A member of the legal team of All Progressives Congress (APC) that packaged the party’s response to the election petition filed by the presidential candidate of Peoples Democratic Party (PDP), Alhaji Atiku Abubakar, has said citizenship is a trump card held by the ruling party against the former vice president. He claimed the fact that Atiku is not a Nigerian citizen by birth, and, thus, unqualified to contest the February 23 presidential election was a valuable constitutional resource that could give them advantage in the electoral litigation.
But Atiku, in a statement released yesterday by his media office, debunked the claims of the APC regarding his eligibility, saying the ruling party is attempting an unconstitutional redefinition of the term “Nigerian”.
That was as the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) defended its declaration of President Muhammadu Buhari as winner of the poll, in its own response to the main opposition candidate’s petition. INEC also said Buhari had the requisite educational qualification to contest the election.
The APC, in its response submitted to the Presidential Election Petition Tribunal last Friday, had stated that since the former vice president “is a Cameroonian and not a Nigerian citizen by birth,” his petition against Buhari should be dismissed because he was not qualified to contest the election.
The member of the APC legal team, who pleaded for anonymity, explained that the former vice president became a Nigerian citizen by referendum and not by birth, “so he is not qualified to contest for the Presidency of Nigeria, because the Nigerian constitution says only people who are citizens by birth can contest for the office of the President.”
He continued: “Recall that in 1961, a plebiscite organised by the United Nations was held in the British controlled part of Cameroon (British Northern and British Southern Cameroons). The referendum was to choose between joining a self-governing Nigeria or re-unification with sovereign Cameroun. On February 12, 1961, the results of the plebiscite were released and British Northern Cameroons joined Nigeria, while the southern part voted for reunion with the Republic of Cameroon.
“Our dear Atiku Abubakar was born on November 25, 1946 in Jada, situated in the then British Northern Cameroon. He was born a Cameroonian. Atiku is a Cameroonian citizen by birth and became a Nigerian by referendum. He is not a Nigerian by birth. We have to get that right. The 11.1m votes recorded in favour of Atiku is a waste, and should be voided by the tribunal.
“The constitution of Nigeria is very clear on the requirements for vying for the office of the President. The candidate must be a citizen of Nigeria by birth. Citizenship by referendum is not recognised by our constitution for the purpose of elections.
“Section 131(a) of the 1999 Constitution clearly states that ‘a person shall be qualified for election to the office of the President of Nigeria if he is a citizen of Nigeria by birth.’ Atiku became a citizen of Nigeria by referendum and not by birth. So, Atiku is a Nigerian citizen by referendum. He ought not to have taken part in Nigeria’s presidential election in the first instance.
“It is like this in the United States, too. You must be born on American soil to contest for the office of the President. So, you can see that it is not a Nigerian thing.
“Another very vital thing to note is that the constitution of Nigeria has not been amended to make it possible for those who became citizens by referendum, based on the 1961 plebiscite in the British Cameroon, to be eligible to contest for the position of Nigerian president or any election in Nigeria. Until that is done, Atiku and others, who became Nigerians by virtue of that plebiscite, are not qualified to contest elections here. However, their children born after the plebiscite are Nigerian citizens by birth, and constitutionally qualified to contest elections in Nigeria.”
APC averred in its response sent to the tribunal that by reason of Atiku not being qualified to contest the election, “all votes purportedly cast for him and PDP in the February 23 election is lost votes.”
But the Constitution also forbids any form of discrimination, on the basis of race, religion and ethnicity.
Besides the issue of nationality, the APC asserted that most of the claims contained in Atiku’s petition had become statute barred and that the tribunal was not the appropriate forum to entertain them.
Furthermore, APC said the issue of educational qualification of the president-elect, raised by Atiku, “cannot be treated by the tribunal” because the period for claims and objections on such issues had expired and that the petitioners failed and neglected to use the period to challenge the validity of the educational qualification of Buhari as contained in the form CF001 submitted to INEC.
According to the party, since the petitioners have waved their rights to challenge the propriety of information contained in the form CF001, their petition no longer disclose any reasonable cause of action.
APC also faulted the allegation of non-compliance with relevant laws made by Atiku and PDP, adding that their failure to make specific references to the compliance issue had fatal effect on the petition and, therefore, the petition has no enough material to justify the grounds of any relief sought.
Atiku and the PDP had on March 19 filed the petition against the declaration of Buhari as winner of the February 23 poll.
Their petition, which was anchored on five grounds, prayed the tribunal to annul Buhari’s victory on grounds that the election was characterised by widespread rigging, violence and substantial non-compliance with electoral laws.
They also urged the tribunal to disqualify Buhari over alleged non-possession of requisite academic qualification for the office of president.
Atiku claimed to have scored the majority of lawful votes and prayed the tribunal to declare him the winner of the election.
In the alternative, the PDP presidential candidate prayed for an order cancelling the election and directing INEC to conduct a fresh one, which will conform to relevant laws.
But APC argued that Atiku’s failure to join the Nigerian Army, Nigeria Police and other security agencies, who performed the alleged harassment and intimidation, as defendants in the petition to establish his claim, was fatal to the petition and that the claims should be struck out. The party prayed the tribunal to uphold the victory of its candidate, President Buhari, who polled 15,191,847 votes to emerge winner and his subsequent declaration as president-elect by INEC, while also urging that the petition against the victory should be dismissed for having no cause of action.
No date has been fixed for the hearing of the petition.