagos on the other hand. How can these be checked?
Well, all the happenings in the country are reflections of the socio-economic as well political milieu of the society. Hence, we need to appraise the situation holistically so as to not make the same mistake as the people giving it farfetched colorations. I think I need to say that even within the domestic affairs of various households, husband and wife and even children always have cause to altercate. In fact, parents are edgy over their children; husbands are edgy over their wives and so many other instances. However, what is of utmost importance is how to address the issues and pacify the parties involved. I believe the government of President Muhammadu Buhari is working out a way to address the issues and pacify the parties and make sure the law takes it full course and deal with any person found to be wanting in any regard, in connection to this issue.
The suspended Chief Justice of Nigeria (CJN) Justice Walter Onnoghen, has been convicted by the Code of Conduct Tribunal (CCT) and Justice Ajumogobia was also recently re-arrested over allegations of corruption. Do you think this is war on the judiciary?
Let me start by saying that the issue of the Chief Justice of Nigeria and that of Justice Ajumogobia cannot to be used as the account of the judiciary. There are over 1000 judicial officers in this country and if we are only talking about one or two then it is safe to say that there is sanity within our judicial system. I must say this, irrespective of my professional leaning, the law is not a respecter of anybody and it is my utmost belief that no one is above the law of the land. Be you as high as the heavens, the law is above you. And I think the Nigerian Legal system needs to be applauded in many ways for the mere fact that it has the boldness to tow this line with little or no resistance and criticism from Nigerians. Even from the way I see it, some persons keep saying the CJN is on trial. To me it is not a trial. In fact, it is an opportunity for my noble Lord, the Chief Justice of Nigeria to clear his name. If they had just arrested him and dismissed him without following the legal procedures, they would have seen most of us attacking them with all the legal might available to us. The judicial system is working.