The candidate of the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) in the February 23 presidential election, Alhaji A8tiku Abubakar and his party have indicated that they would appeal the judgment of the Presidential Election Petition Tribunal, which today dismissed theirpetition challenging the victory of President Muhammadu Buhari.
The five man tribunal in a unanimous judgment delivered dismissed Atiku and PDP’s Petition for lacking in merit.
The tribunal chaired by Justice Mohammed Garba said that the petitioners were unable to prove their petition beyond reasonable doubt and accordingly upheld the election of Buhari.
Atiku and PDP in their joint petition filed on March 18, 2019, specifically asked the tribunal to disqualify Buhari, winner of the February 23 presidential election, on the grounds that he (Buhari) did not possess the requisite academic qualification to contest for the office of President.
The petition was premised on five grounds, among which was that Buhari lied about his academic qualification as well as schools attended in his INEC form CF001 submitted to INEC for purpose of contesting the 2019 presidential election.
However, in the lead judgment delivered by Justice Garba, the tribunal held that the petitioners did not discharge the burden of proof and as such dismissed the petition.
Apart from the issue of alleged non qualification and submission of information of fundamental falsehood to the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) by Buhari to aid his qualification, other issues the petitioners raised included deployment of electronic voting, over-voting, substantial non-compliance with the electoral law as well as use of security agencies to rig the election in favour of Buhari.
The ttribunal in the unanimous decision held that despite the 62 witnesses called by the petitioners they were unable to prove their allegations against the conduct of the February 23 presidential poll.
Reacting to the verdict of the panel outside the court, lead counsel to the petitioners, Dr Levy Uzuokwu SAN, said that his clients would appeal the tribunal’s decision.
He thanked Nigerians for their overwhelming support, adding that they have truly been encouraging.
“Well we have done our job, the court has also done its own job, first of all let me congratulate the millions of Nigerians that have supported us, it encourages us and we are happy about it”, he said.
When asked what is the next step for the petitioners, Uzuokwu responded this way, “Certainly I don’t think that is the end of the journey”.
National Chairman of PDP Chief Uche Secondus, in a separate interview, disclosed that the judgment will be carefully and critically studied and then an appeal filed at the Supreme Court to test the veracity and popularity of the judgment.
Also speaking, lead counsel to the All Progressives Congress (APC), Prince Lateef Fagbemi SAN, described the judgment as a good one and commended the justices for the efforts in delivering a quality judgment in the petition.
“The Justices worked hard to ensure the matter didn’t lapse, hardly any aspect of the case that they didn’t touch, there is no aspect that they didn’t resolve, I am satisfied with it”, he said.
Before delving on the merit of the petition, the tribunal had delivered ruling on eight motions filed by parties in the suit.
The Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) had filed three motions praying the tribunal to strike out the petition or, in the alternative, expunge certain paragraphs of the petition for being incompetent and lacking in merit.
While Buhari and the APC had filed two motions each seeking to strike out the petition, Atiku and PDP had filed one in objection to the position of the APC in the petition.
In one of the motions, the tribunal dismissed the motion by APC seeking the disqualification of Atiku on grounds that he was not a Nigerian.
The respondents had claimed that Jada, the birth place of Atiku in 1946, was part of Cameroon and not part of Northern Nigeria.
But the tribunal in its judgement dismissed the application on the grounds that the respondents ought to have filed a cross-petition against the candidature or Atiku rather than raised the issue in his reply.
On the issue of qualification, the tribunal held that Buhari does not need to show, prove or attach copy of his certificate to his INEC form CF001. The tribunal chairman held that the provision of the law was for the president to be educated up to secondary school level or its equivalent or worked in the public or private service for at least 10 years without blemishes.
The tribunal said evidence abound that West African School Certificate (WASC) was in existence in 1961 when Buhari claimed to have sat for the examination.
Tribunal also resolved that there is overwhelming evidence on the existence of provincial secondary school in Katsina in 1961 before it later transformed into government college.
Quoting a press statement released in 2014 by Brigadier General Olaleye Olaniyi, the then secretary of The Army Board on Buhari’s certificate issue, the tribunal held that Atiku failed to call the army spokesman to testify in the petition.
Justice Garba held that from the totality of the statement of the former army spokesman, there was a presumption that Buhari has certificates because the army itself produced a recommendation of the former principal of the Katsina provincial secondary school that Buhari stood for six subjects in WAEC and expressed optimism that Buhari would perform well if enlisted into the army in 1962.
The tribunal therefore agreed that the inability of Buhari to attach photocopies of his credentials to the INEC form CF 001 should not be misconstrued as not having certificate because the petitioners failed to prove that he did not have the certificate.
On the issue of alleged lying on oath the tribunal disagreed with the petitioners on the grounds that Buhari did not swear to an affidavit to specifically make claim of depositing his certificates with the army board as envisaged by the relevant laws on election.
Specifically, the tribunal held that the fact that Buhari made claim of submitting his credentials to the army at the point of his enlistment in 1962 cannot by law translate into lying on oath as alleged by the petitioners.
The tribunal which delved extensively on the merit and otherwise of Atiku’s petition, rejected the claim that Buhari was not duly elected by majority of lawful votes cast in the February 23 presidential election.
The tribunal held that the petitioners ought to use polling booth by polling booth to give correct and authentic final election results, adding that it was not enough for Atiku and PDP to have tendered election results from the bar only, noting that it was incumbent on them to call witnesses to establish their allegations, adding that the 62 witnesses called by the petitioners did not disprove forms EC8A, EC8B, EC8C and EC8D.
Justice Garba said that when words of statute are not ambiguous they must be given their ordinary meaning, adding that in the instant case, Atiku and PDP did not establish how the use of INEC election manual and guidelines substantially affected the collation of election results as evidence adduced by petitioners’ witnesses have no bearing on the petition itself.
The tribunal held that the evidence that election results were altered, depleted and manipulated against the PDP’s candidate was caught by section 37 of the Evidence Act as they are manifestly unreliable hearsay that cannot in any way be classified as expert opinions
In the resolution of server issue the tribunal said that the petitioners were unable to establish the existence of a server and that results were transmitted into it through the use of smart card reader.
The tribunal also held that the petitioners could not adduce concrete evidence that the results of the election were electronically collated and transmitted as alleged adding that the evidence of the petitioners expert witness contradicted the petition itself because the witness admitted obtaining his information from a whistle blower site, whose identity he could not ascertain.
One the issue of over voting, massive rigging, harrassment and intimidation, arbitrary arrest, the tribunal held that failure to join the security personnel alleged to have committed the crime as respondents to defend themselves was fatal to the petition
Justice Garba in the unanimous decision held that any decision to look into the allegations will run counter to section 36 of the 1999 constitution on fair hearing.
In the final analysis the tribunal chairman held that the petition was without merit, liable for dismissal and was consequently dismissed in its entirety without cost against the petitioners.