Nigeria: Buhari, Atiku Know Fate As Tribunal Rules Today

Abubakar Atiku, 2019 presidential candidate for PDP and President Muhammadu Buhari of the APC
11 September 2019

The Presidential Election Petitions Tribunal (PEPT) will today deliver judgment in the petition by the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) and its presidential candidate, Atiku Abubakar, challenging the outcome of the February 23 election.

Information about the date for the judgment was made public in a statement by the Director of Information of the Court of Appeal, Sa'adatu Musa on Tuesday.

Atiku and PDP have been challenging the declaration by the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) of the APC and Buhari as winner of the election with 15,191,846 as against their 11, 262,978.

Atiku and PDP first brought a pre-action application to inspect the materials used for the election on March 6, and filed the main petition on March 18.

INEC, Buhari and APC responded by objecting to the petition. Both the main petition, the replies and final addresses ended on Wednesday, August 21 with 24 days left before the 180 days provided for election petitions under Section 134 (2) and (3) of the Electoral Act, 2010.

The President of the Court of Appeal, Justice Zainab Bulkachuwa, had to step down on May 22after the PDP and Atiku questioned her neutrality. She was replaced by Justice Garba who heads the Lagos Division of the Court of Appeal.

In the petition filed by his lawyers led by Levi Uzoukwu (SAN), Atiku and PDP sought the annulment of the election alleging that Buhari did not score majority of lawful votes, result did not tally with those obtained from INEC server; breaches, non-compliance and corrupt acts; and non-qualification.

To prove these allegations, Atiku and PDP called 62 witnesses and tendered 50, 000 documents and exhibits. Some of the witnesses included the national chairman of Reformed APC, Engr Buba Galadima and former Atiku campaign spokesman Segun Sowunmi.

Atiku said in the petition that INEC's Regulations and Guidelines for the Conduct of Elections, 2019 made pursuant to the Electoral Act, 2010 (as amended) provided for the mandatory use of card readers for the said election. He said result from INEC server obtained from INEC showed that he polled 18,356,732 to Buhari's 16,741,430 votes.

In support of this position, former Aviation Minister Osita Chidoka informed the tribunal that INEC consistently assured parties that the results would be electronically collated and transmitted through media statements by its chairman, Professor Mahmoud Yakubu and a release by a national commissioner, Festus Okoye before the election.

Kenyan ICT data analyst, David Ayu Njorga and his Nigerian counterpart, Joseph Gbenga testified that results were indeed collated and transmitted electronically using the smart card readers.

Atiku and PDP also stated that Buhari did not provide his academic qualification as required by law to contest the election as provided under of Section 31(2) of the Electoral Act.

"To be qualified, the second Respondent (Buhari) must produce his Primary School Certificate or Secondary School Certificate (WASC) or 'Officer Cadet' since those were the qualifications, he claimed in his Form CF001," Uzoukwu said.

Although, save for Buhari, who called seven witnesses, INEC and APC did not open defence in support of their objection to the petition after Atiku and PDP closed their case on July 19 in line with the prehearing agreement, the defence lawyers filed applications seeking to dismiss the petition.

Lead INEC counsel, Yunus Ustaz Usman (SAN) insisted that the Commission conducted the February 23 election in "total compliance with the Electoral Act and the petitioners can never dislodge that." He questioned the server result tendered by the petitioners which he said excluded the remaining 71 presidential candidates in its calculation of the final result.

Lead counsel to Buhari, Wole Olanipekun (SAN) asked the tribunal to dismiss the petition for being incompetent and added that by virtue of Section 31(5) and (6) of the Electoral Act, 2010 (as amended) the claim that he lacked the academic qualification can only be heard at the Federal High Court

Buhari also asked the tribunal to remove the result sheets tendered in respect of Yobe, 1,732; Kebbi 2,106; Borno 3,472; Kano 5,806; Bauchi 3,599; Katsina 3,378; Jigawa 3,162; Kaduna 3,335A; Zamfara eight, and Niger 1,797. He insisted that they "have failed in their attempt to stridently but erroneously prove their petitions."

Counsel to the APC, Lateef Fagbemi (SAN) asked the tribunal to dismiss the petition for being starved of evidence. He said the PDP and Atiku alleged electoral irregularities in 119,973 polling units in 8,809 wards in 774 local government areas but called only 62 witnesses out of which only five gave evidence from the polling units.

APC contended that Atiku, who was born in Jada, Adamawa State on November 25, 1946, is not a Nigerian but a Cameroonian in Northern Cameroon, which prior to 1919, was being administered by Germany and that following the defeat of Germany in World War 1, which ended in 1918. Cameroon became part of a League of Nations mandate territory which consisted of French Cameroon and British Cameroon in 1919.

APC further argued that in 1961, a plebiscite was held in British Cameroon to determine whether the people preferred to stay in Cameroon or align with Nigeria.

The tribunal had admitted a motion by Fagbemi on June 11 seeking the striking out of several paragraphs in Atiku's petition because they cannot be supported by law, after Atiku and PDP acting on the withdrawal of an earlier but similar motion withdrew their own counter affidavit but failed to file another before the lapse of seven days when APC re-filed same.

The petitioners challenged the decision to admit the motion without permitting them to bring their reply as well as the tribunal's refusal to grant them access to INEC server at the Supreme Court.

But a five-member panel of justices of the apex court on August 21 dismissed the appeals and referred them back to the tribunal.

The lead judgment by Justice Cletus Nweze held that setting aside the decisions of the tribunal on the matter would amount to preempting the main case.

APC expresses optimism

The National Publicity Secretary of the ruling All Progressives Congress APC, Malam Lanre Issa-Onilu, has voiced optimism about the outcome of Presidential Election Petitions Tribunal.

Issa-Onilu, when contacted on the expectations of the APC in view of the prayer session organised by the PDP, said, "It's prejudicial. But in any case, we can only thank the PDP for helping us to prove our case beyond reasonable doubt. We expect the tribunal to so deliver. I don't want to make a prejudicial comment."

The Buhari Media Organisation (BMO), in a statement signed by its Chairman Niyi Akinsiju and Secretary Cassidy Madueke, warned Nigerians to be mindful of the 'evil effects' of the assault on the image and integrity of senior judicial officers, especially members of the Presidential Election Petition Tribunal (PEPT).

The group called Nigerians' attention to alleged attacks, threats and intimidation against Justices sitting at the PEPT by the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) and its Presidential candidate in the last election, Alhaji Atiku Abubarkar.

"This is disrespectful, offensive and a clear assault on the rule of law."

PDP hopeful of justice at tribunal

Also, the Chairman of Board of Trustees (BoT) of the PDP, Senator Walid Jibrin has expressed optimism that the PDP and its presidential candidate would get victory at the tribunal today.

Senator Jibrin who spoke with our correspondent in a telephone interview yesterday said the essence of going to court was for justice to be served.

"We have gone to the tribunal with the aim of winning our case. We have tendered our evidence. So, we are waiting for the court to do what is right.

"We are expecting the court to be fair in its judgement and we are hopeful that the judges would do their best to deliver justice," he said.

Asked whether the PDP and Atiku would appeal the judgement if it didn't favour them, Senator Jibrin said, "The judgement will determine what the PDP would do. But we are hopeful, we are confident of winning."

Similarly, the Special Adviser to Atiku on Media, Paul Ibe told our correspondent yesterday in a telephone chat that Atiku's camp was hopeful and sure of victory.

"We are up to date and we are hopeful that justice would be served. This is not about Atiku, it is about Nigeria and Nigerians. It is about our future and the need to reset our destiny," he said.

The PDP National Chapel in Abuja has launched a prayer session asking God to give victory to the party and its presidential candidate, Atiku Abubakar at the tribunal today.

The Chapel which released a banner yesterday signed by the PDP National Chairman and Patron, Prince Uche Secondus, National Director of Publicity, Chinwe Nnorom and Pastor Josephine Ighocie-Ejeh said they were fighting the course through prayers.

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