Alex Enumah in Abuja
Supporters of President Muhammadu Buhari and the Peoples Democratic Party’s (PDP) candidate in the last presidential election, Alhaji Atiku Abubakar, were yesterday upbeat with the news that the Presidential Election Petition Tribunal would deliver its judgment in the petition filed by Atiku and the PDP against the victory of Buhari and the All Progressives Party (APC) today in Abuja.
The main opposition party and its candidate’s camp expressed optimism that the judgment of the tribunal would favour them.
The tribunal, which heard the petition against the re-election of Buhari, yesterday served notice to parties in the petition that it would deliver its verdict today.
However, the APC was more restrained in its expectations, saying today’s judgment would decide the fate of the petitioners and the appellants.
Atiku and PDP on March 18 petitioned the tribunal to challenge the declaration by the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) of Buhari as winner of the February 23 presidential election. Besides INEC, others named as respondents in the petition, in which Atiku and the PDP are seeking the nullification of the election, were the president and the APC.
Atiku and PDP are seeking the nullification of Buhari’s election over alleged non-qualification for the election, electoral malpractices and violence, among others.
The five-man panel headed by Justice Mohammed Garba on August 21 reserved judgment in the petition after all lawyers in the matter adopted and argued their final written addresses.
With just five days to the expiration of the life of the suit, the tribunal yesterday announced that judgment has been fixed for today.
According to the law guiding electoral matters in the country, a court must hear and make its findings and decision in an election petition within 180 days, as any decision made outside the 180 days becomes null and void and of no effect whatsoever.
A short message released yesterday by the Information Officer of the Court of Appeal, Hajia Sa’adatu Kachalla, read: “Presidential Election Petition Tribunal: Please be informed: notice has been given for judgment to be delivered tomorrow September 11, 2019 by 9a.m.”
Also one of the senior lawyers to the petitioners and another senior lawyer in the camp of the APC confirmed the date for judgment.
The APC counsel, however, declined to express his expectations on the outcome of the judgment.
He said: “We have done all we could do in court; when the judgment is delivered we shall all know where we belong.”
However, in his own reaction to the announcement, one of the lead lawyers to Atiku and PDP, Chief Chris Uche (SAN), said they expected nothing short of victory.
Uche said outside the petitioners and their supporters, all Nigerians are also looking forward to what he described as justice.
“We expect to win. The whole nation is waiting for the manifestation of justice,” he said.
Following the declaration of Buhari as winner of the February 23, presidential election by INEC on February 27, Atiku and his party approached the court to challenge the president’s victory.
In their joint petition, they insisted that they, and not Buhari and APC, won the election.
According to them, INEC connived with Buhari, APC and agents of the federal government, including the military, to rig the election in favour of the president.
They, therefore, urged the tribunal to nullify the victory of Buhari and declare them winner of the 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 he submitted false information to the INEC to aid his qualification for the said election.
Though the petitioners had planned to call about 400 witnesses within the 10 days allotted to them to substantiate their claims, they were able to call 62 witnesses and tendered over 50,000 documents in their efforts to prove their case of alleged rigging, over voting, non- compliance with the electoral guidelines in 10 states of the federation, including Niger, Kano, Kaduna, Katsina and Jigawa.
While INEC and APC chose not to call any witness or tender any documents, Buhari called in seven witnesses, who testified that the election was not only free and fair but that he was constitutionally qualified to participate in the poll.