The Supreme Court on Wednesday dismissed the appeal filed by the Peoples Democratic Party and its presidential candidate, Alhaji Atiku Abubakar, challenging the victory of President Muhammadu Buhari and the All Progressives Congress in the February 23, 2019 presidential election.
The Chief Justice of Nigeria, Justice Tanko Muhammad, who led six other members of the apex court’s panel, delivered the three-sentence judgment which put paid to the legal dispute over the poll.
Shortly after the Supreme Court delivered the judgment, Atiku, the APC, the Senate President, Dr Ahmed Lawan and the Speaker of the House of Representatives, Femi Gbajabiamila, reacted.
Atiku said although the Nigerian judiciary had been sabotaged by a dictatorial cabal, his spirit was not broken by the judgment. The APC advised the former vice-president to stop what it called destructive agenda.
Atiku’s appeal lack merits – S’Court
While delivering the judgment, the CJN said the reasons for the decision of the court would be disclosed on a date to be communicated to the parties involved in the case.
He disclosed that members of the panel had read all the documents and exhibits filed in the case for two weeks and found the appeal to be lacking in merit.
He said, “We have examined all the briefs and the exhibits for over two weeks and we agree that there is no merit in this appeal. The appeal is dismissed. (Our) Reasons to be given on a date to be announced.”
The judgment, which was unanimously consented to by the other six members of the panel, came less than an hour after the court took arguments on the appeal on Wednesday.
Other members of the panel who agreed with the lead judgment delivered by the CJN were Justices Bode Rhodes-Vivour, Kayode Ariwoola, John Okoro, Amiru Sanusi, Ejembi Eko and Uwani Aba-Aji.
The National Chairmen of both the PDP and the APC, Uche Secondus, and Adams Oshiomhole, respectively, led a handful of their party leaders to the Wednesday’s proceedings.
Apart from Obi, some other PDP leaders sighted in court on Wednesday were a former Minister of Aviation, Osita Chidoka; Ben Obi, and Tom Ikimi.
The pioneer chairman of the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission, Nuhu Ribadu, was among the top members of the APC who attended the Wednesday’s proceedings along with Oshiomhole
Atiku and his party had jointly filed their appeal before the apex court to challenge the September 11, 2019 judgment of the Justice Mohammed Garba-led Presidential Election Petitions Tribunal.
The tribunal’s judgment which Atiku and his party were dissatisfied with, had dismissed their petition challenging the outcome of the February 23, 2019 poll.
Subsequently, the petitioners, on September 23, 2019, filed 66 grounds of appeal before the Supreme Court to challenge the judgment of the tribunal.
They prayed the Supreme Court to nullify Buhari’s victory and either order that Atiku be declared as the valid winner of the poll or order the Independent National Electoral Commission to conduct a fresh presidential election.
Supreme Court refuses to hear interlocutory appeals
Earlier at the Wednesday’s proceedings which started at 9.10am, the counsel for the APC (Buhari’s party), Lateef Fagbemi (SAN), had notified the apex court’s panel that there were two categories of appeals filed, separate from the main appeal filed by the PDP and Atiku.
Fagbemi explained that Category A of the appeals challenged the decision of the lower presidential election tribunal to strike out some paragraphs in the petition filed by the petitioners, while the Category B appeals challenged the decision of the tribunal to strike out some paragraphs in the replies of the respondents to the petition.
In response, the apex court panel said there would not be any need to hear the interlocutory appeals as the decision on the main appeal would address all the concerns in the other interlocutory appeals.
The panel said hearing all the interlocutory appeals would amount to writing unnecessary multiplicity of rulings that could be addressed in one judgment on the main appeal filed to challenge the final judgment of the lower tribunal.
The lawyers representing INEC, Yunus Usman (SAN); Buhari, Chief Wole Olanipekun (SAN); and the APC, Lateef Fagbemi (SAN), agreed with the panel’s proposition.
But Atiku’s legal team led by Dr. Livy Uzouku (SAN), insisted that their interlocutory appeals should be heard.
A back-and-forth debate between the Atiku’s legal team and the bench, with both sides sticking to their guns, lasted for about 15 minutes.
Uzoukwu later suggested that all the interlocutory appeals should be consolidated with the main appeal so that they could all be considered together and one judgment delivered on them.
But a member of the panel, Justice Kayode Ariwoola, bluntly rejected the suggestion.
Afterwards, the CJN directed that the panel would proceed on a 20-minute break to enable the Atiku’s side to decide on what to do.
After it returned from the break, the panel heard short arguments from the parties to the case on whether or not it would be sufficient to hear the main appeal and make its decision to be binding on all other interlocutory appeals without hearing them.
In his lead ruling consented to by other members, the CJN overruled Atiku and his party’s request and held that it would be unnecessary to hear the interlocutory appeals.
He ruled that judgment on the main appeal marked SC.1211/2019 would be binding on the remaining appeals as it would address all the issues raised in them.
During the hearing of the appeal, the appellants’ lawyer, Dr. Livy Uzouku (SAN), maintained that Buhari lacked the academic qualification to contest the presidential poll.
He said Buhari and his legal team offered no evidence to explain the contradiction in Buhari’s first name, Muhammadu, and other variants of the name such as Mohamed that appeared in other credentials tendered by him before the tribunal.
Uzokwu said Buhari not only failed to attach the certificates of the “three educational qualifications” he laid claim to in his Form CF.001 submitted to INEC, but that none of his witnesses who testified before the tribunal said they ever saw the certificates.
He also faulted INEC’s denial of having a server into which the results of the election were allegedly transmitted electronically.
He maintained that INEC’s denial of existence of the serve could be likened to denial of having a computer or computers into which it stores information.
“Where did INEC store the card reader data? Where did INEC story the data from the Permanent Voter Cards,” he asked rhetorically.”
The respondents’ lawyers took their turns to urge the tribunal to dismiss the appeal.
Responding, INEC’s lawyer, Yunus Usman (SAN), said INEC did not have the kind of server the appellants alluded to in their petition.
He admitted that the Electoral Act gave INEC the discretion to conduct elections in a manner it found to be most suitable, but said the commission chose to conduct the election and transmit the results manually.
Buhari’s lawyer, Chief Wole Olanipekun (SAN), said the appeal was lacking in substance and that it ought not to have been filed in court.
“The appellants were trying to make a mountain out of a molehill,” he said.
He added that contrary to Uzoku’s submission, a candidate standing for an election under the Nigerian Constitution needed not to attach his or certificate of educational qualifications to the forms submitted to INEC.
“The appellants do not have the right to place additional burden on a candidate who has fulfilled the constitutional provisions of educational requirements,” he said.
The APC’s lawyer, Mr. Lateef Fagbemi (SAN), who also urged the court to dismiss the appeal, said the claims of the appellants on server, “were riddled with unreliability and loopholes that the court below had no difficulty in dismissing them”.
No more distractions – Buhari
Buhari, in a statement by his Senior Special Assistant (Media & Publicity), Garba Shehu, hailed the judgment.
He said, “This matter (Atiku’s case) is now closed…the opposition, as much as the government, must now move on; and without the need for further distractions.”
He stated, “The government – and people of Nigeria – have been aware that the result of the February 23, 2019, presidential election has been settled for some eight months.”
Buhari said “The former Vice President and his political party exercised their rights, under the Nigerian Constitution and Electoral Laws, to petition the courts and dispute the result of the election.
“The elected President and his government now must be enabled to focus solely on addressing the issues that concern the country.”
Judiciary has been sabotaged by dictatorial cabal – Atiku
Hitting the Supreme Court, Atiku, in a statement in Abuja, said “the Nigerian judiciary has been sabotaged and undermined by an over-reaching and dictatorial cabal.” He said the judgment did not break his spirit.
According to him, the judgment is part of democratic challenges Nigeria must face as a nation.
He asked, “Can Nigeria continue like this? Recently, a former United States Assistant Secretary of State for Africa, Linda Thomas-Greenfield, averred that Nigeria had rolled back the democratic gains she made in 2015. When democracy is rolled back, the economy, society and the judiciary will not be far behind. Today, the nail has been put on the coffin and the gains we collectively made since 1999 are evaporating, and a requiem is at hand.
“In a democracy, you need a strong judiciary, a free press and an impartial electoral umpire. Nigeria has none of those three elements as of today.”
Atiku said, “I must accept that the judicial route I chose to take, as a democrat, has come to a conclusion. Whether justice was done, is left to the Nigerian people to decide. As a democrat, I fought a good fight for the Nigerian people. I will keep on fighting for Nigeria and for democracy and also for justice.”
The former vice-president said he was not broken by the verdict of the Supreme Court and warned that if Nigerians did not build a free a nation, the country might be destroyed.
My spirit not broken – Atiku
Atiku said, “To those who think they have broken my spirit, I am sorry to disappoint you. I am too focused on Nigeria to think about myself. I gave up that luxury 20 years ago. The question is not if I am broken. The question is if Nigeria is whole?
“This is not a time for too many words. It will suffice for me to remind Nigeria of this: We are an independent nation and we are the architects of our fate. If we do not build a free Nigeria, we may end up destroying her, and God forbid that that should be the case. I was a democrat, and I will always continue to be a democrat.”
Contesting in future not my consideration for now – Atiku
Atiku, through his Media Aide, Paul Ibe, told The PUNCH on Wednesday that he was not considering his next political move.
When asked if the judgment would stop him from contesting in future, he said, “Right now, all of us are coming to terms with the reality of the finality of this verdict at the Supreme Court. We are reflecting on it. We need to take it one step at a time. Even him, (Atiku) as an individual, I do not think, that is an issue for consideration now.
“Right now, all of us, including Atiku Abubakar, are reflecting on the implication of this verdict. Tomorrow, he (Atiku) may wake up from that reality and then begin to know what we can do of the situation. I do not think that is the consideration for now.”
The PDP vice-presidential candidate, Peter Obi, in an interview with journalists after Wednesday’s proceedings, said, “This election and the judgment are not about President Buhari, or His Excellency, Alhaji Atiku Abubakar. They are about the future of our country and what we are going to bequeath to our country.”
Final judgment comes from God – Secondus
The National Chairman of the PDP, Uche Secondus, in his reaction said although the Supreme Court had dismissed the appeal, the final judgment would come from God.
Secondus, in a statement by his media aide, Ike Abonyi, urged Nigerians to remain resolute.
Lawan congratulates Buhari, APC on Supreme Court victory
On his part, the President of the Senate, Ahmad Lawan, congratulated Buhari and the APC.
Lawan, in a statement by his Special Adviser on Media and Publicity, Ola Awoniyi, said the verdict had put an indelible seal on their victory in the presidential election.
Stop destructive agenda, APC advises Atiku, PDP
The APC National Publicity Secretary, Lanre Issa-Onilu, in a statement in Abuja, hailed the judiciary.
He stated, “The party hails the judiciary for standing firm in the face of the PDP and Atiku’s subterfuge and for siding with the Nigerian electorate who through their votes decided to do away with the PDP’s ignominious past and re-elect the President Buhari-led APC administration, which has ushered in a new era of progressive growth for our country.
“With the ruling of the Supreme Court, which has finally affirmed President Buhari’s election victory, we enjoin the PDP and Atiku to jettison their destructive and disruptive agenda against Nigeria, which they have made up their minds to pursue for the next four years.
The Osun State Governor, Adegboyega Oyetola, in a statement by his Chief Press Secretary, Ismail Omipidan, also congratulated Buhari.
Accept defeat in good faith, Gbajabiamila urges Atiku
But the Speaker of the House of Representatives, Femi Gbajabiamila, described Buhari’s victory at the Supreme Court as a victory for democracy.
He stated, “I want to urge Mr Atiku Abubakar, who has put to the test our justice delivery system by contesting the election result from the lowest to the highest court, and the PDP to accept the judgment in good faith and in the spirit of sportsmanship and help the government in building a strong, prosperous and united Nigeria.”
Tinubu hails verdict
A national leader of the APC, Asiwaju Bola Tinubu, described Buhari’s victory as well-deserved.
The former Lagos State governor in a statement, said the PDP and its former presidential candidate should now channel the energy and intellect deployed in the electoral and legal processes toward joining APC “to move this nation more rapidly and assuredly forward.”
Ambode congratulates Buhari
A former governor of Lagos State, Mr. Akinwunmi Ambode, congratulated the President on his victory at the Supreme Court.
Ambode, in a statement by his media aide, Habib Aruna, said the judgment was a validation of the second term mandate of the people given to Buhari.
Northern governors congratulate Buhari
Also, the Northern Governors’ Forum congratulated the President. In a statement on Wednesday, the Chairman of the forum and Plateau State Governor, Simon Lalong, said the news of the verdict did not come as a surprise.