- Buhari: It’s time to move on
Omololu Ogunmade, Chuks Okocha, Alex Enumah and Adedayo Akinwale in Abuja
It was the end of the road for the presidential candidate of the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) in the February 23 general election, Alhaji Atiku Abubakar, and his party yesterday as the Supreme Court dismissed their appeal, challenging the declaration of President Muhammadu Buhari, who flew the flag of the All Progressives Congress (APC) the winner.
The seven-man panel of the apex court, led by Chief Justice of Nigeria, Justice Ibrahim Muhammad, dismissed the appeal on the ground that it lacked merit and deferred reason for the judgment to a later date to be communicated to the parties to the suit.
Expectedly, Buhari and his party hailed the verdict that vindicated their claim to power.
The president spoke from Riyadh, Saudi Arabia and commended former vice president, Atiku, and the PDP, saying they challenged his victory within the framework of the law of the land.
The president, who hailed the judgment, said both appellants exercised their rights as enshrined in the constitution.
A statement by presidential spokesman, Malam Garba Shehu, said Buhari thanked Atiku and his party for expressing their opposition to his declaration as the winner of the presidential election through the process of rule of law.
He stated: “The former vice president and his political party exercised their rights, under the Nigerian Constitution and electoral laws, to petition the courts and dispute this result.
‘‘They did so first at the Presidential Election Petition Tribunal which ruled in September 2019 against them. Now – following his appeal to the Supreme Court and its ruling to dismiss their case for ‘lacking merit’ – this matter is now closed.
“The president and government of Nigeria do wish to extend our gratitude to former vice-president and his party for undertaking their campaign through protestations to the courts.
“In this regard, they have conducted themselves in line with the laws of the country they sought to lead.”
Shehu said the president hailed the judgment and thanked the people of Nigeria for the mandate they gave him to run the affairs of the country for another four years.
He also said having exhausted litigations over the last presidential election, the country can now move forward in the interest of all Nigerians.
According to him, “Now, following this final legal bid before the highest court, it is time the country is afforded the right to move on – in the interest of all Nigerians – regardless of how they voted.
“The elected president and his government now must be enabled to focus solely on addressing the issues that concern the country.”
But Atiku and the PDP expressed deep reservation, with the candidate calling the judgment part of the challenges of democracy in the country.
“It is said that the Supreme Court is not final because it is infallible, but that it is infallible because it is final. While I believe that only God is infallible everywhere, and only Nigerians are infallible in our democracy, I must accept that the judicial route I chose to take, as a democrat, has come to a conclusion,” Atiku said in a statement, adding: “Whether justice was done, is left to the Nigerian people to decide. As a democrat, I fought a good fight for the Nigerian people. I will keep on fighting for Nigeria and for democracy, and also for justice.”
He thanked all Nigerians, whom he said had stayed the course since the commencement of trial in the petition.
His legal team, however, blamed the loss of the legal battle on the current electoral laws, which according to them was flawed.
Atiku and PDP challenged the entire judgment of the Presidential Election Petition Tribunal, which had affirmed the election of President Muhammadu Buhari.
The hearing came exactly 49 days after the tribunal’s verdict, which confirmed Buhari’s return for a second term of office and nearly 37 days after the appellants filed their appeal seeking to nullify the judgment and be declared lawful winners of the presidential poll.
Other members of the panel were Justices Bode Rhodes-Vivour, Kayode Ariwoola, Musa Datijo, Inyang Okoro, Ejembi Eko and Uwani Abba Aji.
Atiku and his party had approached the apex court to set aside the judgment of the Presidential Election Petition Tribunal, which affirmed the declaration of Buhari as winner of the presidential poll.
The appeal was dismissed in the very first hearing by the apex court.
“Having gone through the briefs for over two weeks, we have come to the conclusion that this appeal lacks merit. This appeal is hereby dismissed. Reason will be given at a date to be communicated to parties,” Justice Muhammad said.
However, reacting to the verdict of the apex court, lead counsel to the petitioners, Dr Levy Uzuokwu SAN, expressed shock and blamed the loss of their clients on the state of the nation’s law, which according to him needed urgent amendment.
According to him, Atiku gave a good fight but lost to the Nigerian factor.
He said that the decision of the court especially the reasons in dismissing the appeal would be carefully studied when released and that comprehensive reaction would be made public.
“I don’t want to speculate until they give their reasons. No reason has been given, we have done our best, our clients have done their best and the rest is for Nigerians,” he said, adding: “But let me say this, unless something drastically is done to electoral jurisprudence in this country there will be problem because it is now becoming obvious that petitioners will always find it difficult to prosecute their cases. But all said until they give their reasons, we will take it up from there.”
Another lawyer in the team of Atiku and PDP, Chief Mike Ozekhome SAN, also faulted the electoral laws particularly the period within which a petitioner must file his petition and present same for adjudication.
Ozekhome stated that the constitutional provisions within which a petition can be determined in totality is like a rock of Gibraltar that cannot be shifted or moved for now, no matter the grievances of any contestant in a rigged election.
In Atiku’s appeal, the senior lawyer averred that it was good that a baby has been delivered today and not aborted; adding that whether the baby is malfunctioning is another thing for the history.
Buhari’s lawyers lauded the apex court for doing justice in the matter.
Wole Olanipekun SAN, the lead counsel, said: “We want to appreciate and commend the Supreme Court for rising to the occasion. That is the way it should be and the judiciary has done well.
“For us as counsel we have done our best, both for petitioners and respondents. And as lawyers this is how far we have gone and we cannot say more than that.”
Also counsel to the All Progressive Congress, Prince Lateef Fagbemi SAN, said with the verdict every issue surrounding the election of Buhari has been put to rest.
“The chapters, paragraphs and lines having to do with the 2019 election especially the presidential aspects have been laid to rest until 2023. It has been a night of long knives, but we thank God that it has ended peacefully,” he said.
Counsel to the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC), Mr. Yunus Usman SAN, noted that the verdict had also rested the contentious issue of electronic voting, adding that once the Electoral Act is amended the commission would not hesitate to abide by it.
He said: “I am very happy and we should thank God that we have the type of judges we have at the Supreme Court and this server issue, thank God it has been laid to rest.
“INEC has never said it has no server but this particular server they are claiming www.factdontlienigeria.com, we say INEC does not have that type of server and they said it was through that server that results were transmitted.”
Before the verdict, the presiding justice of the seven man panel, Justice Muhammad had informed the counsel in the matter that the panel has 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, Usman; Buhari, Olanipekun; and APC, Fagbemi, agreed with the decision of the apex court, while counsel to the PDP, Uzuokwu, 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 could not make an order for retrial at the lower court, he argued that the apex court could hear the appeal and consider in reaching a verdict in the main appeal.
However, efforts to prevail on the apex court for 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 are similar and as such wants to avoid delivering multiple judgments in almost the same issue, adding that one of the appeals is an abuse of court process.
At the resumption of the hearing, the court allowed the defendants to adopt and argue their interlocutory appeal in which they urged the court to allow their appeal and consider their submissions in their final judgment.
In arguing the main appeal, Uzoukwu submitted that the respondents, particularly Buhari failed to give explanation between the names Muhammadu and Mohamed as contained in exhibits R19 and R21.
Uzuokwu submitted further that there is no pleading on record that the two names belong to the 2nd respondents.
While he argued that the discrepancy is 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 has been given by Buhari on record, why it is 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”, Uzuokwu said, “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 have consistently denied that they have 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 is not in position of the particular server been contested by the appellants, adding that section 52(2) gave INEC the right to chose on 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.
The Presidential Election Petition Tribunal had on September 11 dismissed the petition of Atiku and PDP against the election of Buhari on the grounds that the petitioners failed to substantiate the allegations made in their petition.