ATIKU VERSUS BUHARI
Alhaji Atiku Abubakar’s decision to appeal the judgment of the Presidential Election Petition Tribunal, which weighed in favour of President Muhammadu Buhari, is in order. Olawale Olaleye writes
Last week’s decision by the opposition Peoples Democratic Party and its presidential candidate, Alhaji Atiku Abubakar to appeal Wednesday’s judgment by the Presidential Election Petition Tribunal, which ruled in favour of President Muhammadu Buhari, by approaching the Supreme Court is both a welcome development and an expected part of the legal process that challenges the nation’s judicial system especially in an election of this category.
Filed on March 18, 2019, Atiku and his party had failed to get the tribunal to declare them winner of the February 23 presidential election, as they had prayed in their petition, because according to the judicial panel, they were unable to prove their claims beyond reasonable doubt.
The petition was premised on five grounds. First was that Buhari was dishonest about his academic qualification and the schools attended in his Form 001 submitted to the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) for the election.
Justice Mohammed Garba, who delivered the lead judgment, held that the petitioners did not discharge the burden of proof and as such dismissed the petition.
Aside the alleged non-qualification and submission of information of fundamental falsehood to INEC by Buhari to aid his qualification, other issues the petitioners raised included deployment of electronic voting, over-voting, substantial non-compliance with the electoral law as well as use of security agencies to rig the election in favour of Buhari. Yet, the tribunal held that in spite of the 62 witnesses called by the petitioners, they were unable to prove their allegations against the conduct of the February 23 presidential poll and therefore dismissed Atiku’s petition in its entirety and affirmed Buhari’s election.
But an indication that Atiku might appeal the judgment first came from his lead counsel, Dr. Levy Uzuokwu (SAN), who when asked about the next step for this client, retorted: “Certainly, I don’t think that is the end of the journey.”
Soon after the news of the judgment went out, the PDP rejected it, describing it as provocative, barefaced subversion of justice and direct assault on the integrity of the nation’s justice system, adding that it would head to the Supreme Court to appeal the judgment.
National Publicity Secretary of the party, Mr. Kola Ologbondiyan, said the PDP was particularly shocked that the tribunal failed to point to justice despite the flawless evidence laid before it, showing that Buhari was not only unqualified to contest the election, but also did not score the majority of valid votes at the polls.
The opposition party said it found it 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 Buhari, even in the face of incontrovertible evidence.
This notwithstanding, the ruling All Progressives Congress (APC) and its candidate continued to celebrate their victory.
The president, in a statement by his Special Adviser (Media and Publicity), Mr. Femi Adesina, described the judgment as victory for Nigerians, who trooped out to give him a fresh mandate 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,” the president said, even as he dedicated the victory to God and to Nigerians while at the same time commending the judiciary for “dispensing justice without fear or favour.”
The APC, on its part, hailed the judgment and described it as a victory for rule of law and decency.
APC National Publicity Secretary, Mallam Lanre Issa-Onilu, in a statement yesterday, commended the judiciary for refusing to succumb to what he called the “PDP subterfuge”, because according to him, the judgment validated the decision of most Nigerians to do away with the past as expressed in their overwhelming votes in the 2019 elections. Curiously, there is a subtle attempt by the federal government to dissuade the PDP and Atiku from appealing the tribunal ruling in a manner that senses blackmail.
As against appealing, the Minister of Information and Culture, Alhaji Lai Mohammed, asked the PDP and Atiku to apologise to Nigerians for willfully distracting the President Buhari’s administration with frivolous election petition.
In a statement issued in St Petersburg, Russian Federation, on Thursday, the Minister said while the PDP and its candidate reserve the right to pursue their petition to the highest level, they would be better served by dropping their toga of
desperation, realising that there is a limit to tomfoolery.
“Nigerians are tired of this orchestrated distraction, and will rather wish that the opposition, having lost at the polls and in court, will now join hands with the government to move Nigeria to the next level,” he said.
Since 2003 that Buhari started his journey to the presidency, there was hardly any time his petitions were not thrown out for one reason or the other, including lack of merit. But he explored all the legal avenues and saw the cases through to the Supreme Court on each of the occasions without anyone dissuading him from doing so.
It is therefore preposterous and the height of mischief to canvass the PDP and Atiku to back down from approaching the Supreme Court. Not only is such an effort likely to improve the political system, it would also go a long way to strengthen the judiciary and the nation’s justice system.
Suffice it to say that a majority of the people have already lost confidence in the nation’s judiciary especially, given the tendency of the ruling party to want to muscle every institution including its penchant for disobeying court orders, the fact that someone was willing to repose a bit of confidence in the judiciary should have been encouraged by all.
Whatever the outcome of the Supreme Court ruling at the end of the day, Atiku and the PDP must be encouraged to go the whole hog and exercise their rights in the hope that the apex court would be able to address their concerns about what they considered injustice during the elections and as affirmed by the tribunal.
It is the way to go, because not only is the independence of the judiciary a concern for genuine patriots, such moves could also help to embolden them and begin to reset the place of the third arm of government in the body polity.
PIX: Buhari and Atiku…the battle is on.jpg