Court rules in favour of Vice President

Court rules in favour of Vice President

ABUJA – The Supreme Court ruled yesterday that Nigeria’s electoral commission unlawfully disqualified Vice President Atiku Abubakar from running for president, handing Abubakar the legal victory just days before the vote.

Electoral officials weren’t immediately available for comment on whether Abubakar would be on the ballot on Saturday. Electoral officials have said the 61 million ballots have already been printed, but that unspecified provisions had been made in case Abubakar should rejoin the field.The ruling at this stage is likely to add confusion to a process already marred by violence and accusations of fraud.Judge Umaru Katsina Alu, reading a unanimous judgement from the seven-judge panel, struck down an earlier appeals court decision that said the commission had the right to vet and disqualify candidates from the race.”I have no doubt in coming to the conclusion that the Court of Appeals was in error,” he said in the judgement.Abubakar’s spokesman, Garba Shehu, welcomed the verdict.”This is a fantastic decision and it’s a big relief to every lover of democracy in the land,” he told reporters.”The Supreme Court has spoken,” said a lawyer for the commission, Joe-Kyari Gagzama.”What it means that anyone contest.”Both Abubakar and top electoral commissions have said that they would abide by any final decision.While one case is still pending related to Abubakar’s disqualification in a lower court, the Supreme Court decision would appear to clear Abubakar to join the race.Abubakar fell out with President Olusegun Obasanjo last year after helping quash a drive by the president’s supporters to amend the constitution and allow a third elected term for Obasanjo, whose 1999 election ended decades of near-constant military rule.Abubakar bolted from Obasanjo’s powerful party to run as an opposition candidate in a race in which Umaru Yar’Adua, a member of Obasanjo’s party, is seen as the front-runner.The electoral commission barred Abubakar from the presidential ballot based on findings by an executive panel established by Obasanjo that found Abubakar stole government funds.Abubakar denies the fraud allegations.Saturday’s election should set up the country’s first handover of power between elected civilians since its independence from Britain in 1960.But Nigeria’s democratic experiment could be imperilled if its 62 million voters see the balloting as tainted.In April 14 elections for state governors and legislators, Obasanjo’s party appeared to take a commanding lead yesterday, winning 21 of 36 governorships, according to preliminary results, with six states going to various opposition parties and results from another seven left to be reported.Abubakar’s Action Congress won the governorship in Lagos state.Nampa-APElectoral officials have said the 61 million ballots have already been printed, but that unspecified provisions had been made in case Abubakar should rejoin the field.The ruling at this stage is likely to add confusion to a process already marred by violence and accusations of fraud.Judge Umaru Katsina Alu, reading a unanimous judgement from the seven-judge panel, struck down an earlier appeals court decision that said the commission had the right to vet and disqualify candidates from the race.”I have no doubt in coming to the conclusion that the Court of Appeals was in error,” he said in the judgement.Abubakar’s spokesman, Garba Shehu, welcomed the verdict.”This is a fantastic decision and it’s a big relief to every lover of democracy in the land,” he told reporters.”The Supreme Court has spoken,” said a lawyer for the commission, Joe-Kyari Gagzama.”What it means that anyone contest.”Both Abubakar and top electoral commissions have said that they would abide by any final decision.While one case is still pending related to Abubakar’s disqualification in a lower court, the Supreme Court decision would appear to clear Abubakar to join the race.Abubakar fell out with President Olusegun Obasanjo last year after helping quash a drive by the president’s supporters to amend the constitution and allow a third elected term for Obasanjo, whose 1999 election ended decades of near-constant military rule.Abubakar bolted from Obasanjo’s powerful party to run as an opposition candidate in a race in which Umaru Yar’Adua, a member of Obasanjo’s party, is seen as the front-runner.The electoral commission barred Abubakar from the presidential ballot based on findings by an executive panel established by Obasanjo that found Abubakar stole government funds.Abubakar denies the fraud allegations.Saturday’s election should set up the country’s first handover of power between elected civilians since its independence from Britain in 1960.But Nigeria’s democratic experiment could be imperilled if its 62 million voters see the balloting as tainted.In April 14 elections for state governors and legislators, Obasanjo’s party appeared to take a commanding lead yesterday, winning 21 of 36 governorships, according to preliminary results, with six states going to various opposition parties and results from another seven left to be reported.Abubakar’s Action Congress won the governorship in Lagos state.Nampa-AP

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