There is an undeniable tension, as the Presidential Election Petition Tribunal sitting in Abuja has fixed Wednesday to deliver judgement on the petition seeking to nullify President Muhammadu Buhari’s re-election.
The Justice Mohammed Garba-led five member panel tribunal had on August 21, reserved its verdict on the petition the opposition Peoples Democratic Party, PDP, and its candidate, Atiku Abubakar, lodged to challenge the outcome of the February 23 presidential election that was declared in favour of President Buhari and the ruling All Progressives Congress, APC.
The tribunal is mandated under section134 (1) to (3) of the Electoral Act, 2010, to determine the petition that was filed on March 18, within 180 days. The constitutionlly stipulated timeframe was due to elapse on Saturday, September 14, a development that fuelled speculations that the verdict could be delivered on Friday. However, lawyers in the matter, on Tuesday, confirmed to Vanguard that the tribunal has notified all the parties that the judgement day is on Wednesday. It will be recalled that the Independent National Electoral Commission, INEC, had on February 27, declared that Buhari won the presidential contest with 15,191,847 votes to defeat his closest rival, Atiku, who it said polled a total of 11,262,978 votes.
However, in their joint petition marked CA/PEPC/002/2019, Atiku and his party, insisted that data they secured from INEC’s server, revealed that contrary to the result that was announced, they defeated President Buhari with over 1.6million votes The petitioners maintained that proper collation and summation of the presidential election results would show that contrary to what INEC declared, Atiku, garnered a total of 18,356,732 votes, ahead of Buhari who they said got a total of 16,741,430 votes.
They alleged that INEC had at various stages of the election, unlawful allocated votes to President Buhari, insisting that the announced result did not represent the lawful valid votes cast. Atiku and PDP further alleged that in some states, INEC deducted lawful votes that accrued to him, in its bid to ensure that Buhari was returned back to office.
Aside challenging the outcome of the election in 11 states of the federation, the petitioners, alleged that President Buhari lied about his educational qualifications in the Form CF 001 he submitted to INEC to contest the presidential poll.
Meanwhile, though the petitioners initially said they would produce 400 witnesses to prove their case, they however closed their case on July 19 after they called a total of 62 witnesses and tendered over 40,000 documents. The petitioners, through their witnesses that comprised of Information Technology Experts and Polling/Collation Agents, insisted before the tribunal that result of the presidential election was electronically transmitted to a central server, using the Smart Card Reader Machines.
Even though INEC which was sued as the 1st Respondent, failed to call any witness, it vehemently refuted the claim that results were electronically transmitted. The electoral body told the tribunal that the 1999 Constitution, as amended, and the Electoral Act, only made provision for manual collation of results using the Form EC8 Series. INEC said it decided not to call witnesses in the matter having realised that the petitioners presented a very bad case. It argued that the petitioners failed to by way of credible evidence, prove beyond doubt that the election was allegedly rigged against them in 11 states of the federation.
On his part, President Buhari who is the 2nd Respondent, on August 1, closed his defence after he produced seven witnesses that testified before the tribunal. Through his witnesses, President Buhari maintained that he validly won the presidential election, even as he tendered a Cambridge Assessment International Certified Statement of West African School Certificate issued in 1961, as well as photographs he took with his classmates in Katsina Provincial Secondary School, to prove that he has the requisite educational qualification.
Nevertheless, while adopting his final brief of argument, President Buhari, through his team of lawyers led by Chief Wole Olanipekun, SAN, argued that no law in the country stipulated that he must produce his certificates to prove his eligibility to contest the presidential election. He contended that the 1999 Constitution, as amended, only required him to be educated. President Buhari therefore urged the tribunal to dismiss the petition as grossly lacking in merit and substance. Similarly, the APC which is the 3rd Respondent, sought the dismissal of the petition, even though it did not call any witness.
The APC argued that the petitioners failed to call sufficient witnesses, especially Polling Unit Agents and Voters, to prove alleged electoral malpractices and non-compliance with the Electoral Act across the federation. The party further argued that Atiku did not disprove the allegation that he was not eligible to contest the election in view of the fact that he was originally from Cameroon and not a Nigerian by birth. Nonetheless, the petitioners, through their lead counsel, Dr. Livy Uzoukwu, SAN, urged the tribunal to hold that they successfully made out case to warrant Buhari’s sack.
Uzoukwu said it was absurd for INEC to claim that it does not have an electronic storage device it kept data from the last presidential election. Aside pointing out discrepancy in the name on the Cambridge certificate Buhari tendered before the tribunal which bore the name ‘Mohamed’ instead of ‘Muhammadu’, the petitioners noted that witnesses and the military board, denied that Buhari’s set in the Army were ever asked to surrender their certificates for safe keeping. Specifically, the petitioners are seeking the following reliefs: “That it may be determined that the 2nd Respondent (Buhari) was not duly elected by a majority of lawful votes cast in the said election and therefore the declaration and return of the 2nd Respondent by the 1st Respondent as the President of Nigeria is unlawful, undue, null, void and of no effect.
“That it may be determined that the 1st Petitioner (Atiku) was duly and validly elected and ought to be returned as President of Nigeria, having polled the highest number of lawful votes cast at the election to the office of the President of Nigeria held on 23rd February 2019 and having satisfied the constitutional requirements for the said election. “An order directing the 1st Respondent (INEC) to issue Certificate of Return to the 1st Petitioner as the duly elected President of Nigeria.
“That it may be determined that the 2nd Respondent was at the time of the election not qualified to contest the said election. “That it may be determined that the 2nd Respondent submitted to the Commission affidavit containing false information of a fundamental nature in aid of his qualification for the said election”. In the alternative, “That the election to the office of the President of Nigeria held on 23rd February 2019 be nullified and a fresh election ordered”. In his preliminary objection however, President Buhari argued that every aspect of the petition grounded on or relating to electronic data purportedly retrieved or downloaded from INEC’s server were liable to be struck out, “same being incompetent and not rooted in any existing legislation”.
He said: “That there were no incidences of corrupt practices at the election of 23rd February, 20l9, as alleged by the Petitioners; and that the declaration and return of the respondent President of the Federal Republic of Nigeria is valid and in compliance with the provisions of the Constitution, the Electoral Act, and all other Laws, Rules, Guidelines and Regulations, regulating the election. “That the election of the respondent as the elected President of the Federal Republic of Nigeria is valid and was conducted in substantial compliance with the provisions of the Electoral Act.
“Contrary to paragraph 17 of the petition, the respondent states that the petitioners scored a total of 11,262,978 votes, trailing far behind the respondent who scored a total of 15,191,847 votes, with a margin of 3.328.869 votes”. Contending that he validly earned the number of votes that were credited to him by INEC, Buhari, said there was “nothing affecting the integrity of the election as there was nothing untoward on the Form ECBDM and no calculation errors can he revealed by any genuine forensic examination or statistical analysis in respect of the election”.
“The 1st respondent was duly elected by the majority of lawful votes cast at the election to the office of the President, and shall at the trial, rely on [NBC FORMS 3C8 MA) and ECBE, issued by the 1st respondent at the election. “The respondent further states that he did not only score majority of lawful votes cast at the election into the office of President of Nigeria at the election of 23rd February, 2019, convincingly, but also had/has the requisite constitutional spread of one-quater of the total number of votes cast in more than two-thirds of the States of the Federation”, President Buhari argued.