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Atiku, PDP head to Supreme Court as tribunal affirms Buhari’s victory

By Igho Akeregha, Bridget Chiedu Onochie, Sodiq Omolaoye, Azimazi Momoh Jimoh, Terhemba Daka, Adamu Abuh (Abuja), Joseph Onyekwere, Yetunde Ayobami Ojo, Gbenga Akinfenwa, Kehinde Olatunji (Lagos), Ibrahim Obansa (Lokoja), Charles Ogugbuaja (Owerri), Saxone Akhaine (Kaduna) and Michael Egbejule (Benin City)
12 September 2019   |   4:29 am
• President ‘eminently qualified’ to contest poll, panel declares • Lawan, Gbajabiamila, Bello, Okorocha, others, hail ruling • Verdict unjust, say CUPP, Musa, Galadima, others • It’s time to move nation forward, put bickering behind, says Buhari The Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) yesterday rejected the judgment of the Presidential Election Petition Tribunal (PEPT), which dismissed…

• President ‘eminently qualified’ to contest poll, panel declares
• Lawan, Gbajabiamila, Bello, Okorocha, others, hail ruling
• Verdict unjust, say CUPP, Musa, Galadima, others
• It’s time to move nation forward, put bickering behind, says Buhari

The Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) yesterday rejected the judgment of the Presidential Election Petition Tribunal (PEPT), which dismissed the suit filed by the party and its presidential candidate, Atiku Abubakar.

The verdict brought to an end the six-month legal battle embarked upon by the PDP and Atiku, seeking to upturn the declaration of President Muhammadu Buhari as winner of the February 23 presidential election.

Vowing to seek redress at the Supreme Court, the PDP described the judgment as “provocative, barefaced subversion of justice, and a direct assault on the integrity of our nation’s justice system.”

The party, in a statement by its national publicity secretary, Kola Ologbondiyan, said it was particularly “shocked that the tribunal failed to point to justice despite the flawless evidence laid before it, showing that President Buhari was not only unqualified to contest the election but also did not score the majority of valid votes at the polls.”

The PDP said it was “bewildering that a court of law could validate a clear case of perjury and declaration of false information in a sworn affidavit, as firmly established against President Muhammadu Buhari, even in the face of incontrovertible evidence.”

The party was also “rudely shocked that the court took over the roles of the respondents’ lawyers who clearly abandoned their pleadings by refusing to call evidence in defence of the petition. The court raked up all manner of excuses to make up for the yawning gaps occasioned by the total absence of any evidence from the respondents.”

It said: “Nigerians and the international community watched in utter disbelief when the tribunal ruled that one need not provide a copy or certified true copy of educational certificate such individual claimed to possess, contrary to established proof of claims of certification. The court even went ahead to provide rationalisations in favour of President Buhari, even when all hard facts before it shows that he did not possess the claimed educational certificate and that the army was not in possession of his WAEC certificate, as claimed in the affidavit he deposed to in his presidential nomination form.”

The PDP further described as shocking that the court approved “the flawed declaration of President Buhari as the winner of the election despite evidence to show the perpetration of illegalities, manipulations, alterations and subtraction of valid votes freely given to Atiku Abubakar by Nigerians.”

It noted: “Indeed, the pervading melancholic atmosphere across our nation since the verdict is a direct indication that the judgment has not fulfilled the desires and expectations of Nigerians.”

The party, however, encouraged Nigerians to remain calm and not lose hope or surrender to despondency or self-help “as our lawyers are upbeat in obtaining justice at the Supreme Court.”

It added: “This is more so as the tribunal itself admitted that there are several errors in the judgment.”

Also, speaking shortly after the judgment, a member of Atiku’s legal team, Chief Mike Ozekhome vowed that his clients would appeal the judgment.

He said: “That we are appealing to the Supreme Court is as sure and certain as death. The only most certain thing in our lives is death, and our appealing this decision is as certain as death.

“We shall challenge many things in the judgment. We will challenge the misapplication of the Electoral Act. We will look at misevaluation and even non-evaluation of critical evidence, which would have swung the case in favour of the petitioners. So, it is not yet Ohuru for the respondents. We would rather say that this is the beginning of the struggle to liberate Nigerians.”

The tribunal dismissed the petition filed by the PDP and Atiku for failing to substantiate their petitions beyond reasonable doubt.

The five-man panel led by Justice Muhammed Garba, which took the grounds of the petition one after the other, dismissed the petitions in their entirety in the unanimous judgment that lasted about eight hours.

It described the issues contained in the petitions as mere allegations and lacking in probative value.

On the allegation that Buhari lied on oath when he filled in his Form C 001 that he possesses the West African School Certificate, Gaba resolved the issue against the petitioners on the ground that a school certificate is not a requirement for contesting the position of president.

The tribunal further stated that Buhari’s failure to tender his certificates while submitting compulsory documents to the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) did not translate to not possessing the certificate or not being educated up to secondary school level.

“There is no doubt that the second respondent is not only qualified to contest the election, he is eminently qualified to contest,” said Garba.

He held that even the exhibits tendered by Atiku and the PDP proved further Buhari’s qualification.

The tribunal also struck out the petition that the February 23 presidential election results were electronically transmitted. The panel held that evidence put forward by the petitioners were unreliable and inadmissible because such were hearsay.

It stated that the petitioners’ position that the results announced by the INEC differed from the original results was based on information from a third party, therefore lacking in probate value.

“The method of collation and transmission of results according to the Electoral Act is manual at every level. There is no provision in the exhibit that results were transmitted electronically in the 2019 election.

“The petitioners have failed to establish the claim of electronic transmission of results at all levels of the election. Hence, the petitioners failed to prove this aspect of this case.”

It’s time to put bickering behind, says Buhari
Buhari described the ruling as victory for Nigerians who trooped out to overwhelmingly elect him for a second term in office.

“Good conscience fears no evil report. I was unperturbed all along, because I knew Nigerians freely gave us the mandate. We are now vindicated,” he declared in a statement by his special adviser on media and publicity, Femi Adesina, yesterday.

Buhari dedicated the victory to God and to Nigerians and commended the judiciary for “dispensing justice without fear or favour.”

He also extended a hand of fellowship to those whom he said were aggrieved at the outcome of the election and had gone to court in accordance with their democratic rights.

He noted further that with the pronouncement of the judiciary, “it is time for the country to move forward as one cohesive body, putting behind us all bickering and potential distractions over an election in which Nigerians spoke clearly and resoundingly.”

Ruling is victory for rule of law, declares APC
The All Progressives Congress (APC) hailed the judgment, saying: “It validates the decision of most Nigerians to do away with the past as expressed in their overwhelming votes in the 2019 elections.”

In a statement by its national publicity secretary, Lanre Issa-Onilu, the party said: “From the outset, our party was not perturbed over the PDP and Atiku’s petition, which will go down in Nigeria’s history as the most frivolous in the history of election petition. In fact, our position has now been justified that the PDP and Atiku’s petition was a complete waste of time. In their puerile efforts, they insisted on taking the country on a circus and wild goose chase.”

It said further: “Going forward, APC’s victory at the presidential polls and the election tribunal represents our collective desire as a people to remain focused on the progressive growth and development of our country’s economy, fight against corruption, and provision of security.

“Consequently, we have taken a bold step by rescuing our nation from the satanic era of the PDP, when our collective interests were being corruptly traded among a few pillagers.”

We expected outright dismissal of PDP’s petition, says BMO
The Buhari Media Organisation (BMO) commended the members of the Presidential Election Petition Tribunal (PEPT) for not being deterred by threats and intimidation from the PDP and its agents to taint its sense of justice.

This, the group said, is proof that the justices are men of honour that cannot be intimidated by social media bullies bent on arm-twisting them to ignore the evidence tabled before the tribunal.

BMO said in a statement by Chairman Niyi Akinsiju and Secretary Cassidy Madueke that it was expecting nothing less than the outright dismissal of the petition like the panel members did.

Lawan, Bello, Okorocha, Abiodun, others congratulate president on victory
The President of the Senate, Ahmad Lawan, has congratulated Buhari and the APC on the president’s victory .

Lawan said: “The judgment of the tribunal has again put a judicial seal on the mandate freely given to the president by the Nigerian people in the February 23 presidential election.”

Lawan urged the President to accept the affirmation of his election as a reminder of the confidence of Nigerians in his capacity to continue to lead Nigeria towards its manifest destiny of greatness.

Kogi State Governor Yahaya Bello hailed the verdict and wished Buhari a successful second term.

In a statement by his chief press secretary, Muhammed Onogwu, the governor said “The Judiciary has again proved itself strong in the protection of democracy and the rule of law in Nigeria,” he said.

He said he had never entertained any doubt about the outcome because, according to him, it was clear that Nigerians voted overwhelmingly to re-elect the president.

Also, Rochas Okorocha, the immediate past governor of Imo State and current senator representing Imo West Senatorial District, described the verdict as a victory for lovers of democracy world over.

A statement by his special adviser on media, Sam Onwuemeodo, reads in part: “Senator Okorocha explained that with the victory, President Buhari would now be more encouraged to continue to work for the unity, progress and peace of the nation, while the distractions associated with the case, while it lasted, have now been jettisoned.”

On his part, Ogun State Governor Dapo Abiodun, said: “I am very proud of the judiciary. They have again, for the umpteenth time, demonstrated exemplary candour, courage and integrity for which modern democracies thrive.”

In a statement released by his chief press secretary, Kunle Somorin, the governor urged the PDP and Atiku to accept the verdict as the voice of the people and called on all democrats to support Buhari.

Edo State Governor Godwin Obaseki said the verdict was a “resounding affirmation of the choice of Nigerians on February 23, for a second term for the president. The tribunal confirms our stance that President Buhari remains the preferred leader at this time to reset our country on the path of greatness.”

The governor of Ondo State, Rotimi Akeredolu; the immediate past governor of Oyo State, Abiola Ajimobi; and Speaker of the House of Representatives Femi Gbajabiamila, also issued statements congratulating Buhari and the APC on the ruling.

Judgment is shameful ratification of electoral fraud, says CUPP
The Coalition of United Political Parties (CUPP) said it “received with angst the judgment of the Presidential Election Tribunal which upheld President Buhari’s election.”

In a statement signed by its spokesman, Ikenga Ugochinyere, the CUPP said: “From the totality of the judgment, the Court of Appeal Presidential Election Petition Tribunal has lost the rare opportunity presented to it by the petition of the consensus opposition candidate, Atiku Abubakar, to put an end to electoral fraud, leadership incompetence and the imposition of an unfit leader on the people.

“By their judgment today, majority of Nigerians who had believed, though erroneously, that the judiciary was indeed independent, have been brazenly awakened to the fact and correct belief that the presidency has successfully hijacked the judiciary and Nigerians can only expect judgments and not justice.”

It noted: “All credible observer groups, both local and international, were unanimous in their verdict that the election was below the standard of the 2015 and was massively rigged in favour of the president; the Court of Appeal wasted the opportunity and has by so doing endorsed the insecurity in the land, mismanagement of national resources, electoral fraud, forgery of documents and certificates submitted to INEC, and indeed threatened the very foundations of our democracy.

“Today’s judgment is a manipulation of the law and the brazen use of technicality to stamp injustice, rob the people of justice, and deny the nation the chance to have a leader that they truly elected in the person of Atiku Abubakar.”

Balarabe Musa faults judgment, tasks Atiku
A former governor of Kaduna State and chairman of the Conference of Nigerian Political Parties (CNPP), Balarabe Musa, faulted the verdict, saying the tribunal should have nullified the entire election because “it was very clear that it was marred by irregularities and malpractices.”

According to him, Nigerians “should not have expected anything different from the decision the tribunal delivered because from the body language, even before the judgment, we all knew where they were going. Do you think we have a free judiciary in Nigeria?”

He urged Atiku to pursue the matter to the Supreme Court “to show the world that there is no justice in the Nigerian judiciary, and this should be placed on record for the future.”

Nigeria becoming a failed state, Ohanaeze chieftain warns
Second Republic politician and chieftain of Igbo socio-cultural organisation, Guy Ikokwu, faulted the method used during the presidential election. According to him, “Nigeria is rapidly becoming a failed state in Africa, and unless we use the modern facility that the world has produced through ICT, we will go back almost 200 years.”

He also said: “The result of the presidential election petition was the manifestation of a failed system deliberately trusted by the executive and legislature to undermine the modernisation of an election system through electronic transfer of result at the polling station through the use of smart cards and electronic servers.”

Judgment unfortunate, laments Buba Galadima
A leader of a splinter group in the APC, Alhaji Buba Galadima, said: “What is unfortunate in this situation is that in Nigeria, judges are not looking for the truth. They are not looking for evidence. What they are looking for is technicalities. That is why the judicial system in Nigeria is supportive of the strong rather than the weak. It is always the weak that seeks justice based on the infraction on his right. As it is, the judges now assist the strong by resorting to technicalities.”

According to him, he “did go to the court room for obvious reasons because anybody who is experienced and intelligent will know, two days ago, that this is what the judgment is going to be.”

Lawyers hold divergent views on verdict
A Senior Advocate of Nigeria (SAN), Chief Albert Akpomudje, said: “The tribunal relied on the previous decisions of the Supreme Court concerning the use of the card reader. With that, how can the petitioners say the results were transmitted through the card readers to the server? The card reader is not backed up by the Electoral Act. If Buhari had signed the Electoral Act, which made provision for all that, it would have been a different case.

“So, there is no way the panel would have departed from the decision of the Supreme Court. If you noticed, they were quoting the Supreme Court justices all through. We are still using the same electoral law, so what has become different? That is the main issue.

“The issue of Buhari not being qualified was something they were just gambling with. How can you say that about somebody who has been head of state twice? How can you say such a man doesn’t posses the requirement to be head of state and he has held such an office twice under military and civilian governments?”

Another SAN, Mr. Chijioke Okoli, said: “I am not surprised at the decision. I didn’t expect anything contrary. Presidential election petition is a political matter, no matter how anybody sees it. How can you expect the court to rule in favour of Atiku when there are no nationwide sustained agitations? Judgment in favour of Atiku is not going to happen, no matter how the law favours him. That can only happen if there are enough crises and serious agitation and pressure from the citizens.”

On his part, a Lagos-based lawyer, Toluwani Adebiyi, noted: “It is a well and thoroughly delivered judgment. Counsel to Atiku are a bunch of disappointment, bringing 62 witnesses and none of them is an eyewitness, not even their own party agents or PDP voters. Even their own documents worked against them. It is a big shame. Atiku had a very good case but not well proved by his conglomerate of ‘SANs’.”