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Tribunal affirms Tinubu’s victory, dismisses petitions   

By Joseph Onyekwere (Lagos), Bridget Chiedu Onochie and Ameh Ochojila (Abuja) 
07 September 2023   |   4:25 am
After a 13-hour ruling, the Presidential Election Petition Court (PEPC), last night, validated the electoral victory of the All Progressives Congress (APC) and its candidates, Bola Tinubu and Kashim Shettima, at the 2023 presidential poll.

• INEC cannot be compelled to transmit result electronically – PEPC
• Says fine by U.S. court did not disqualify Tinubu
• Rejects LP’s 25 per cent FCT votes claim, says Abuja like other states
• Declares Obi’s petition unmeritorious
• Dismisses Atiku’s petition
• Strikes out APM’s petition against Tinubu, Shettima
• LP, PDP vow to challenge verdict
•Tinubu welcomes verdict
• Decision expected, INEC fought petitioners, says Adegboruwa

After a 13-hour ruling, the Presidential Election Petition Court (PEPC), last night, validated the electoral victory of the All Progressives Congress (APC) and its candidates, Bola Tinubu and Kashim Shettima, at the 2023 presidential poll.

The panel described the petition filed by the presidential candidate of the Labour Party (LP), Mr Peter Obi; Peoples Democratic Party and its flagbearer, Atiku Abubakar, as well as the Allied Peoples Movement (APM), against the electoral victory as unmeritorious.

The Tribunal, headed by Justice Haruna Tsammani, in a marathon judgment on various aspects of the consolidated petitions filed by the petitioners, unanimously dismissed the petitions.
At exactly 9:55p.m., he said: “The petitions are hereby dismissed. I hereby affirm the declaration of Tinubu by INEC, as the duly elected president of Nigeria.”

Before yesterday’s judgment, there were palpable tensions in the country, following threats by some people to protest, if there was any “perversion of justice” in the verdicts.

As a result, there was heavy security deployment at the Court of Appeal headquarters, Abuja, venue of the sitting as scores of anti-riot policemen, Nigeria Security and Civil Defence Corps (NSCDC) and other security operatives in plain clothes were deployed at strategic locations in the FCT to prevent a breach of law and order that might arise after the judgment.

At about 6.50 a.m, truckloads of policemen were brought to the Court of Appeal. Also, the police used their vehicles to barricade the court entrance and all major roads leading to the court, while scores of the officers were also patrolling the surroundings to forestall any public disturbances.

Notwithstanding, a group of women in support of President Tinubu’s victory congregated outside the presidential election tribunal yesterday morning, carrying placard, which reads, ‘President Tinubu we voted for you’, ‘We support you, it’s your turn’ and ‘it on your mandate we shall stand.’

Supporters of the petitioners also gathered around different locations close to the court demanding “justice”.

At exactly 9.29 a.m., the five justices filed into the courtroom to determine the fate of the parties.

The petition by the LP and Obi was called first, however, the panel kick-started its verdict with that of the APM.

The court did not waste time in striking out the petition by the APM, which challenged the nomination of the respondents, holding that the issue of nomination, which is a pre-election matter, is outside the scope of the court’s jurisdiction as an election tribunal.

The court held that the issue ought to have been raised before the lower court, adding that even if it was to be heard by the PEPC, the issue is statute barred.

Justice Tsammani also held that the petitioner lacked the locus standi to have brought the petition, because the law did not allow a political party to query the process adopted by another political party in nominating its candidate.

The court held that invalid nomination or double nomination did not qualify as a ground for disqualification in respect of presidential election as provided in sections 131 and 137 of the Constitutional.

In the case of LP and Obi, the panel held that the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) cannot be compelled to transmit election results electronically.

It further held that the petitioner, LP cannot raise the issue because a judgment of a Federal High Court on the issue has not been set aside, therefore the decision is still binding.

Justice Tsammani said besides the decision of the Federal High Court, neither the Electoral Act 2022 nor INEC manual specifically provided for electronic transmission.

“Nothing in the Electoral Act 2022 specifically states that BVAS should be used to transmit election results,” he said.

The court also held that the petitioner failed to prove that the system was deliberately programmed by INEC to manipulate or to rig the election.

On the qualification of Tinubu to contest the election, the court held that the fine imposed on Tinubu by an American court following a civil forfeiture proceeding did not disqualify him.

According to the court, the fine imposed by the American court did not qualify as a fine for fraud or dishonesty provided in Section 137(1)(d) of the Constitution.

It added that the petitioners did not comply with the requirement of Section 249(1) and (2) of the Evidence Act in proving conviction outside the country.

It held that the U.S. court case was in respect of a civil case, not a criminal case, adding that even if it was to be a criminal case, Section 137(1)(e) of the Constitution provides that such conviction or fine must be within 10 years for such person to be disqualified.

Also, the court dismissed the argument about the 25 per cent requirement in the Federal Capital Territory (FCT) needed to win the presidential election. According to the court, FCT residents have no special privileges as the petitioners claimed.

The court also rejected the reports of forensic analyses tendered by LP’s three witnesses. It held that an interested party made the analyses before the filing of the petition, adding that the expert witness was a member of the petitioners’ party.

This is as it rejected the European Union (EU) report on the polls, arguing that an official of the body did not tender it.

Earlier, the court had struck out about 17 paragraphs of the petition by Obi and LP for being vague and generic.

In a ruling on some motions filed by the respondents to the petition, the court held that in the affected paragraphs, the petitioners made allegations of malpractices and irregularities in the conduct of the election, but failed to provide specific details in support of the allegations.

One of the five justices, Abba Mohammed, who read the ruling on preliminary objections, upheld the respondents’ contention that Obi’s petition alleged widespread irregularities without specifying the affected polling units.

The court said petitioners claimed that false election results were submitted without specifying which polling units were affected.

“The petitioners alleged over-voting and rigging but did not specify the polling units. The petitioners only made generic allegations.

“The Law is very clear that where someone alleged irregularities in a particular polling unit, such person must prove the particular irregularities in that polling unit for him to succeed in his petition,” Justice Mohammed said.

According to the court, petitioners alleged irregularities and promised to use spreadsheets, inspection reports, and forensic analysis as evidence in the trial, but did not attach those evidences to the petition and served on the respondents.

The panel ruled that the petitioners did not adequately detail their allegations of corrupt practices, voter suppression, fictitious results, and other irregularities in their pleadings.

The court noted, for instance, that the petitioners failed to show which polling units the malpractices allegedly occurred; the number of votes affected; and their polling unit agents who reported the alleged irregularities and malpractices, among others.

The court, however, rejected the respondents’ argument that Obi was not a member of the LP at the time of the election, noting that membership is an internal affair of a political party, which has the sole power to determine who its members are, insisting that it did not lie with the respondents to question Obi’s membership of the LP.

At the same time, the court also faulted the contention by APC and Tinubu that Abubakar and the PDP, who came second in the election, were necessary parties that ought to have been joined in the petition by LP and Obi.

In the case of the PDP and Abubakar, the tribunal struck out several paragraphs of their petition, which they relied upon to push for the ouster of Tinubu.

Also, several exhibits, including witnesses’ statements he tendered to establish his allegations of irregularities and malpractices against the election were rejected and discountenanced by the Tribunal.

Ruling on behalf of the panel, Justice Moses Ugoh held that several parts of Abubakar’s petition have no legs upon which they can stand and survive, hence, not competent.

Like the fate that befell his counterpart in the LP the Court said Abubakar did not provide several facts fundamentally required to support his petition.

Among others, Atiku was said to have failed and neglected to name places where ballot boxes were snatched, the ways and manners the BVAS machine were manipulated and names of polling booths where alleged malpractices took place.

The petitioner who claimed to have polled the majority of lawful votes, he said, failed to state in clear terms, the total lawful votes he claimed to have scored.

Similarly, the Tribunal said that the former Vice President made grievous allegations against Kogi State governor, Yahaya Bello and Chairman of Olamaboro Local Government of Kogi, Friday Adejoh but neglected to join them as respondents in the petition.

Justice Ugoh held that failure to join the governor who was accused of electoral fraud was fatal to the petition because the governor was denied opportunity to defend himself as required by law.

The Tribunal dismissed the allegations of over voting all over Nigeria by the petitioner, adding that such pleadings run afoul of the law because the specific places where the alleged over voting took place were not mentioned.

The court also faulted the petition on the ground that it introduced several facts and allegations in unlawful ways that caught the respondents unaware, adding that the tactic employed was unfair and made him (Abubakar) clever by half.

Among the offending new facts said to have been wrongfully introduced by Abubakar were the allegations of criminal conviction, certificate forgery, dual citizenship of Guinea made against Tinubu, which were outside the mode of filing petition.

Justice Stephen Adah who read another ruling on objections against the petition expunged several documents tendered by Abubakar on the ground that the exhibits were made during the pendency of the petition.

The Tribunal held that the wrongful mode adopted by the PDP’s presidential candidate in the construction of the petition made several paragraphs of the petition liable for striking out for want of merit and dismissed the petition.

“Having considered that all the three petitions are devoid of merit, I hereby dismiss all the petitions. I affirmed the declaration by INEC that Ahmed Bola Tinubu is duly elected president of Nigeria,” the court declared.

Reacting, President Bola Tinubu said he welcomed the verdict.

In a statement by his special adviser on Media and Publicity, Ajuri Ngelale, said the present accepted the decision with solemn responsibility.

His words: “President Tinubu welcomes the judgment of the court with an intense sense of solemn responsibility and preparedness to serve all Nigerians, irrespective of all diverse political persuasions, faiths, and tribal identities.

“The President recognises the diligence, undaunted thoroughness and professionalism of the five-member bench, led by Justice Haruna Tsammani in interpreting the law.

“The President affirms that his commitment to the rule of law, and the unhindered discharge of duties by the Court, as witnessed in the panel’s exclusive respect for the merits of the petitions brought forward, further reflects 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.”

He urged his challengers to inspire their supporters to elevate their spirit of patriotism forever above partisan considerations, and thanked Nigerians “for the mandate given to him to serve our country, while promising to meet and exceed their expectations…”

Human rights lawyer, Ebun Olu Adegboruwa said the verdict of the court was not totally unexpected, given the stark realities facing Nigeria as a nation and the state of the law.

The principles of presumption of regularity of elections and that of substantial conformity, he noted, make it extremely difficult to prosecute elections successfully.

“In this particular case, the burden placed upon the petitioners 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, particularly the lawyers. The tension was completely unnecessary,” he said, adding that without first unbundling INEC to make it more independent, non-partisan and effective, anyone declared “winner” would most often coast to victory in the election tribunal.

Also, Chief Justice Oguche, a lawyer, stated that several issues raised in the judgment were novel and required the intervention of the Supreme Court for proper illumination.

One of such issues, he stated, was that of nomination of candidates, which the tribunal said, was not enough ground for challenging the election.

Oguche held that the issue of qualification is a proper ground to raise a petition. “I am wondering how that principle came to be because the tribunal held that it was not a matter for post-election jurisdiction. I disagree with them on that,” he said.

Adding: “But the issue of 25 per cent votes in Abuja is the only one I totally disagree with because it cited Section 134 of the Constitution, which is very clear. The tribunal only relied on the preamble, which was the issue of equality.

“I am saying that constitutional provisions are not interpreted in that manner. It should be given a liberal interpretation.”