Days after his petition challenging President Muhammadu Buhari’s electoral victory at the Presidential Election Petition Tribunal was dismissed, presidential candidate of the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP), Alhaji Atiku Abubakar, yesterday approached the Supreme Court with 66 grounds of appeal on why President Buhari’s victory must be invalidated.
The Presidential Election Petition Tribunal had dismissed petitions initiated by Atiku to challenge the February 23 presidential election, which produced President Buhari.
In the appeal, Atiku insisted that a five-man panel, led by Justice Umar Garba, erred in law to hold that President Buhari did not need to attach his academic qualification with Form CF 001 submitted to the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC).
Atiku and his party had, after the election, approached the tribunal to challenge alleged irregularity and non-qualification of Buhari to contest the election.
The tribunal had, however, on September 11, in a unanimous judgement, dismissed the petition on the grounds that the petitioners could not prove their case beyond any reasonable doubt, saying Atiku had no case in his petition.
Besides, the tribunal held that Buhari was not only qualified, but eminently qualified to contest the said election based on his academic qualification, hence, it consequently threw out the petition in its entirety.
However, Atiku, who was taking advantage of the provisions of the Electoral Act, which allows 14 days to lodge an appeal before the Supreme Court, argued that the learned Justices of the Court of Appeal erred in law when they relied on “overall interest of justice” to hold that the 2nd respondent’s Exhibits R1 to R26, P85 and P86 were properly admitted in evidence.
Particularly, Atiku submitted that Exhibits R1 to R26, P85 and P86 were not pleaded by Buhari, who was the second respondent, insisting that Exhibits R1 to R26, P85 and P86 were not frontloaded as no leave of court was sought pursuant to paragraph 41 (8) of the 1st Schedule to the Electoral Act 2010 (as amended) to receive Exhibits R1 to R26, P85 and P86 in evidence.
He said: “My firm view is that Section 76 of the Electoral Act is clearly inapplicable to the issues under consideration. The form referred to is the form to be used in the conduct of the election as Form CF001 had been taken care of in Section 31 of the Electoral Act and the said Form CF001 is tied to the steps laid down in the said Section 31 of the Electoral Act.
“More importantly, the law is firmly settled that a candidate is not required by the Constitution or the Electoral Act to attach his certificates to Form CF001 before the candidate can be considered or adjudged to have the requisite educational qualifications to contest election.
“The conduct of election by INEC, which is 1st respondent, starts with the screening of candidates.
“No candidate can be screened unless he completes Form CF001 (Exhibit P1).
“In Form CF001, under the column for ‘Schools Attended/Educational Qualification with dates,’ there is the clear provision: “attach evidence of all educational qualifications.
“Certificates are evidence of educational qualifications.
“The reasonable inference or plausible meaning attachable to the above provision of Electoral Act 2010 as amended is that a candidate can list information concerning evidence of his qualifications or other relevant information(s) about himself. The demand or information required in Form CF001 cannot be more or higher than the statutory requirements.
“The prescription in Form CF001 for a candidate to attach evidence of all educational qualifications is part of statutory requirements.
“Form CF001 is made pursuant to statutory provisions.
“There was/is no pleadings in the Petition to the effect that 2nd Respondent’s failure to attach his certificates to Form CF001 amounts to lack of educational qualification to contest the election.
“In other words, the issue of failure to attach certificates, which has been flogged throughout the length and breadth of the Petitioners Address (es) in Reply to 1st, 2nd and 3rd Respondents final written address, is not the case of the Petitioner in the pleadings. No issue was joined on non-production of certificates or failure to attach them as an infraction of section 131, 137 and 138 of the Constitution of Federal Republic of Nigeria, 1999 as amended.
“All submission about failure to produce certificates or attach same to CF001 is hereby discountenanced. Even if it can be said that the submissions made are in tandem with the Petitioners’ Pleadings on issues 1 and 2 the fact remains that none of the facts pleaded were proved or established as required by law.”
Specifically, in the particulars of error, Atiku submitted that “clearly, the appellants pleaded and proved the allegation that the 2nd respondent gave false information of a fundamental nature to the 1st respondent in aid of his qualification.
“The issue raised above was done suo motu by the court below without affording the appellants a hearing on it.
“The court below set out in full, the pleadings in the petition under the heading: Grounds 4 and 5: “Non-Qualification and giving of false Information”, which paragraphs 388 – 405 of the Petition cover.
“Paragraph 396 thereof is predicated on the 2nd Respondent’s claim that all documents relating to his academic qualification “are currently” with the Secretary to the Military Board.
“The appellants also pleaded thereof that the Nigerian Military denied that it held or was in possession of the 2nd Respondent’s certificates.
“Paragraph 399 thereof pleads that the Appellants will contend that the 2nd Respondent was not qualified to contest the said election.
“The failure of the 2nd Respondent to produce his certificates or attach same to Form CF001, in the face of unequivocal denial by the army that his certificates were not with them, went to the root of the allegation against the 2nd respondent that he gave false information of a fundamental nature to the 1st respondent in aid of his qualification.
“The appellants pleaded and proved the allegation that the 2nd Respondent gave false information of a fundamental nature to the 1st respondent in aid of his qualification.
“The finding above is perverse.”
On Ground five, the appellant argued that the learned Justices of the Court of Appeal erred in law when they failed to consider and apply the recent case of A.A MODIBBO v MUSTAPHA USMAN AND ORS, an unreported decision of the Supreme Court in Appeal No SC/790/2019 delivered on 30th July, 2019, cited and relied upon by the appellants wherein the principles enunciated therein have direct bearing on the petition.
In the particulars of error, Atiku said that “in the above judgment, the apex court, in clear and unequivocal terms, stated the meaning and standard of proof of “false information.”
He went on: “By the above decision, the petitioners were only required to prove that any of the information in Exhibit P1 was contrary to truth or fact that is to say untrue simpliciter.
“In reviewing the appellants’ case, the court below referred to the said judgment of the Supreme Court five times, but failed to consider and apply same.
“The judgment considered “false information” in relation to the contents of Form CF001 verified on Oath and the definition of “false.”
“By the principle of stare decisis, the court below was under an obligation to consider and follow the principle of law enunciated therein relevant to the issue of the non-qualification of the 2nd respondent canvassed by the appellants.
“The lower court failed to do so and no reason was given.”
The appellant further submitted that the Learned Justices of the Court of Appeal erred in law when they held as follows:
“There is no evidence before the court to disclaim or prove that the 2nd respondent lied that he went to Primary School, Secondary School and that he joined the Army in 1962 with RW1 and many other persons in the 2nd respondent’s C.V. attached to Exhibit P1 tendered by the petitioners.
“Page 1 thereof shows conclusively that he attended Primary School and that he attended Katsina Provincial Secondary School (no Government College), Katsina in 1956 – 1961 and went to Nigerian Military Training from 1961 – 1963.
“The evidence of RW1 and RW2 bear testimony to the aforesaid facts. The said RW1 and RW2 establish beyond doubt that 2nd Respondent had educational qualifications he filled in FORM CF001 on 8/10/2018.”
However, in the particulars of error, Atiku said that “the educational qualifications of the 2nd respondent claimed in Exhibit P1 are “Primary School Certificate”, “WASC” and “Officer Cadet.
“The 2nd respondent did not predicate his educational qualifications on any other certificate or ground.
“The 2nd respondent appreciated that he was under an obligation to attach evidence of the certificates/qualifications he claimed in Form CF001.
“The 2nd respondent did not attach any of them and claimed that they “are currently” with the Secretary to the Military Board in an affidavit he deposed to on 24th November, 2014.
“The appellants led evidence that the military denied being in possession of the certificates.
In addition, the appellant submitted that the learned Justices of the Court of Appeal erred in law when they held, as follows:
“The petitioners’ learned counsel had argued that the evidence led to prove that 2nd respondent attended secondary school or a primary school or that he attended some courses, is irrelevant because he did not rely on any of those qualifications in Exhibit P1.
“With profound respect to the Learned Senior Counsel, his position is faulty because the said FORM CF001 specifically asked 2nd Respondent the schools he attended with qualifications attained or obtained in order to determine whether the 2nd Respondent has been educated up to at least the School Certificate level or its equivalent which is part of the qualifications stipulated in Section 131 of the Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria 1999 as amended.”
In the particulars of error, the appellant submits that “the 2nd respondent from the contents of Exhibit P1 did not rely on the alternative qualifications canvassed by the respondents in the lower courts.
“Form CF001 not only asked the 2nd Respondent to state the schools he attended, but also mandatorily required him to attach the certificates obtained by him from the said schools.
“The qualification relied upon by the 2nd Respondent under Section 131(d) of the Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria 1999 (as amended) is that he obtained a First School Leaving Certificate, WASC and Officer Cadet.”