- Mixed reactions trail ruling by 5-man panel
The Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) and its candidate Atiku Abubakar have resolved to challenge the judgment of the Presidential Election Petitions Tribunal which affirmed the election of President Muhammadu Buhari of the All Progressives Congress (APC).
The tribunal unanimously ruled that Atiku and PDP failed to prove allegations of irregularities against President Buhari and his party over the February 23 elections.
The five-member panel of the tribunal held that Atiku and PDP failed to prove, beyond reasonable doubt, allegations of corruption and non-compliance with the Electoral Act against Buhari and the APC.
Atiku and PDP had alleged that security agencies and agents of the APC committed acts of violence, vote-buying, manipulation of ballot papers, stuffing of ballot boxes, massive thumb-print of ballot papers, deflation and inflation of votes, among others in states such as Borno, Yobe, Niger, Katsina, Bauchi, Jigawa, Kaduna, Kano, Gombe and Kebbi.
But in the lead judgment delivered by the chairman of the tribunal, Justice Mohammed Garba held that the failure of Atiku and PDP to call among their 62 witnesses those from the 11 focal states, mainly in the North, affected by the allegations contained in paragraph 15 of their petition polling-unit-by-polling-unit as required by law, was detrimental to their case.
“The burden of proof in sections 131 and 136 of the Evidence Act was not discharged on any of the grounds for the petition,” Justice Garba said.
“The petitioners have not proved any of the grounds of their petition in Paragraph 15. The petition is liable to be dismissed and is hereby dismissed in its entirety.”
Earlier, the panel examined five issues as the basis for deciding the petition: One, whether Buhari was qualified to contest the office of the president; two, whether he submitted false information of a fundamental nature to aid his nomination as APC candidate; three, whether Buhari was not duly elected by majority of lawful votes; four, whether the election was not invalidated by reason of corrupt practices; and five, whether the petition has established substantial non-compliance with the Electoral Act, 2010.
On the issue of qualification and false information, the panel held that Section 131 of the Nigerian Constitution provides for education up to school certificate level and that Buhari has proved that he attended Provincial School in Katsina while he presented certificates from WAEC and Cambridge Assessment, adding that the submission that he did not attach the certificates listed in his INEC Form CF001 was not the requirement in sections 131, 137 and 138(1) and (b) of the Nigerian Constitution as well as the requirement of Section 176 of the Constitution.
He said Buhari is not the maker of the certificates and the petitioners cannot accuse the University of Cambridge or WAEC for being parties interested parties.
On the issue of Buhari not being duly elected by majority of lawful votes, the panel said the 62 witnesses called by the petitioners, including Osita Chidoka, could not prove the existence of the server but merely relied on ‘assurances given by the INEC chairman Professor Mahmoud Yakubu and Aviation Minister and press statement by INEC National Commissioner Festus Okoye’.
The judge said that the reliance of the Kenyan ICT data analyst, David Ayu Njorga, relied on results from the website: www.factsdontlie.com said to belong to a whistleblowing staff of INEC to arrive at his position of the 18,356,732 to Atiku and Buhari’s 16,741,430 votes, was from an “incredible, anonymous and unidentified source.”
He said the second data analyst, Joseph Gbenga, who testified that Atiku won in the 11 states he analysed the electronically transmitted results, did not know what Form EC8As are, adding “he is not an expert.”
Earlier, the tribunal had partially upheld the preliminary objections by the respondents challenging the non-joinder of Vice President Yemi Osinbajo, the Chief of Army Staff, IGP, and DG DSS by Atiku and PDP as parties in the suit over their alleged role in electoral violence and malpractice in the election.
The tribunal said while the Justice Mohammed Garba ruled that while Osinbajo was jointly nominated with Buhari by the APC, the non-joinder of the other individuals mentioned in the electoral crimes cannot be determined impartially without their being given fair hearing.
The tribunal also dismissed Buhari’s objection to raising the issue of his qualification in the main petition, and the status of lead counsel to Atiku, Levy Uzoukwu (SAN) as same as Livinus Ifeanyichukwu Uzoukwu, who was called to Bar in 1984.
Daily Trust reports that the ruling was witnessed by many personalities including the president’s nephew Mal Mamman Daura and associate Ismaila Isa Funtua.
We’ll appeal judgment – Atiku’s counsel
Counsel to Atiku and PDP, Mike Ozekhome (SAN) said a lot of things are wrong with the judgment, including “poor evaluation of evidence, non-evaluation of evidence, misplacement of exactly what the case of the petitioners is. The fact that certain provisions of the Electoral Act being misinterpreted and misapplied, there is so much to appeal against.”
“At the Supreme Court there will be seven very, very good heads that will hear the appeal from here. There is no question about that; we will appeal this judgment,” he said.
Earlier PDP National Chairman, Uche Secondus said the party’s lawyers would study the judgment and do the right thing.
Section 134 (2) and (3) of the Electoral Act, 2010, provides for 180 days to dispose election petitions arising from the office of the president and vice president, while 134(3) provides that an appeal from the tribunal would be heard and disposed of within 90 days from date of the judgment.
Victory for Nigerians, Buhari says
Reacting to the ruling, President Buhari said the victory is for Nigerians who trooped out to overwhelmingly elect him for a second term in office.
“Good conscience fears no evil report. I was unperturbed all along, because I knew Nigerians freely gave us the mandate. We are now vindicated,” the president was quoted as saying in a statement by his media aide Femi Adesina.
He dedicates the victory to God, and to Nigerians, while also commending the judiciary for “dispensing justice without fear or favour.”
President Buhari extends a hand of fellowship to those who had felt aggrieved at the outcome of the election, and went to court, noting that it was within their democratic rights.
He however noted that with the pronouncement of the judiciary, “it is time for the country to move forward as one cohesive body, putting behind us all bickering and potential distractions over an election in which Nigerians spoke clearly and resoundingly.”
Tinubu, Lawan, others congratulate Buhari
Senate President Ahmad Lawan congratulated President Buhari and the APC on the president’s resounding victory at the tribunal.
“The judgment of the tribunal has again put a judicial seal on the mandate freely given to the president by the Nigerian people in the February 23 presidential election,” Lawan said, according to a statement by his spokesman Ola Awoniyi.
The Senate President commended the petitioners for using the judicial window prescribed by the Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria in seeking redress for their grievances and urged them to join hands with the government and the Nigerian people in the important task of nation-building.
The Speaker of the House of Representatives, Mr Femi Gbajabiamila and his Deputy Ahmed Wase also congratulated the president.
Gbajabiala, in a statement issued by his Special Adviser on Media, Mr Lanre Lasisi, lauded the Nigerian Judiciary, especially members of the Presidential Election Petition Tribunal, for doing its job without fear or favour.
The speaker felicitated with members of the APC family nationwide and Nigerians generally on the victory.
Wase, in a statement by Mr Umar Puma, his Press Secretary, described the judgment as victory for democracy and the rule of law.
APC National Leader, Asiwaju Bola Tinubu, also congratulated Buhari saying the tribunal verdict was a resounding judicial vindication of the president’s personal character and his electoral victory.
In a statement entitled “President Election Tribunal Verdict, Justice Served, Democracy Saved,” Asiwaju Tinubu said: “Whatever partisan side one might take, all must agree that today was a bright day for the administration of justice. The Court of Appeal rendered a comprehensive judgment of extraordinary thoroughness, reason and breadth on the many issues presented in this important matter.”
He said Atiku and his legal team “put forth some imaginative, if desperate, arguments as was their right.”
Others who congratulated the president include Governors Atiku Bagudu (Kebbi), Godwin Obaseki (Edo), Dapo Abiodun (Ogun), Adegboyega Oyetola (Osun), Yahaya Bello (Kogi), Babajide Sanwo-Olu (Lagos).
Rivers State Governor, Nyesom Ezenwo Wike of the PDP differed with his party and congratulated President Buhari and urged him to use his victory to work for all Nigerians, irrespective of their political leanings towards the unity of the country.