By Bukola Olasanmi
Tension has begun to rise as the Presidential Tribunal sitting Abuja will any moment from now deliver judgement in the petition filed by the presidential candidate of the Peoples Democratic Party, (PDP), Atiku Abubakar and his party against in the February 23 general election challenging the victory of President Muhammadu Buhari of the All Progressives Congress (APC).
The electoral body had on February 27, declared Buhari and his party as the winner of the election, having polled a total of 15,191,847 votes to defeat his closest rival, Atiku of the PDP who it said polled a total of 11,262,978 votes. It was based on this that Atiku and his party had approached the Tribunal to challenge election on ground that the result released by Independent National Electoral Commission (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 to the INEC server electronically. It was also their contention that Buhari did not possess the relevant academic qualification to contest the election. Joined as Respondents are the 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 election. The petitioner also contended that the presidential election on which the INEC declared Buhari as the winner was invalid as it was marred by corruption.
In addition, the petitioner alleged in the petition submitted that the election of Buhari is invalid, having not complied with the provisions of the Electoral Act. Also the petitioner submitted that Buhari was not at the time of the election qualified to contest, having submitted a fake academic qualification to the electoral body and the petitioner in his reliefs is therefore praying the tribunal to declare that Buhari is not duly elected and ought not to have been returned and that the election is null and void.
He also prayed the that he (Atiku) be declared as the validly elected winner of the election having polled the highest number of votes as provided by the Electoral Act, even as he is praying for an order of the tribunal to direct INEC to issue a certificate of return to him, having been validly elected by the majority of votes cast on February 23. In the alternative, the petitioner is praying the tribunal to nullify the February 23 election and order a fresh presidential election.
Opposing the petition, Buhari and the APC challenged the competence of the petitions.
Their main contention was that Atiku did not have locus-standi to even participate in the Presidential poll. Buhari had, however, described Atiku as a serial loser, boasting that he had always defeated him in every electoral contest that they took part in.
President Buhari insisted that electorated always chose him ahead of Atiku in both inter-party or intra-party contests, using the 2014 presidential primaries of the APC, as an instance.
In addition, Buhari, queried the powers of the tribunal to nullify his election victory at the poll, contending that the joint petition Atiku and the PDP entered against him 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”. They 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 the issues, among which included 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. APC 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.
However, at the end of the hearing, the Petitioners called 62 witnesses, 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 with irregularities.
In his final written address, the Petitioners had strongly alleged that Buhari used fundamental falsehood to secure clearance from the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) to participate in the poll.
He insisted that Buhari, as candidate of the APC lied on oath in his form CF001 presented to INEC before standing for the presidential election.
In the final address presented on his behalf by his lead counsel, Dr Levy Uzuokwu (SAN), Atiku drew the attention of the Tribunal to a portion of his INEC form where he claimed to have three different certificates; comprising Primary School leaving certificate, WAEC certificate and Officers Cadet certificate.
The petitioners 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.
“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 Buhari lied on oath to deceive Nigerians and to secure unlawful qualification for the election.
The former Vice President informed the tribunal that the claim of Buhari that he can read and write in English language as enough qualification for him was of no moment 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 the claim of INEC that it has no central server, adding that server is a storage facility including computer where database of registered voters, number of permanent voter card 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’s lawyer in his final address debunked the claim of INEC that collation and transmission of results electronically was prohibited by law in Nigeria.
He asserted that by 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.
However, INEC, represented by Yunus Usman (SAN), 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 and urged the tribunal to dismiss the petition.
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.
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 I’ll 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 attached 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 Prince Lateef Fagbemi (SAN), in his 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.
However the Tribunal Chairman, Justice Garba Umar after taken submissions from all parties announced that judgment in the petition has been reserved and that the date for its delivery would be communicated to parties.