The recent petition filed by the presidential candidate of the Labour Party (LP), Mr. Peter Obi, at the Presidential Election Petition Court in Abuja to challenge the victory of Bola Tinubu of the All Progressives Congress (APC) in the February 25 election has again thrown up the much reported forfeiture of $460,000 by the former governor of Lagos State over an alleged drug case in the United States.
Tinubu’s drug case is among the key grounds for which Obi is seeking his disqualification in the election petition the former Anambra State governor filed against the declaration of the former Lagos State governor as the President-elect following his victory at the February 25 presidential election.
In his petition, Obi argued that Tinubu, “at the time of the (presidential) election, was not qualified to contest the election.”
He stated that the former Lagos State Governor was fined $460,000 for an alleged offence involving dishonesty, particularly narcotics trafficking imposed by the United States District Court, Northern District of Illinois, Eastern Division, in case No:93C 4483 between the US and Tinubu. He added that for this reason, the votes purportedly recorded for Tinubu at the presidential election were wasted votes and ought to be disregarded.
Since Obi filed the petition, the members of the Obidient movement have fully resurrected the issue of the forfeiture of $460,000 by Tinubu. All over the social media, the issue is a recurring decimal as they argue that it is a veritable ground for the tribunal to annul Tinubu’s victory.
The matter got to a head last week when in a tweet, a former human rights activist, Ayo Obe, taunted them, saying the move by Obi to sack Tinubu on account of the forfeiture case cannot stand, being that it is now statute-barred.
Obe cited Section 137 (1)e) of the Constitution that said a Nigerian cannot be elected president within 10 years of a conviction for offences brought by the Code of Conduct Bureau.
“A person shall not be qualified for election to the office of President if within a period of less than ten years before the date of the election to the office of President, he has been convicted and sentenced for an offence involving dishonesty or he has been found guilty of the contravention of the Code of Conduct,” the section said.
While responding to Obe last weekend, the Director of Media in the APC Presidential Campaign Council, Mr. Bayo Onanuga, argued that his principal’s alleged drug case in the US happened more than 10 years ago and cannot, therefore, be used as a basis to truncate his victory at the polls last month.
“The Obi supporters don’t read. They live in a cocoon of falsehood and contrived propaganda,” Onanuga said.
However, Tinubu’s traducers have insisted that Section 137 (1)(d) disqualifies anyone who had been fined for any offences in the past from becoming president.
They also argued that the subsection did not give any timeline under which a convict can be released to run for Nigeria’s presidency.
The subsection specifically reads: “A person shall not be qualified for election to the office of President if he is under a sentence of death imposed by any competent court of law or tribunal in Nigeria or a sentence of imprisonment or fine for any offence involving dishonesty or fraud (by whatever name called) or for any other offence, imposed on him by any court or tribunal or substituted by a competent authority for any other sentence imposed on him by such a court or tribunal.”
Opponents of the former Lagos State governor have also pointed out the January 17, 2014 judgment of the Supreme Court where it defined forfeiture as punishment for an offence under the Nigerian criminal statutes may compound his problem.
The judgment, which was delivered in the case of Mohammed Abacha versus the Federal Republic of Nigeria, by the current Chief Justice of Nigeria (CJN), Justice Olukayode Ariwoola, while serving as a Supreme Court justice, declared that forfeiture means “the loss of a right, privilege or property because of a crime”.
“The word ‘forfeiture’ means the divestiture of property without compensation. The loss of a right, privilege, or property because of a crime, breach of obligation, or neglect of duty,” Justice Ariwoola held in a majority decision.
He noted that any person who has forfeited property on the basis of a crime cannot be entitled to indemnity, adding that forfeiture is a form of punishment, and that there is no indemnity in Nigeria’s criminal procedure.
While many legal experts have argued that the Tinubu’s case is quite different from that of Mohammed Abacha, others stated that the peculiarities of the case would need the court to determine if the US court’s ruling has relevance in Nigeria.
Though the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) and its presidential candidate, Atiku Abubakar, did not include the Chicago drug case in their petitions challenging the declaration of Tinubu as President-elect, the party’s Presidential Campaign Council had in January threatened to drag Tinubu to court.
The party’s campaign council had argued that he should not participate in the February 25 presidential election on the premise of an alleged criminal case of trafficking in drugs that led to his subsequent forfeiture of the sum of $460,000 to the US authorities.
The spokesperson of the Atiku/Okowa Campaign Organisation, Mr. Kola Ologbondiyan, who spoke in Abuja, had expressed the determination of the campaign council to file for an accelerated hearing in the case in the interest of the nation.
According to him, Nigeria’s laws do not permit an alleged convict, let alone an individual convicted on account of the international crime of trafficking in narcotics, to stand election at any level, adding that Nigeria cannot afford the embarrassment of having an alleged convict hold office at any level.
He added that the campaign council would ask the court to “declare Tinubu, the presidential candidate of the APC, having been allegedly convicted, as ineligible to contest the Presidential election under section 137 (1) (d) of the 1999 Constitution;
“Compel the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) to immediately delist Asiwaju Bola Tinubu as the presidential candidate of the APC or any other political party for that matter and expunge his name from all materials and documents related to the 2023 presidential election.
“For the avoidance of doubt, the United States Court in sentencing Tinubu ordered, ‘that the funds in the amount of $460,000 in the name of Tinubu represents proceeds of alleged narcotics trafficking or were involved in financial transactions in violation of 18 U.S.C. S1956 and 1957 and therefore these funds are forfeited to the United States pursuant to 21 U.S.C. S881(a)(6) and 18 U.S.C S981.’
“From the declaration of the court and the sentencing, it is clear that Tinubu was summarily convicted by the court, took no step to challenge the judgment but acceded to the forfeiture of the $460,000 found to be the proceeds of narcotics trafficking,” it stressed.
Ologbondiyan further noted that “Nigeria is a signatory to such international conventions and therefore is mandatorily obligated to implement the consequential effect of the conviction imposed on Tinubu by a court of competent jurisdiction in the criminal case of trafficking in narcotics.
“The import of the foregoing is that under the 1999 Constitution (as amended), having been so convicted and fined and having acceded to the sentencing by way of forfeiture of $460,000 and have not received any state pardon or acquitted by any court of competent jurisdiction, Asiwaju Tinubu remains a convict and the consequential effect is that he cannot contest the election at any level in Nigeria.
“The effect is that the listing of the name of Bola Tinubu, who stands allegedly convicted by a court of competent jurisdiction on the ballot for the 2023 presidential election is by the virtue of Section 137 (1) (d) of the 1999 Constitution (as amended) fundamentally illegal, invalid and must be expunged immediately,” he further explained.
But responding to the PDP campaign council’s press conference, the spokesman for the APC Presidential Campaign Council, Festus Keyamo, had described the Atiku/Okowa Organisation as a body that was deficient in ideas and originality. He noted that until its APC counterpart took Atiku to court for alleged confession to have fraudulently helped himself to state resources while serving as Vice President, the PDP campaign council did not know the road to court.
He said: “Why did they wait all these months until we filed before they are now rushing to court? I challenged them more than two months ago, yet they did nothing. It shows a team that is lacking in originality, lacking in ideas, and lacking in vision.
“It is just an attempt to create a counter-suit to our own. Unfortunately for them, Nigerians have seen through them already. They are Special Purpose Vehicles advocates that are trying to turn the tide of public opinion. Nigerians have decided; Nigerians have rejected them. This is so laughable that Nigerians are beginning to see that these are remorseless people; leopards that cannot change their skin.”
While Tinubu’s traducers have argued that his victory would be upturned by the courts, his supporters think otherwise, given the fact that he has never been convicted by any court anywhere to warrant his disqualification from occupying elective offices.
However, no matter the outcome of Obi’s petition in the election tribunal, the final decision on his petition will put the issue of Tinubu’s forfeiture of $460,000 to rest permanently.
The views expressed in this article are the author’s own and do not necessarily reflect Kaaynan’s editorial stance.