Alex Enumah in Abuja
The Presidential Election Petition Tribunal has dismissed the petition of the Hope Democratic Party (HDP), challenging the conduct of the February 23 presidential election, which returned President Muhammadu Buhari for a second term in office.
The presidential candidate of the HDP, Chief Ambrose Owuru and his party, HDP, had on March 7 filed their petition seeking the nullification of President Buhari’s election on grounds that the conduct of the election on February 23 by the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) was illegal, null and void.
They also asked the five-man panel to declare them winner of the presidential poll, having been elected president by 50 million Nigerians through a referendum conducted on February 16, 2019.
They specifically prayed the tribunal to order their inauguration as president within 48 hours of hearing their petition based on the referendum of February 16.
But delivering judgement yesterday, the tribunal in a unanimous decision held that the petition, which was based on a purported referendum held on February 16, 2019, was outside the jurisdiction of the tribunal, whose duty is to determine whether a person was validly elected into office or not.
The Chairman of the tribunal, Justice Mohammed Garba, who delivered the lead judgement said the petition, which on the other hand challenged the postponement of the presidential election earlier scheduled for February 16 to February 23 was at best a pre-election matter and ought to be presented at a Federal or State High Court and not at the tribunal.
Justice Garba further held that the suit was liable to be dismissed on grounds that being a pre-election matter it was also filed outside the 14 days provided by the law.
The tribunal further held that the petitioners failed to prove the allegations that they were excluded by the second respondents, Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) in the February 23 presidential election.
The chairman said from available exhibits the 1st petitioner’s name was number 69 on INEC’s final list and that the logo of the party was conspicuously pasted on the ballot papers used for the February 23 presidential election.
The tribunal therefore held that the claim of unlawful exclusion was of no moment and at best unwarranted.
In dismissing the petition, the tribunal held that there was no provision in the Constitution, the Electoral Act and associated laws for the election of the president through a referendum and that the claim of referendum election was strange and alien to the mode of electing the president.
Besides, Justice Garba agreed that the body that conducted the purported referendum is not known to law and that the purported emergence of Owuru as president through voice vote at the referendum of over 50 million was not established, adding that the petitioners claim was spurious since it was only Owuru who participated in the referendum.
“This tribunal is not persuaded to invoke its powers to grant any of the reliefs sought by the petitioners because it has no jurisdiction to do so and on the fact that the petition is predicated on a purported February 16 referendum and not the election of February 23 that has the force of power.
“What is more, the only witness called by the petitioners, Yusuf Ibrahim, admitted in his evidence that the February 16 referendum was not conducted by INEC and that the February 23 presidential election was conducted by INEC and that he voted thereby making the claims and reliefs of the petitioners sought from the tribunal to be flying in the air and not grant-able”, the tribunal added.
The tribunal further held that the claim of the petitioners that INEC has no power to postpone election is absorbed because of the relevant laws that empowers the electoral body to shift election and appoint a date for the election and that the petitioners only demonstrated lack of knowledge of the electoral law.
In conclusion, Justice Garba said that the petition is vexatious, lacking in merit, liable for dismissal and consequently dismissed, having failed in all fronts.
Earlier, the petitioners in adopting their final written address through their counsel, Chukwunoyerem Njoku urged the tribunal to set aside the election of February 23rd on the grounds that INEC did not follow condition precedent in the Electoral Act before postponing the election earlier scheduled for February 16.
Njoku submitted that since INEC did not follow the condition precedent before postponing the election unconstitutionally, a referendum was conducted in line with the law and the 1st petitioner, Ambrose Owuru emerged winner of the referendum with over fifty million votes.
According to the counsel, Nigerian citizens participated in the February 16, 2019 referendum as required by law.
He then urged the tribunal to nullify the declaration of president Buhari by INEC as president and in his place returned Owuru as the authentic winner.
On his part, President Muhammadu Buhari represented by Wole Olanipekun (SAN) urged the tribunal to dismiss the petition on the grounds that it is frivolous, baseless and lacking in merit.
Olanipekun told the tribunal that the petitioners did not in any way adduce evidence on how the referendum was conducted and who conducted it in line with the provisions of the law.
The senior lawyer further told the tribunal that he had studied carefully the final address of the HDP and its presidential candidate and there was no where they made any case against President Muhammadu Buhari. He therefore urged the tribunal to dismiss their petition for being incompetent and lacking in merit.
Also asking for the dismissal of the petition is counsel to INEC, Yunus Usman (SAN), who prayed for an award of substantial cost to serve as a deterrent to those who may which to file frivolous and baseless petitions in the 2023 elections.
Usman argued that the petition lacked merit because the electoral body conducted an election and not a referendum and that the claims of the two petitioners were strange to the electoral umpire.
He therefore urged the tribunal to uphold the declaration of President Buhari as winner of the February 23 lawful presidential election.
The All Progressives Congress (APC) in its own final address argued by Chief Akin Olujimi (SAN), similarly prayed for the dismissal of the petition on the grounds that it was wholly misconceived by the two petitioners.
After listening to all counsel in the matter, Justice Garba announced that judgement has been reserved to a date that would be communicated to parties.