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Why We Dismissed Atiku, Obi’s Cases – Tribunal

September 7, 2023

The Presidential Election Petition Court yesterday upheld the election of President Bola Ahmed Tinubu of the All Progressives Congress (APC) after dismissing the petitions of…

The Presidential Election Petition Court yesterday upheld the election of President Bola Ahmed Tinubu of the All Progressives Congress (APC) after dismissing the petitions of Atiku Abubakar (Peoples Democratic Party), Peter Obi (Labour Party) and Chichi Ojei (Allied Peoples Movement). 

The five-member panel of justices presided by Justice Haruna Tsammani declared that Tinubu was duly elected.

The justices, in their ruling, which was unanimous and lasted for over 12 hours, said there were serious gaps in the three petitions before the court.

“All the petitions are devoid of merit and are hereby dismissed,” they ruled.

The Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) had, on March 1, declared Tinubu winner of the election with 8,794,726 votes as against 6,984,520 by Atiku and 6, 101,533 by Obi.

The tribunal resolved key issues such as majority of lawful votes, two-third of the votes cast and the FCT, $460,000 forfeiture, double nomination of Shettima, dual citizenship and non-transmission of results.

Earlier, the court had consolidated Atiku, Obi and Ojei’s petitions.

Atiku, Obi failed to prove they scored majority of lawful votes

The panel ruled that Atiku and Obi failed to specify how they scored the majority of lawful votes in the February 25 presidential election.

Rulings on various aspects of the prayers by the petitioners were read by the justices.

In the lead judgement read by Justice Moses Ugo, the panel said PDP failed to name places where the ballot boxes were snatched, how the BVAS machines were manipulated and the affected polling units where the alleged malpractices took place.

Similarly, Justice Tsammani held that PDP’s allegations of violence, ballot box snatching did not provide videos or evidence, adding that the allegations were criminal and ought to be proved beyond reasonable doubt.

In a similar judgement, Justice Abba Bello Mohammed held that the LP, in its petition, made generic allegations of irregularities, suppression of votes and corrupt practices to rob them of their votes in 18, 088 polling units in states like Rivers, Benue, Lagos, Taraba and Oyo; but failed to specify the polling units affected.

He agreed with the APC and Tinubu that the claim was non-specific, nebulous, vague and speculative.

Justice Mohammed further held that LP also failed to prove the allegations of over-voting against the APC in Oyo, Ekiti and Yobe where they held that the number of votes were more than the numbers accredited by BVAS.

Justice Misitura Bolaji-Yusuf said LP failed to gather sufficient evidence to prosecute its petition, but was fixated on the belief that it won the election and threats on social media.

The panel said the European Union Observer Mission and the ECOWAS reports lacked evidential value to the PDP and LP petitions.

No case on two-third of votes and FCT

The court also dismissed the ground of the PDP and LP that two-third of votes in 24 states of the federation and the FCT was a requirement to be declared winner of the presidential election.

The panel presided by Justice Tsammani held that the FCT would be treated as though it were one of the states of the federation.

He said the provision of Section 134(2)(b) and Section 299 of the Nigerian Constitution intends that in calculating the two-third of the states of the federation, the FCT would be treated as though it were one of the states.

“If the candidate scores 25 per cent or a quarter of the votes of the 37 states of the federation, FCT inclusive, the presidential candidate shall be deemed to have been duly elected even if he fails to score 25 per cent of the votes in the FCT as the votes of the second respondent (Tinubu),” he said.

The court also dismissed the ground by Obi and LP seeking to disqualify Tinubu over the forfeiture of the sum of $460,000 in a US court on narcotic and money laundering-related matters.

Ruling on that ground of the petition, Justice Tsammani held that the petitioners “evidently failed” to establish the conviction of Tinubu in Section 137(1)(d) of the Nigerian Constitution.

He held that the petitioners failed to prove that the allegation at the United States District Court, Northern District of Illinois, Eastern Division wherein Tinubu was ordered to forfeit $460,000, was a criminal case.

He added that Tinubu was not arraigned, did not take a plea and there was no sentence of imprisonment imposed on him but had a “judgment in rem.”

Double nomination case dismissed

The court dismissed the petition of the APM and the LP challenging the qualification of President Tinubu and Vice President Shettima over double nomination as a pre-election matter.

Reading the lead judgment on Wednesday, Justice Tsammani held that the issues brought before the tribunal were pre-election matters, which ought to have been at a high court.

He added that the timeframe of 180 days within which to determine the issue had elapsed.

“In Alhassan and others versus Ishaku and others, it was held (Supreme Court) that an election tribunal has no jurisdiction on the primary of a political party,” he said.

He said the matters of qualification and disqualification are guided by the provisions of sections 131 and 137(1)(a)(j) of the Nigerian Constitution.

He held that the issue complained of was an internal affair of a political party.

The panel said the decision it made, and that of the Supreme Court on May 26, applied to the other petitions.

The APM had contended that Tinubu and Shettima were not validly nominated to contest the February 25.

They argued that by the combined reading of sections 131(c) and 142(2) of the Nigerian Constitution, 1999 and Section 133 of the Electoral Act made them to invalid.

They contended that when Kabiru Masari announced his withdrawal as an APC placeholder on June 24, 2022 to the date Shettima’s name was submitted, he was still the APC candidate of the Borno Central Senatorial District, was forwarded to INEC on July 14, 2022 and it was 21 days, which breached Section 33 of the Electoral Act, 2022, which provides for 14 days for the replacement of a candidate for an election.

INEC can’t be forced to transmit results electronically

The court also ruled that there is no provision in the Electoral Act, INEC Manual and Regulations that specifically provides for electronic transmission of results.

Ruling on that ground of the petitions of PDP and LP challenging the INEC non-compliance on the transfer of results from BVAS to IREV, Justice Haruna Tsammani held that INEC Regulation 92 provides for different levels of collation of the results.

He said Section 47 of the Electoral Act, 2022 mandates the presiding officer to use the smart card reader or any other technology to transmit results but was not specific on the technology.

He cited the judgements of the Federal High Court in Abuja and the Court of Appeal in Lagos between LP and INEC as tendered by the APC and Tinubu, which held that INEC has the discretion on how best to transmit its result, were binding having not been appealed against by the LP.

He said none of the witnesses gave evidence to show that the elections were not counted and announced as provided by law but only that they couldn’t transmit from the polling units.

PDP and LP had argued that INEC deliberately disabled its IREV transmission to enable it manipulate the results in favour of Tinubu.

Dual citizenship case not part of pleadings

The court also dismissed the case of Atiku alleging that dual citizenship and drug conviction against Tinubu were new issues not included in his pleadings.

Justice Moses Ugo held that the issue cannot be brought under non-qualification of Tinubu.

Atiku had in his reply to Tinubu submitted that he was constitutionally disabled from contesting for the office of President of Federal Republic of Nigeria because he forfeited the sum of $460,000 in a compromise agreement for narcotics related crime (proceeds of crime) in the United States District Court, Northern District of Illinois Eastern Division.

Atiku also claimed that Tinubu failed to disclose in his form EC9 that he holds dual citizenship of Nigeria and Guinea, having voluntarily acquired the citizenship of the Republic of Guinea.

APC lacks locus on Obi’s membership of LP

The court also held that the APC lacked the locus standi to challenge Peter Obi’s membership of the LP.

APC and Bola Tinubu had in their petitions argued that Obi’s name was not contained in the list of LP members forwarded to INEC on April 25, 2022 and breached Section 77 of the Electoral Act, 2022.

But in the lead judgement on the objections by the APC against the petitions of Obi and the LP, Justice Abba Bello Mohammed held that the matter was solely an internal affair of the political party.

“It is only the second respondent (LP) that has the sole prerogative of determining those who are its members,” he said.

Justice Mohammed also dismissed APC’s objection on the non-joinder of PDP presidential candidate, Atiku Abubakar in Obi and LP’s petition challenging the results of the election for him (Atiku) not being a necessary party in the petition.

The court struck out the evidence of 10 witnesses of the LP filed against the provisions of the law.

Reading the main judgement in the petition filed by Peter Obi and the LP, Justice Tsammani held that the witness’ statements were incompetent having been made in breach of the First Schedule of the Electoral Act, 2022.

The justice held that three of the witnesses called by LP: Professor Eric Ofoedu of the Nnamdi Azikiwe University, Awka (PW 4); Ijeoma Osamor of the AIT (PW7); and Clarita Ogar of Amazon Web Services (PW 8) were inadmissible in evidence.

He explained that Ofoedu admitted in evidence that he was hired and began work before the election.

He added that Osamor admitted in evidence that the video recordings of INEC chairman, Professor Mahmoud Yakubu were downloaded online.

Justice Tsammani held that Ogar admitted to being an interested party in the petition as a House of Representative candidate of the LP, adding that she also admitted to attending the court hearings as a witness, against the rules of the court.

VP Shettima leads 6 govs to tribunal

Vice President Shettima and governors of Bauchi, Bala Mohammed, Ekiti, Biodun Oyebanji; Imo, Hope Uzodinma; Kogi, Yahaya Bello; Nasarawa, Abdullahi Sule and Yobe, Mai Mala Buni attended the Presidential Election Petitions Court’s judgment on Wednesday.

Others who were at the court are the national chairmen of the APC, Abdullahi Ganduje; PDP acting chairman, Umar Damagum; and his LP counterpart, Julius Abure.

Tinubu calls for collective efforts to build Nigeria

In his reaction to the judgment, President Tinubu called for collective efforts to build the nation.

The president, in a statement by his spokesman, Ajuri Ngelale, welcomed the judgement of the tribunal with a sense of responsibility and preparedness to serve all Nigerians, irrespective of all diverse political persuasions, faiths, and tribal identities.

Tinubu, who assured Nigerians of his renewed and energised focus on delivering his vision of a unified, peaceful and prosperous nation, recognised the diligence, undaunted thoroughness, and professionalism of the five-member bench, led by Justice Haruna Tsammani in interpreting the law.

He said his commitment to the rule of law, and “The unhindered discharge of duties” by the tribunal, as witnessed in the panel’s exclusive respect for the merits of the petitions brought forward, further reflected the continuing maturation of Nigeria’s legal system, and the advancement of Africa’s largest democracy at a time when our democratic system of government is under test in other parts of the continent.

Tinubu expressed belief that the presidential candidates and political parties that had “Lawfully exercised their rights by participating in the 2023 general elections and the judicial process, which followed, had affirmed Nigeria’s democratic credentials.”

He urged his valiant challengers to inspire their supporters in the trust that the spirit of patriotism will now and forever be elevated above partisan considerations, manifesting into support for our government to improve the livelihood of all Nigerians.

He thanked Nigerians for the mandate given to him to serve our country while promising to meet and exceed their expectations, by the grace of God Almighty, and through very diligent hard work with the team that has been put in place for that sole purpose.

Democracy, people have won – Buhari

Former President Muhammadu Buhari expressed his happiness with the tribunal’s ruling.

Buhari, in a statement by his media aide, Garba Shehu, said the PEPC had “written history” by spurning intimidation and all manner of prejudice to deliver justice according to law to a majority of citizens whose wish was that the choices they made were respected.

“If anybody has won today, it is the democracy and the people,” adding “With the verdict of the Supreme Court, the election period is over and it is time to put the heat and dust behind us. From here, the new APC administration led by Asiwaju Bola Ahmed Tinubu should get the support of everyone in order to deliver the promises it made to the people.”

Buhari also expressed his appreciation to all citizens for maintaining peace throughout this period and prayed for continued progress and development under the APC government.

PDP rejects verdict

The PDP rejected the judgement, saying it was against the relevant laws and the constitution of the country.

Its National Publicity Secretary, Debo Ologunagba, said the party would soon undertake a comprehensive review of the process and will decide its next line of action.

“As a party, we have had an initial review of the judgement as delivered by the PEPC and we unequivocally reject the said Judgement in its entirety.

“The Judgement is against reason, against the facts and evidence presented in court; against the relevant electoral laws, guidelines and regulations as well as the constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria, 1999 (as amended). Indeed, the Judgment is generous in technicalities and very short in delivering substantial justice in the matter.”

Labour Party too

The Labour Party (LP) also expressed dismay and trepidation over the dismissal of Obi’s petitions by the five-man panel of the Presidential Election Petition Court.

The National Publicity Secretary of LP, Obiora Ifoh, in a statement, said that the party rejected the outcome of the judgement in its entirety because justice was not served and it did not reflect the law and the desire of the people.

“Nigerians were witnesses to the electoral robbery that took place on February 25, 2023, which was globally condemned but the Tribunal in its wisdom refused to accept the obvious.

“What is at stake is democracy and we will not relent until the people’s will prevail.

“We salute the doggedness of our team of lawyers who fearlessly exposed the wrath in our system. We can only weep for democracy in Nigeria but we refuse to give up on Nigeria,” Ifoh said.

He said that details of the party’s position would be presented after consultation with their lawyers after the certified true copy of the judgement was made available to the party.

APC hails judiciary, asks PDP, LP, others to accept verdict

APC National Chairman, Abdullahi Umar Ganduje commended the presidential election petition tribunal for upholding Tinubu’s election.

In a statement he personally signed, he described the judgement as thorough, saying it addressed all the issues raised by the petitioners.

Judgement reaffirms Nigerians’ choice of Tinubu–Barau

Deputy Senate President Barau Jibrin, in a statement by his Special Adviser on Media, Ismail Mudashir, said the tribunal’s judgement had reaffirmed the choice of Nigerians on Tinubu.

While urging all to accept the outcome of the tribunal, Barau said, “Now, it is time for all to team up with the president to turn around the fortunes of the country positively for the benefit of all,’’ Barau said.

Judgement difficult to fault– Yadudu

A senior constitutional lawyer, Professor Auwalu Yadudu, said the tribunal’s was explicit and detailed enough making it difficult to fault any aspect of it.

Yadudu, a former legal adviser to late Head of State, General Sani Abacha, told Daily Trust in a phone interview that he, however, did not think this would stop the petitioners from appealing against the decision though he did not see their appeal yielding a different result.

Speaking specifically on the tribunal’s decision as regards the issue of FCT, Yadudu said it was never an issue that should have received any serious attention by the petitioners’ legal team.

“You know the whole thing started with the comment of the VP candidate of Labour Party, who is not a legal practitioner and it was amplified by social media warriors and I felt they (legal team) just wanted to test the waters with it”, he said, adding that it was never in the minds of the framers of the Constitution for the FCT to be treated as a super entity with a superior status compared with other states and in view of that, the interpretation by the tribunal was apt in the sense that the FCT should only be read along with the 36 states, which then means the winner must satisfy the 2/3rd requirement in 37 entities if FCT is considered as a state.

He said the tribunal was very sound with their explanations and reasons to support this position and thus he expect that this should put the matter of FCT to rest in the context of determining the winner of the presidential election, adding that he does not expect that even this ground would get a different attention at the apex court if it is a subject of appeal.

On the alleged double nomination of VP Shettima, Yadudu said the tribunal was correct in holding that the matter was a pre-election matter and as such only a candidate that participated in the party’s primary could have challenged this, thereby rendering the LP as a stranger.

Yadudu said he agrees with the tribunal that forfeiture is not the same as conviction, saying in the US where the said forfeiture happened as it is in Nigeria, a conviction can only be arrived at after a defendant is arraigned, tried and found guilty.

He said Section 137 (e) of the 1999 Constitution also provides that a candidate shall not be qualified to the office of President … if within a period of 10 years before the election he has been convicted and sentenced for an offence involving dishonesty.

Yadudu said looking at this provision, even if the forfeiture was being argued as a conviction, it wouldn’t have been sufficient to disqualify Tinubu as the time frame had exceeded what the Constitution provides as a disqualification for a candidate.

On what the judgment means for the constitution, the judiciary and Nigerian polity, the senior lawyer cum law lecturer said to be fair to the judiciary, the tribunal has laid out their arguments in a lucid way on how and why the petitioners have not proven their case based on the evidence before it and as such those quick to accuse the judiciary “are unfair on them”.

Referring to the trending “All Eyes on Judiciary” catchphrase before the decision, Yadudu said “The tribunal could not be said to have been found wanting. They did their best based on the evidence presented before them even if social media warriors see it differently.”

He said it would have been best if the petitioners had taken the path of former President Goodluck Jonathan in conceding defeat looking at how they were defeated, but while this and the decision of the tribunal would not preclude appeal and future losers challenging the election results, it behoves on all to respect the decision of the judiciary and allow the rule of law to take its course.

INEC fought petitioners to standstill—Adegboruwa

Ebun-Olu Adegboruwa, SAN, in a chat with Daily Trust, said INEC largely created the grounds for why most of the petitions failed at the tribunal.

He said the judgement was not totally unexpected, given the stark realities facing us as a nation and the state of the law.

According to him, the principles of presumption of regularity of elections and that of substantial conformity make it extremely difficult to prosecute elections successfully.

“In this particular case, the burden placed upon the petitioners in order to upturn the election was practically insurmountable. To make matters worse, INEC practically fought the petitioners to a standstill, as if it was an interested party in the whole process.

“I honestly don’t think anyone expected a different verdict from what was delivered in Abuja today, particularly the lawyers. The tension was completely unnecessary.

“This is why we emphasise always that the focus of anyone hoping to birth a true change in our electoral history should be on the electoral umpire. Without first unbundling INEC to make it more independent, non-partisan and effective, anyone declared ‘winner’ will most often coast to victory in the election tribunal.

 

“Today’s verdict should be a reason for sober reflection by all, especially for the parties in court, their lawyers and all lovers of democracy. The petitions could have been decided purely on points of law and within a few days of the election”.

Adegboruwa said there could be no real victory in the resolution of the legal issues by the court when the fabric of democratic engagements seems to have been hijacked and compromised.

“Part of the lesson in this process is for us to go back and review the electoral process and the litigations following it. INEC as it is presently constituted cannot birth any credible election in Nigeria.

“In all, maybe there was too much expectation that the status quo will be upturned, whereas many of the principles of law canvased had long been settled by the apex court.

“While encouraging all parties to continue in towing the paths already defined by law for the ventilation of grievances, we owe Nigeria an urgent duty to dismantle INEC, urgently.”

 

Daily Trust

 

 

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