Supreme Court Resumes Hearing, Resolves to Hear All Interlocutory Appeals with Main Appeal

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*Discrepancy in Buhari’s name fundamental defect, Atiku, PDP tell apex court

By Alex Enumah

The Supreme Court has resumed hearing in the appeal filed by candidate of the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) in the February 23 presidential election, Atiku Abubakar, and his party, the PDP, against the election of President Muhammadu Buhari.

The court shortly after convening on Wednesday had stood down the matter for 20 minutes to enable the court reach an agreement with counsel on the matters regarding the mode of hearing.

Atiku and PDP are challenging the entire judgment of the Presidential Election Petition Tribunal which had affirmed the election of President Muhammadu Buhari.

The hearing is coming exactly 49 days after the tribunal’s verdict which returned Buhari for a second term in office and nearly 37 days after the appeallants filed their appeal seeking to nullify the judgment and be declared lawful winners of the presidential poll.

Members of the panel incly the Chief Justice of Nigeria (CJN), Ibrahim Mohammad, Justices Bode Rhodes-Vivour, Kayode Ariwoola, Musa Datijo, Inyang Okoro, Ejembi Eko and Uwani Abba Aji.

When the matter was called, the presiding justice of the seven-man panel and Chief Justice of Nigeria, Justice Ibrahim Muhammad, informed the counsel in the matter that the panel had reached a decision to the effect that judgment in the main appeal would cover the other appeals including the cross appeal filed by the APC.

Counsel to INEC, Yunus Usman SAN, President Buhari, Chief Wole Olanipekun SAN and that of the APC, Prince Lateef Fagbemi SAN agreed with the decision of the apex court, while counsel to the PDP, Dr Levy Uzuokwu SAN however disagreed praying the court to hear their interlocutory appeal challenging the striking out of certain paragraphs in their petition by the tribunal.

While he agreed that due to time constraints, the Supreme Court cannot make an order for retrial at the lower court he argued that the apex court can hear the appeal and consider it in reaching a verdict in the main appeal.

However efforts to prevail on the apex court for the the appellants to consolidate their appeals were refused, prompting the court to stand down the matter for 20 minutes to enable the appellants come to terms with the position of the apex court.

In all, there are seven appeals which the apex court said were similar and as such wants to avoid delivering multiple judgment in almost the same issue, adding that one of the appeal is an abuse of court process.

At the resumption of the hearing, the court allowed the defendants to adopt and argued their interlocutory appeal in which they urged the court to allow their appeal and consider their submissions in their final judgement.

The interlocutory appeal borders on the qualification and certificates submitted by Buhari and the issue of INEC server.

Lead counsel to the appellants, Dr Uzoukwu SAN, submitted that the respondents, particularly President Buhari failed to give explanation between the names Muhammadu and Mohamed as contained in exhibits R19 and R21.

Uzuokwu submitted further that there was no pleading on record that the two names belong to the 2nd respondents.

While he argued that the discrepancy was a fundamental defect, the senior lawyer stressed that, “It is not for the tribunal to speculate without evidence, that Mohamed is the same person when there was no pleading or evidence”.

On the issue of certificate, the appellants stated that no reason had been given by Buhari on record, why it was impossible to bring forth any of the three certificates he claimed in exhibits P1. “Nobody gave evidence that they have cited original, Certified True Copies, photocopies or graphic copies of the said certificates”, ozoukwu said, adding, “Buhari did not even present testimonial of the primary school he claimed to have attended or testimonials of his secondary school and that of the Officer Cadet”.

On the issue of server, while the appellants stated that INEC had consistently denied that they had a server, they submitted that INEC failed to establish where they store their card reader data and Permanent Voter Card (PVCs).

He added that the tribunal erred in holding that electronic elections was prohibited in Nigeria when it relied on the old provision of section 52(2) of the Electoral Act 2010 to arrive at that decision.

They therefore urged the apex court to allow the appeal and grant the reliefs sought.

Responding, counsel to INEC, Usman urged the court to dismiss the appeal because the appellants failed to prove their claims that they won the February 23 presidential election by calling just five polling units agents out of the 119,000 polling units.

Usman said by law, the appellants ought to call at least one witness from each of the polling units across the federation, adding that failure to do so was fatal to their case.

On the issue of server, Usman submitted that the commission was not in position of the particular server being contested by the appellants, adding that section 52(2) gave INEC the right to choose the method of conducting the election and did not include electronic transmission of results.

On his part, Buhari’s lawyer, Olanipekun SAN, dismissed the submission of Uzuokwu on the grounds that the appellants failed to prove that Buhari was not qualified.

He added that the respondent called in witness who testified concerning the names, Muhammadu and Mohamed, adding that they were able to prove that the two names belong to President Buhari.

Olanipekun recalled that the tribunal in a ruling on an application seeking to strike out the name of Uzuokwu from the petition on grounds of the difference in his name, held that whether Levy or Levinus, he is the same person. Adding that the tribunal was right to hold that both Mohamed and Muhammadu are the same person.

Counsel to the APC, Fagbemi SAN also aligned himself with the submissions of INEC and Buhari and urged the court to dismiss the appeal for lacking merit.

More details later…