24 October 2008

Nigeria: Presidential Election - Supreme Court Reserves Ruling Indefinitely

Abuja — The Supreme Court on Thursday reserved indefinitely judgment on the appeal filed by Muhammadu Buhari and Atiku Abubakar challenging the tribunal's verdict that President Umaru Yar'Adua won the election in April last year.

A full panel of the court presided over by Chief Justice Idris Kutigi told counsel that a judgment date would be communicated to them.

Buhari was the Presidential candidate of the All Nigeria Peoples Party (ANPP), Atiku campaigned on the platform of the Action Congress (AC). Yar'Adua is a member of the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP).

The appellants are asking the Supreme Court to set aside the decision of the tribunal.

Atiku, represented by his lawyer, Emeka Ngige, said the heavens would not fall if Yar'Adua's election is nullified. He urged the court to restrain the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) chaired by Maurice Iwu from conducting a rerun ballot that may be ordered.

"With the demonstrated level of desperation on the part of the Commission and the fifth respondent (Iwu) to exclude the first petitioner (Atiku) from contesting the Presidential election and the consequent perversion of the electoral process, this court should have no difficulty in nullifying the election.

"After all, several Governorship elections have been nullified by the tribunals and the Court of Appeal in several states, and the heavens have not fallen. Whichever way the April 21, 2007 Presidential election is appraised on the basis of evidence led by the petitioners, and the admissions made by the respondents in varying degrees, the election ought to be nullified.

"This court has a golden opportunity and responsibility to save Nigeria from going the way of Kenya and Zimbabwe following the outcome of greatly flawed elections," he argued.

Buhari's counsel, Mike Ahamba, claimed that result in the election were prepared before hand and arbitrarily assigned.

He added: "The result had not been announced in all the states before the INEC went ahead to declare Yar'Adua as the winner.

"We submit that apart from the proof of substantiality of the non-compliance with Section 45(2) of the Electoral Act, which is a finding of fact and a legal conclusion against which there is no appeal - and which is enough to invalidate the election - each of the other six non-compliances proved in the proceeding are capable of affecting the result of the election.

"This is because each of them is a safeguard provision designed to ensure substantial compliance with the principles of the Act which are fairness, neutrality, and legality.

"Each of the non-compliances cuts at the root of the validity of the electoral process, and is so very widespread, that each non-compliance has been shown to exist in at least 23 states specifically, and at least 29 generally.

"We submit that if all the (councils) and states affected are expunged, there will be less than eight states remaining intact, and upon which no return may be made."

However, Yar'Adua's counsel, Wole Olanipekun, countered that the two appellants failed to prove their allegation of the election not being in substantial compliance with the electoral laws.

He said the evidence produced by Buhari to prove that the election did not meet requirements amounted to nothing, because they needed the testimony of witnesses to have a life.

In his view, the Supreme Court lacks the power to grant the reliefs sought by Buhari, as they "must be in accordance with the Electoral Act. The reliefs asked for by the appellants are not grantable."

Counsel to the INEC, Kanu Agabi, said the non-compliance identified by the appellants was not enough to vitiate the election, adding that the appellants did not prove beyond reasonable doubt that the lapses in the balloting affected the outcome.

Buhari told reporters after the proceedings that he has confidence in the judiciary's ability to dispense justice, noting that the petition was better conducted than in 2007 when his appeal against former President Olusegun Obasanjo was heard for about 33 weeks.

Others who witnessed the proceedings included Atiku's running mate, Ben Obi; Governor Sule Lamido of Adamawa State; Minister of Culture and Tourism and National Orientation, Adetokunbo Kayode, Justice Minister, Michael Aondoaaka; Labour and Productivity Minister, Hassan Lawal and former Justice Minister, Musa Abdullahi Elayo.

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