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Nwabueze: The Legal titan pursuing victory for Atiku in court, despite ill-health

PROF. Ben Nwabueze, 88, and first lawyer from academia to become a Senior Advocate of Nigeria (SAN) has emerged leader of the petitioners’ legal team of Alhaji Atiku Abubakar, the presidential candidate of People’s Democratic Party (PDP),  at the on-going Presidential Election Petition Tribunal (PEPT) in Abuja.

The legal luminary and elder statesman appeared at the presidential election tribunal, Thursday to throw his weight behind the former Vice President Atiku.

Nwabueze had earlier in November expressed. hope that Atiku would drive the nation to greatness. “I will not die until you (Atiku) become president.”

But that hope was quashed with the outcome of the presidential election.

Atiku has however contested the credibility of the poll where he was announced by the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) to have scored 11, 262, 978 as against President Muhammadu Buhari, the declared winner, who polled 15, 191, 847.

The European Union (EU) in a report had also declared that the election was marred by irregularities, a statement that casts doubt on the integrity of the election result.

Nwabueze is among those who believe that the integrity of the 2019 election was compromised and that the restoration of justice to the actual winner of the election is a duty of the court.

At the hearing on Thursday, the legal titan who was brought in through a wheelchair was granted access to address the tribunal while seated. Reading a prepared speech,  he told the tribunal that his presence was necessary considering the significance of the case to the nation’s democratic development.

He later yielded the stage to Mr Levi Uzoukwu to announce the rest of the legal team and took his leave 30 minutes after.

Professional Career

Born on December 22, 1931, in Atani, Ogbaru Local Government of Area of Anambra State, Nwabueze commenced his primary school in CMS Central School, Atani from 1938 to 1945, proceeded CMS Central School, Onitsha from 1947 to 1950.

In a citation published by Hallmarks of Labour Foundation, an organisation established to recognise societal role models in Africa, Nwabueze later proceeded to the London School of Economics and Political Science, University of London, 1956 – 1961 and School of Oriental and African Studies, University of London, 1961 – 1962. From 1962 – 1965, he was Senior Lecturer at Holborn College of Law, London, and Senior Lecturer, University of Nigeria Nsukka, between 1967 – 1970. In 1971, he was Dean, Faculty of Law, University of Zambia and Director, Law practice Institute, Zambia, 1973 – 1975.

Three years after, Nwabueze earned his Doctorate degree in Law at the University of London. He eventually rose to become a member of Senate in Nigerian Universities and abroad including the Universities of Lagos, Dar-es-salaam, Nairobi, Haile Selassie in Ethiopia, Lesotho, Botswana and Swaziland between 1971 – 1978.

He is renowned to have published several books and ultimately for his contribution to the nation’s constitution and the legal system.

Nwabueze is also celebrated and recognised for singlehandedly drafting Kenya’s constitution which enabled the country transit from the one-party system to multiparty democratic system of government.

A strong advocate for a better Nigeria

When he clocked 82 in 2013, Nwabueze prayed at the presentation of his two-volume autobiography that he gets an extra five years to fulfil his purpose of uniting Nigeria.

Though Nigeria’s cultural diversity has been described as a blessing in disguise, he blamed her political and economic woes to what he termed “conflict of cultures”.

“The colonial culture had over the years wanted to wipe-off our traditional culture, which it has described as unworthy. Our pre-occupation today is to see how we can solve this problem; how we can unite the 389 ethnic groups that we have in Nigeria.”

Through the Project Nigeria Movement, set up by the elder statesman, he advocated for greater Nigeria, restructuring, constitution review as well as a review of minimum qualification to Bachelor of Science or equivalent for prospective presidential aspirants in the country.

“We need to experiment on a coalition government, otherwise called the unity government whereby whoever wins the presidential election will constitute his government with members drawn from all the parties that contested the presidential election in a manner to be agreed under a formal accord.

“Without prejudice to the provisions of the constitution, effective presidential leadership requires a president with a good and sound qualification, up to a minimum level of a university first degree or its equivalent with the academic knowledge, intellectual insights and mental orientation, ideas and perceptions in parts. He should have an ability to combine ideas and power intellectualism and politics,” he stated.

A critic of President Buhari, says the president is not a born-again Democrat   

Nwabueze has never been a fan of President Muhammadu Buhari reasons best known to him. And at various public functions, and interviews, he took his time to share some of his reservations for the president and why Buhari could do more to unite the nation.

This position has been tightly contested but he remained resolute.

First, Nwabueze said being a former General in the Nigerian Army, Buhari was used to giving orders and as such the president would expect all of his orders obeyed unmindful of the current democratic setting.

He despises the “poor capacity” of the president to secure the country, especially his failure to disarm the alleged herdsmen attackers among other concerns.

The legal scholar wondered why the president, in his anti-corruption drive, seeks an alliance with the Saudi-Arabia.

“We are all against terrorism but don’t make it a religious issue. This country is not a Muslim country, it is not a Muslim state. He does not need to drag Nigeria into the coalition. Nigeria is not a Muslim state and that is why CAN in the North is up in arms over that. The opposition by CAN in the North is not enough, CAN all over the country should be up in arms as was the case when Babangida took the country to Organisation of Islamic Cooperation (OIC). I am surprised that the reaction so far has not engulfed the whole country.”

Nevertheless, Nwabueze has never spared the previous administration. He had taken to task the former Presidents  Olusegun Obasanjo and Goodluck Jonathan who, he said, lacked the will to fight corruption.

He has advised President Buhari to admit that the nation has never been so divided until he came to power due to his statements and actions capable of tearing the nation apart.

“Since the 1967 civil war, I do not think this country has ever been as divided as it is now,” he stated.

 

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