Tribunal’s verdict on 2019 presidential poll: Facts, law and logic

On February 27, this year, the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) declared the flagbearer of the All Progressive Congress (APC), General Muhammadu Buhari winner of the presidential election which held nationwide on February 23, 2019.

The Returning Officer for the 2019 Presidential elections and INEC Chairman, Prof Mahmood Yakubu said he declared Buhari winner of the poll having scored the highest number of lawful votes as required by section 134(2) of the 1999 Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria.

Buhari had polled 15,191,847 votes to defeat 72 other candidates including his closest rival and candidate of the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP), Alhaji Atiku Abubakar who garnered 11,262,978 votes.

As soon as INEC announced the results, few political parties and their candidates rejected the results and vowed to contest it in court.

For instance, Atiku and his party accused INEC of rigging the election in favour of Buhari and his party, the APC.

According to them, evidence obtained from the INEC’s central server revealed that they and not Buhari and APC won the February 23 presidential election.

PDP, Atiku storm Tribunal, make case against Buhari’s election

It was not surprising when the PDP and its candidate, Alh Atiku Abubakar approached the Presidential Election Petition Tribunal sitting in Abuja on March 18, 2019, with a joint petition to invalidate the electoral victory of President Buhari.

Three other political parties and their presidential candidates also filed petition against Buhari’s victory at the poll including Chief Ambrose Owuru and his party, Hope Democratic Party (HDP), Jeff Ojinka, and his party, Coalition for Change (C4C) and Pastor Aminchi Habu and his party, Peoples Democratic Movement (PDM).

While the C4C and PDM withdrew their petitions against Buhari, the petition of the HDP was pursued to conclusion.

It has since been dismissed by the tribunal for being incompetent and lacking in merit.

In the joint petition filed by the PDP and Atiku Abubakar, they prayed the tribunal to sack President Muhammad Buhari from office and declare Alhaji Atiku Abubakar of the PDP the winner of the February 23, 2019 presidential election.

They contended that President Buhari’s electoral victory should be upturned because he was not qualified to contest the February 23, 2019 presidential election by reason of his academic qualifications; that he purportedly lied on oath regarding his qualifications for the said election and that he did not score the highest number of lawful votes cast at the election.

In the event the tribunal is unwilling to upturn Buhari’s victory and declare Atiku as president, they urged the court to nullify the entire results of the presidential poll and order a fresh election.

In the petition, they named INEC, Muhammadu Buhari and the All Progressive Congress (APC) as first, second and third respondents respectively.

Buhari, APC, INEC kick

Soon after the PDP and Atiku served the petition on the three respondents—INEC, Buhari and APC, they responded by filing separate preliminary objections to challenge the competence of the petition and the jurisdiction of the court to hear the case as constituted.

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They had argued that the petitioner made serious criminal allegations against some individuals and corporate institutions regarding the conduct and outcome of the election but that they were not joined in the suit.

They argued that the tribunal needed not waste its time going into the merits of the case as the petition was incompetent and therefore liable to fail.

They therefore urged the tribunal to decide their objection to the petition, saying they would be willing to join issues with the petitioner in the event their objections did not succeed.

But the tribunal overruled them and held that it would give a composite hearing and judgment on both the objections and the substantive case.

The tribunal thereafter ordered parties in the case to file their briefs.

After the preliminaries, full blown hearing of the petition commenced on July 4, 2019 when both PDP and Atiku opened their case. They called a total of 62 witnesses and closed their case on July 19, 2019.

When INEC, the first respondent was called upon to defend the petition, its legal team headed by Mallam Yunus Ustaz Usman (SAN), said it would not call any witness.

The commission said there was no need to call any witness because the evidence of the petitioners’ (PDP and Atiku) witnesses were in favour of its case and strong enough because the evidence proffered supports its defector rely as its major defence.

On July 30, 2019, Buhari opened his defence. He was represented by a consortium of lawyers led by one-time President of the Nigerian Bar Association (NBA), Chief Wole Olanipekun (SAN).

He called seven witnesses in support of his defence and closed his case on August 1, 2019.

As soon as Buhari rounded off, APC like INEC, shocked the tribunal when it also announced that it would not call a single witness in the case but would rely on the testimonies of the witnesses called by Atiku and PDP to defend the petition.

After they were done, the tribunal ordered them to file and exchange their final written addresses and fixed August 21 for them to adopt the briefs.

All the parties complied as Dr Uzoukwu (SAN) in Atiku, PDP’s joint written address formulated five issues for determination. On its part, INEC formulated four issues for determination; Buhari through his counsel, Wole Olanipekun (SAN) formulated three issues for determination while APC through Fagbemi (SAN) formulated six issues for determination.

Our case against Buhari, others—Atiku

In their 43-page final address filed on August 14, through their lead counsel, Dr Livy Uzoukwu SAN, Atiku and PDP formulated five issues for determination including:

·         Whether Buhari was at the time of the election not qualified to contest the election

·         Whether Buhari submitted to INEC affidavit containing false information of a fundamental nature in aid of his qualification for the said election

·         Whether from the pleadings and evidence led, it was established that Buhari was duly elected by majority of lawful votes cast at the election

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·         Whether the presidential election conducted by INEC on February 23, 2019 was invalid by reason of corrupt practices

·         Whether the presidential election conducted by INEC on February 23, 2019 was invalid by reason of non-compliance with the Electoral Act 2010 (As Amended) and the Electoral Guidelines 2019 and manuals issued for the conduct of the election.

On issue one, PDP and Atiku submitted that they have established, in the course of the proceedings, the fact that Buhari did not possess the requisite academic qualification for the position of President of Nigeria.

The petitioners argued that Buhari’s own witnesses under cross examination admitted to the fact that Buhari did not possess a school certificate, being the basic requirements for contesting for the office of the president.

“We therefore submit that all the purported evidence led by the 2nd respondent (Buhari) to prove that he attended a secondary school or a primary school or that he attended some courses, is irrelevant because he did not rely on any of those purported qualifications in exhibit P1, he relied on primary school certificate, WASC and Officer Cadet.

“Equally futile is his attempt to prove that he can speak and write in the English language. That is all irrelevant to his inability to produce his primary school certifcate, secondary school certifcate or WASC and his Officer Cadet qualification, whatever that means.

“Officer Cadet is not a qualification or certificate under the Constitution and Electoral Act; nor is it known to any law.

On the purported Cambridge University certificate tendered by Buhari before the tribunal, the petitioners asked why “it was easier for Buhari to go all the way to Cambridge in the United Kingdom to obtain a bogus documents that his own witnesses said was not a certificate, instead of just driving down the street in Abuja to the Army Headquarters or placing a phone call to the Secretary of the Military Board in Abuja to hurry over with his certificate or certificates.”

Still on the Cambridge University documents, the petitioners submitted that, “A comparison of the purported Cambridge Assessment International Education Certifying Statement of the purported West African Examination Council (WAEC) certificate and a certified true copy of the purported confidential result sheet of the University of Cambridge West African School Certificate of 1961 for the Provincial Secondary School, Katsina reveals many discrepancies in the supposed result.

“One listed 8 subjects that the candidate therein mentioned one ‘Mohamed Buhari’ allegedly sat for, the other 6 subjects, both documents are therefore unreliable as both cannot be correct. The contradiction must count against the 2nd respondent.

On issue two, PDP and Atiku again submitted that another false claim by Buhari was that he swore to an affidavit that he attended, “Elementary School, Daura and Mai Aduwa 1948-52”.

“Elementary School Daura is totally different from Mai Aduwa, their locations are totally different.”

He also claimed he entered Middle School Katsina in 1953, however, the petitioners submitted that by 1953, the Middle School system had been abolished in the northern region of Nigeria.

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On the claim  in his affidavit that his certificates were with the military, the petitioners submitted that Buhari failed woefully to prove the claim, “rather the petitioners’ evidence to the contrary was not contested nor challenged.

It was also argued by the petitioners that they had successfully proved that the Nigerian Army had denied being in possession of Buhari’s alleged certifcates.

“One of the strongest evidence on the issue was given by the second respondent’s own witness, RW1, General Paul Tafa, (Rtd), who under cross examination by the 1st respondent (INEC), told the court firmly and unequivocally that the Army did not collect the certificates of military Officers and added, ‘there was no such thing”.

On issue four pertaining to rigging and non-compliance with the Electoral Act 2010, the petitioners said with the plethora of evidence tendered and witnesses called, they have been able to show to the tribunal that Buhari’s election was invalid.

They added that analysis of results from 11 states showed how INEC in connivance with Buhari and the All Progressives Congress (APC) wrongly and unlawfully credited Buhari with votes not valid or lawful.

According to them documents tendered before the tribunal showed huge discrepancies between collated results as contained in the tendered Certified True Copies of forms EC8A and polling units.

They further alleged that a total of 2,906,384 votes were cancelled across the country, while 2,698,773 Nigerians were disenfranchised.

They said the two figures when added exceeded the 3,928,869 differential between the votes as stated in INEC form EC8E.

In addition, they said they have led evidence to show that INEC violated its own regulations and guidelines with respect to mandatory use of the smart card reader in the process of accreditation which according to them occasioned over voting thereby rendering the election null and void.

They therefore prayed the tribunal to grant all the reliefs sought for in their petition.

Buhari’s Defence

Buhari in the final written address settled by his lead counsel, Chief Wole Olanipekun SAN, dated and filed August 7, 2019, submitted that there are just three major issues for determination by the court including:

·         Whether the petitioners have been able to make any case that Buhari was not qualified to contest the February 23 presidential election and or submitted false information to INEC in his form CF001

·         Whether the Petitioners have not woefully failed to prove any of the allegations of non-compliance with the provisions of the Electoral Act, corrupt practices and that Buhari was not duly elected by majority of lawful votes cast at the presidential election held on February 23, 2019 and

·         Whether the court can decree that Atiku was duly and validly elected as president of the Federal Republic of Nigeria at the presidential election held on February 23, 2019.”

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