After one week of anxiety and speculations, it is now clear that the Presidential Election Petition tribunal, will today in Abuja, deliver a its judgment on the petition filed the presidential candidate of the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP), Atiku Abubakar Challenging the declaration of President Muhammadu Buhari as winner of the February 23 presidential poll.
Nigerians expect pronouncements on some salient constitutional issues that will further enrich our jurisprudence .
The apex court of the land had dealt decisively in the last two months at the expense of the justices long vacation, with one of the emerging issues that is likely to bring some sanity to bear on election matters .
The transparent manner the Supreme Court has handed hundreds of pre -election appeals in line with the Fourth Alteration to the Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria 1999 (as amended) would definitely send signals to political class and lawyers that frivolous appeals will no longer receive its attention.
Several of such appeals have been dismissed by the apex court based on the fact that they were filed outside the 14 days of the occurrence of the event or action complained of by the appellants.
Some counsel to appellants who in spite of the obvious fact that their action was initiated outside the time allowed insisted on proceeding to move their applications were heard but they were fined.
Court of Appeal which is sitting as court of first instance on Presidential election petitions has the opportunity to pronounce on the requisite educational qualification for any one aspiring to contest the position of a president of Nigeria among other issues in contention.
The tribunal in a notice of hearing conveyed to parties in the petition through text messages and telephone calls, announced its resolution to make its findings and final decision on the petition public today.
Atiku and PDP had March 18 dragged the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC), President Buhari and the All Progressives Congress (APC) before the Justice Mohammed Garba led tribunal, praying for nullification of Buhari’s election on various grounds ranging from Buhari’s non qualification to stand for the election, election malpractices, alteration of election results and violence amongst others.
To establish his petition, Atiku during the hearing called 62 witnesses and tendered several documents and video clips before the tribunal, while Buhari on the other hand called seven witnesses and also tendered documents to prove that he genuinely won the election.
The APC and INEC did not call any witness but chose to use the evidence of the petitioners’ witnesses to support their defense.
The petitioners had at the last leg of the hearing in the petition alleged Buhari used fundamental falsehood to secure clearance from INEC to participate in the poll.
Atiku in his final address insisted that Buhari, as candidate of 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 certifcate and Officers Cadet certifcate.
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 van 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 the final address try to debunk 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 nullified 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 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, President 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 averred 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.
In both Buhari and APC final addresses which formed the gamut of several requests both Buhari and APC specifically asked the tribunal to dismiss the petition.
They described Abubakar ’s address that urged the tribunal to sack Buhari and affirm him ( Abubakar) president , as a “wild goose chase prayer.”
They alleged that PDP erroneously allowed a candidate who was not a Nigerian by birth to contest the highest position , adding that such was an adventure that violated the provision of the Constitution .
The president and his party therefore prayed the tribunal to invoke Section 131 ( a ) of the constitution to dismiss the petition .
Section 131 ( a) of the constitution strictly holds that a person must be a citizen of Nigeria by birth to qualify to contest the office of the president .
They noted that Atiku was born on November 25 , 1946 in Jada, a former Adamawa Province of Northern Cameroon before a plebiscite was conducted in 1961 that now made the enclave part of Nigeria .
The parties, therefore, alleged that Abubakar was not qualified to enter the contest as the constitution forbade him from canvassing for votes to become a president.
“We pray that the tribunal will see this constitutional reason and go ahead to uphold the election of the second respondent (Buhari) forthwith ,’’ they prayed.
On evidence admitted from the petitions , the two respondents said they were empty as none had substantially proven series of the allegations made against the conduct of the election .
They explained that none of the 62 witnesses and 31 , 287 exhibits which included 48 video clips proved any of the petitioners ’ allegations .
They said the petitioners had tried to mislead the tribunal and public that results from the election were transmitted electronically to a central server managed by the Independent National Electoral Commission.
The respondents noted that it was public knowledge that the February .23 general election was conduct with the Electoral Act of 2010 as amended.
“Moreover, the laws in Nigeria do not recognise but actually prohibit transmission of results electronically.
“Sections 52 and 78 of the Electoral Act 2010 have categorically addressed the issue.
“The only means of transmitting election results under the law are through Forms EC8 series . Form EC8 A conveys results from Polling Units.
“It is only through these approved forms that election results can be challenged or proven and not through server , imaginary or real ,’’ they submitted.
The parties therefore submitted that the petitioners ’ allegation on the use of server by INEC to transmit results was “criminal and misguided ’’.
They also submitted that “Atiku Abubakar and the PDP have failed in their attempt to stridently prove their petition and that “the petitioners failed woefully to establish by credible evidence the existence of the imaginary server belonging to INEC .’’
They argued that most of the witnesses presented by the petitioners attested to the fact that they signed all the forms that contained the results of the election without coercion.
Buhari and APC therefore averred that such testimonies of truth from the petitioners ’ witnesses further bestowed legitimacy on the outcome of the election.
On Buhari ’ s educational qualification , they said that the petitioners failed to adduce credible and reliable evidence to establish that he ( Buhari ) indeed forged his certificate.
“While it is appropriate to debunk such baseless, mendacious and spurious assertion , it suffices to bring to fore the unequivocal provision of the constitution.
“The constitution is clear on this as it states the requirement for a candidate to contest the presidential election and occupy the office of the president.
“Section 131 ( d ) provides that a person shall be qualified for election into the office of the president if he or she has been educated up to at least School Certificate level or its equivalent.
“More so , the consequence of submitting a forged document to INEC is grave.
“It therefore requires precise evidence and proof beyond reasonable doubt , which the petitioners have not been able to establish ,’’ the respondents said .
Drawing reference from the constitution , the respondents defined secondary school certificate or its equivalent to mean : secondary school certificate or its equivalent , or Grade II Teacher ’s certificate.
They listed others to include : City and Guides certificate or Education up to secondary school certificate level or Primary Six School Leaving Certificate or its equivalent and Service in the public or private sector in the Federation in any capacity acceptable to INEC for a minimum of 10 years.
“It is apparent that from the pleadings and evidence adduced led by the petitioners ; there is no scintilla or iota of evidence to prove that the president was at the time of the election not qualified , they claimed.
“It is trite that he who asserts must prove , we have clearly seen that the petitioners had failed woefully in this matter .
“In the circumstance, we urge the tribunal to dismiss the petition on the grounds of both technicalities and evidential failure and to affirm the election of the president, ’’ they submitted .
So in which ever way the judgment goes , judging from several issues raised the country’s jurisprudence is bound to be enrich further, particularly as the decisions on each of the issues are likely to be challenged at the Supreme Court.