Tribunal yet to Announce Judgment Date in Atiku’s Petition against Buhari

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Alex Enumah in Abuja

The Presidential Election Petition Tribunal, hearing the petition of candidate of the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) in the last presidential election, Alhaji Atiku Abubakar, against the re-election of President Muhammadu Buhari, is yet to announce a date for judgment with barely a few days to the expiration of the petition.

The five-man panel headed by Justice Mohammed Garba had on August 21 reserved judgment in the petition to a date that would be communicated to parties shortly after all lawyers in the petition adopted and argued their final written addresses.

However, 19 days after it adjourned to deliver judgment and with barely six days in the life span of the petition, no date has yet been communicated to parties in the petition.

While Atiku and his party, the PDP are the petitioners in the suit, the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC), President Buhari and the All Progressives Congress (APC) are 1st to third respondents respectively.

Speaking to THISDAY Monday in Abuja via a telephone interview, the counsel to the APC, Prince Lateef Fagbemi (SAN), said no date has been communicated to them, adding that: “It is not going to be a secret thing, once a date is given, we will all know.”

Also speaking, one of the senior counsel in the legal team of Atiku and PDP, Chief Chris Uche (SAN), confirmed that the tribunal as at the time of talking with THISDAY was yet to communicate with them concerning the date for judgment.

While looking at Thursday or Friday as possible day for the delivery of the judgment, Uche remarked that long notices are usually not given in such circumstances.

“I’m sorry I cannot confirm yet. We are looking at Thursday or Friday.

“We are following up on it. As we text, our lawyers are at the court registry waiting for official communication. I’m sure by tomorrow, we will know. Usually, in such matters as I have noticed in the recent past, long notice is not usually given,” he said.

It should be stated that the 180 days provided by law within which an election petition must be heard and judgment delivered will expire on Sunday, September 15, 2019. As such any decision taken outside that day becomes null and void, a mere academic exercise and disadvantageous to the petitioners.

The import of the tribunal’s decision, according to a senior lawyer in the matter, “is one that would define the jurisprudence of electoral matters and democracy in the country”.

Following the declaration of Buhari as winner of the February 23 presidential election by the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC), Atiku and his party had approached the court to challenge the victory.

In their joint petition filed on March 18, 2019, they insisted that they and not Buhari and APC won the presidential election of February 23, 2019.

According to them, INEC had connived with Buhari, APC and agents of the federal government including the military to rig the election in favour of Buhari.

They therefore urged the tribunal to nullify the victory of Buhari and declare them winner of the February 23 presidential election.

Equally, the petitioners asked the tribunal to nullify Buhari’s participation in the election on the grounds that he did not possess the necessary academic qualifications for the office of president and that President Buhari submitted false information to the INEC to aid his qualification for the said election.

In their final address, Atiku and PDP argued that the respondents instead of defending the claim by the petitioners that Buhari failed to provide proof of any of the three certificates he claimed to possess, dwelled on the issue of whether the president can speak English language or not.

According to the lead counsel to the petitioners, Dr Levy Uzuokwu (SAN), the mere fact that artisans on the streets of Nigeria can speak English language does not make them qualified to contest the office of president of Nigeria.

The senior lawyer stressed that since they have led evidence to show that Buhari lied on oath in his form CF001 submitted to INEC for clearance to contest the February 23 presidential election, the tribunal should upheld the petition and grant the reliefs contained therein.

The petitioners drew the attention of the court to a portion of his INEC form where he claimed to have three different certificates; comprising Primary School Leaving Certificate, WAEC certificate and Officers Cadet certificate.

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.”

The former vice-president informed the tribunal that the claim by 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 can 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 which include computer, database of registered voters, number of permanent voter’s cards 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 debunked the claim of INEC that collation and transmission of results electronically was prohibited by law in Nigeria.

He asserted that by the 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 nullify 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.

However, 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 ill 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 attach 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.

The APC represented by Prince Lateef Fagbemi (SAN), in his own submission, said the petition lacked quality evidence that could warrant the nullification of the election as pleaded by the petitioners and urged the tribunal to throw out the petition as long as its hand can do with huge cost.

Fagbemi told the tribunal that the petitioners called 62 witnesses only in a failed attempt to prove their allegations concerning 119,793 pulling units, 8,809 wards and 774 local government areas and local area councils being challenged by the petitioners.

He added that the witnesses were from 11 states only including the FCT. Fagbemi further argued that the allegations of non-accreditation, invalid votes, deliberate depletion of petitioners vote, anomalies, over voting, wrongful collation of results in favour of Buhari and APC as well as corrupt practices have been effectively denied by the two respondents as being unfounded and non-existent.

Fagbemi contended that the failure to call witnesses across the states of the federation by the petitioners to establish their allegations as envisaged by law is fatal to the petition and made it liable for dismissal by the tribunal.

However, the tribunal chairman after taking submissions from all parties, announced that judgment in the petition has been reserved and that the date for its delivery would be communicated to parties.