The Presidential Election Petitions Tribunal sitting in Abuja will today deliver judgement in the petition filed by the presidential candidate of

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The Presidential Election Petitions Tribunal sitting in Abuja will today deliver judgement in the petition filed by the presidential candidate of the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP), Atiku Abubakar and his party against the victory of President Muhammadu Buhari of the All Progressives Congress (APC) in the February 23, 2019 election.

The secretariat of the tribunal located at the premises of the Court of Appeal, Abuja Division had yesterday indicated that the judgement will be delivered today by 9.00a.m.

The notice reads: “Presidential Election Tribunal: Please be informed, notice has been given for judgement to be delivered tomorrow (today) September 11, 2019, 9.00am.”

The Electoral Law had provided for the Tribunal to hear and determine the petition within 180 days. The time frame elapses on Sunday, September 15.

Justice Mohammed Garba, Chairman of the five-man panel of justices had stated that the judgement date would be communicated to parties.

The Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) had on February 27, declared Buhari and his party, the APC, as the winner of the presidential election, having polled a total of 15,191,847 votes to defeat his closest rival, Atiku, who it said polled a total of 11,262,978 votes.

Atiku, PDP’s petition

Not satisfied with the result, Atiku and his party had in a joint petition approached the Tribunal through their team of lawyers led by Dr. Livy Uzoukwu (SAN) to challenge the election on the ground that the result released by INEC was not the true position of the election.

It was the contention of the petitioners that they won the election, based on the results transmitted electronically to INEC’s server.

They also contended that Buhari did not possess the relevant academic qualification to contest the election. Joined as 1st to 3rd Respondents are: INEC, Buhari and the APC.

Atiku and his party in their petition marked CA/PEPC/002/2019 and filed on March 18 submitted that the APC candidate, Buhari, was not validly elected by the majority of votes cast across the country in the February 23 presidential election.

The petitioners also contended that the election was marred by corruption. In addition, the petitioners alleged that the election of Buhari is invalid, having not complied with the provisions of the Electoral Act.

Also the petitioners submitted that Buhari was not at the time of the election qualified to contest, having submitted a fake academic qualification to the electoral body.

Reliefs sought

The petitioners in their reliefs prayed the tribunal to declare that Buhari was not duly elected and ought not to have been returned and that the election is null and void.

They also prayed that Atiku be declared as the validly elected winner of the election having polled the highest number of votes as provided by the Electoral Act.

They also prayed for an order of the tribunal to direct INEC to issue a Certificate of Return to Atiku, having been validly elected by the majority of votes cast on February 23.

In the alternative, the petitioners prayed the tribunal to nullify the February 23 election and order a fresh presidential election.

Buhari, APC’s defence

Opposing the petition, Buhari and APC challenged its competence. Their main contention was that Atiku did not have locus standi to even participate in the presidential poll.

Buhari had described Atiku as a serial loser, boasting that he had always defeated him in every electoral contest that they took part in.

The President insisted that the electorate always chose him ahead of Atiku in inter-party or intra-party contests, citing the 2014 presidential primary election of the APC as an example.

In addition, Buhari queried the powers of the tribunal to nullify his victory at the poll, contending that the joint petition Atiku and the PDP filed was incompetent as it was based on conjectures.

He insisted that the reliefs the petitioners are seeking from the tribunal were “vague, nebulous and lacking in specificity.”

The President equally argued that most of the issues and grounds of the petition were not only “mutually exclusive,” but also outside the jurisdiction of the tribunal.

He further contended that by virtue of section 31(5) and (6) of the Electoral Act, 2010, as amended, only the Federal High Court or High Court of a State has jurisdiction to adjudicate on some of the issues, among which include the allegation that he was bereft of the requisite educational qualification.

The APC, in its own objection, alleged that Atiku is an alien, insisting that he is not a Nigerian by birth and therefore was not qualified to contest the February 23 presidential poll.

The party submitted that Atiku is a Cameroonian and that he was born on November 25, 1946 in Jada, Adamawa, in Northern Cameroon and is therefore a citizen of Cameroon and not a Nigerian by birth.

Witnesses

At the end of the hearing, the petitioners called 62 witnesses, the APC and INEC did not call any witness, while Buhari called on seven witnesses.

Part of the evidence of the petitioners’ witnesses were that INEC used electronic server to transmit results, that Buhari did not possess any academic qualification and that the election was marred by irregularities.

Petitioners’ written address

In their final written address, the petitioners strongly alleged that Buhari used fundamental falsehood to secure clearance from INEC to participate in the election.

They also insisted that Buhari, as candidate of the APC, lied on oath in his Form CF001 presented to INEC before standing for the presidential election.

The petitioners drew the attention of the Tribunal to a portion of Buhari’s INEC form, where he claimed to have three different certificates; comprising Primary School Leaving Certificate, WAEC certificate and Officers Cadet certificate.

The also said it was shocking and surprising that “no provisional certificate, no certified true copy of the certificates, no photocopy of certificates, and in fact, no electronic version of any of the certificates was presented by Buhari throughout the hearing of the petition to dispute the claim of the petitioners.

They added: “More worrisome is the fact that Buhari’s own witness, Major General Paul Tafa (rtd), who joined the Nigerian Army with him in 1962, told the tribunal that they were never asked to submit their certificates to the Nigerian Army Board as claimed by Buhari in his Form CF001.

“At any rate the Secretary of the Nigerian Army Board, Olatunde Olaleye, had in a statement, clarified that Buhari had no single certificate in his personal file with the Nigerian Army.”

Atiku therefore urged the tribunal to nullify the participation of Buhari in the election on the grounds that he lied on oath to deceive Nigerians and to secure unlawful qualification for the election.

The former Vice President informed the tribunal that Buhari’s claim that he can read and write in English language as enough qualification is not tenable because ordinary artisans on the streets of Nigeria can also do so, adding that a grave allegation bordering on certificate was not addressed by Buhari as required by law.

The PDP presidential candidate also faulted INEC’s claim that it has no central server, adding that server is a storage facility, including computer, where database of registered voters, number of Permanent Voters’ Cards and election results amongst others are stored for references.

He said the claim by INEC that it has no device like server to store information, “is laughable, tragic and a story for the dogs.” Atiku also debunked the claim of INEC that collation and transmission of results electronically was prohibited by law in Nigeria.

He asserted that by the Electoral Amendment Act of March 26, 2015, the use of electronics became law and was officially gazetted for the country, adding that section 9 of the Act, which made provision for electronic collation of results replaced section 52, which hitherto prohibited the use of electronics and which INEC erroneously held that electronic results transmission is prohibited.

He therefore urged the tribunal to uphold the petition and nullify the participation of Buhari in the election on the grounds that he was not qualified to have stood for the election in addition to malpractices that prompted his declaration as winner of the election.

INEC’s submission

Counsel to INEC, Yunus Usman (SAN), in his submission, urged the tribunal to dismiss the petition with substantial cost because the electoral body conducted the election in total compliance with the Nigerian Constitution and Electoral Act 2010.

Usman insisted that INEC did not transmit election results electronically because doing so is prohibited by law and that the commission did not call any witness because there was no need to do so.

Buhari, APC’s submission

In his defence, Buhari through his counsel, Chief Wole Olanipekun (SAN), argued that Atiku’s petition was liable to be dismissed because it is lacking in evidence, merit and substance and that the petition is ill advised and signified nothing.

Olanipekun cited section 131 of the Constitution, which stipulated a minimum of secondary school attendance to qualify for election in Nigeria, adding that Buhari cannot go beyond that and that he does not need to tender or attach his certificate before he can get qualification for any election.

He submitted that there was nothing in law to persuade the tribunal to nullify the February 23 presidential election as pleaded by Atiku and urged the tribunal to dismiss the petition with substantial cost.

The APC represented by Lateef Fagbemi (SAN), in its own submission, said the petition lacked quality evidence that could warrant the nullification of the election as pleaded by the petitioners and urged the tribunal to throw out the petition as long as its hand can do with huge cost.

The judiciary ‘trial’

New Telegraph recalls that the tribunal had earlier refused the petitioners’ application seeking to inspect the INEC server. The tribunal premised its reason for refusal on the ground that granting such will be pre-judicial. The Supreme Court had also on appeal refused the application.

However some stakeholders have opined that whatever the verdict of the tribunal is, it will go a long way to shape and determine the nation’s electoral jurisprudence, one way or the other.

According to them, the judgement will either renew or dampen the hope of the citizenry in the judiciary.

Pleading with the tribunal to live up to its expectation of delivering a judgement based on objectivity and fairness and which will make all parties in the suit not to have a bias mind against the judiciary, the stakeholders said: “Justice is for three parties namely – the petitioners, respondent and the public.”

No doubt, the country’s judiciary has been in the eye of the storm, however, its ability to deliver a just and fair verdict will restore the hope of the common man.

Nigerians have earlier commended the President of the Court of Appeal, Justice Zainab Bulkachuwa, who was the former chairman of the tribunal for recusing herself from the panel.

Justice Bulkachuwa’s action was premised on an application filed by the petitioners at the pre-hearing stage, wherein they (petitioners) alleged bias on the ground that Bulkachuwa’s husband and son are card carrying members of the APC.

They also alleged that Justice Bulkachuwa at the inaugural sitting of the panel stated that “no matter how free and fair an election is in Nigeria, there will always be a petition.”

Though the panel held that the petitioners could not prove the ingredients of bias against its chairman, Justice Bulkachuwa, however held that she would recuse herself on personal ground.

This act, to a greater extent, earned the panel a great deal of credibility and stakeholders saw it as a step towards objectivity and fairness. This optimism was further strengthened, when the incumbent chairman of the tribunal, Justice Mohammed Garba, assured all parties that they will be treated equally.

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