- INEC server evidence can’t be relied upon
- Presidency: Ruling represents popular will
Alex Enumah and Udora Orizu in Abuja
The Supreme Court yesterday disclosed that the appeal filed by the candidate of the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP), in the last presidential election, Atiku Abubakar and his party, against the election of President Muhammadu Buhari, was dismissed owing to the failure of the appellants to prove any of the allegations made in their appeal.
Giving reasons why the appeal was dismissed, Justice John Okoro, who read the lead judgment prepared by the Chief Justice of Nigeria (CJN), Justice Ibrahim Muhammad, said the apex court, after going through the matter, agreed with the decision of the tribunal that the appellants were unable to prove the allegations made in the appeal.
Okoro noted that the appeal of Atiku and PDP were centred on two major issues; qualification and non-compliance with the electoral laws.
The apex court, while noting that the appellants could not substantiate their claims that President Buhari was not qualified to have contested the election, held that the purported central server they relied on in their claim of non-compliance, could not be relied on since the source was doubtful having not linked to INEC.
Justice Okoro said having gone through the testimonies and documents tendered by the appellants, they (Supreme Court Justices) were convinced that the tribunal was right in arriving at the decision to dismiss the appeal and affirmed the declaration of President Muhammadu Buhari as lawfully and duly returned as winner of the election.
On the issue of qualification, the apex court held that the tribunal was in order when it held that President Buhari was eminently qualified to contest the February 23 presidential poll.
Okoro said that the issue of qualification was a constitutional one open to conjectures or inferences.
Citing sections 131 and 318 of the constitution, the apex court held that Buhari was able to prove that he possessed the minimum academic qualification, which is education up to secondary school level, adding that mere attendance in a school up to secondary school level qualifies one to contest for the office of President of Nigeria.
According to the judgment exhibits, such as group photographs of Katsina Secondary School, Cambridge University Assessment, West African School Certificate (WASC), commendation letter from the Commandant of US war college for the then Major Muhammadu Buhari as well as his long service in public service, two years of which he served as military Head of State and four years as President, was suffice for the qualification requirement.
While noting that the appellants failed to prove that these certificates were forged, Justice Okoro held that no law in the country, whether the Constitution or the Electoral Act, requires a candidate to attach his certificate before he can be adjudged qualified to contest an election.
On the issue of given false information to INEC, the apex court said it also agreed with the decision of the tribunal that the allegation being rooted in criminality must be proved beyond reasonable doubt and that the appellants did not do.
On the issue of the differences in the name ‘Mohamed’ and ‘Muhammadu’, the apex court held that the fifth witness called by Buhari was able to establish that the two names, ‘Mohamed’and’Muhammadu’ belong to the same person.
On the issue of server, which the appellants relied on as a prove of irregularities and non-compliance with the electoral laws, the apex court said that the tribunal was right in rejecting the data and analysis from the said server because the said data were not obtained from INEC but rather from a whistle blower and anonymous INEC staff which cannot be relied upon.
According to the Supreme Court, the evidence of the two ICT experts, obtained from a website “www.fact don’t lie.ng Website” cannot be relied upon.
“I am satisfied with the findings of the lower court which did not attach any probative value on the evidences of PW 59 and PW 60. This issue is resolved in favour of the respondent,” Okoro ruled.
On the issue of alleged rigging and other malpractices, the apex court agreed with the tribunal that the appellants failed to call sufficient and relevant witnesses to prove the allegations.
The court while stating that to prove issues of non-compliance, appellants must call witnesses, polling unit by polling unit and that such witnesses must have witnessed the election at the particular unit from beginning to end, said that the appellants only called 62 witnesses out of the over 250,000 polling units in the country.
The apex court added that the fact that only five out of the 62 witnesses of the appellants were polling unit agents was fatal to their case.
On the issue of documents, the apex court while faulting the appellants for not tendering the voter register used for the election, accused them of dumping voluminous documents on the court without calling the makers of the said documents to speak on the documents.
Accordingly, it agreed with the lower court that no probative value can be attached to such documents, adding that it was not the duty of the justices to speculate or fish out what the documents were all about.
Justice Okoro said that the apex court having resolved all issues in favour of the respondents, unanimously agreed that the appeal lacked merit and ought to be dismissed and accordingly did so.
Earlier, when the matter was called, neither Atiku and PDP nor their representative was in court.
Also, none of their lawyers was in court to hear the reason for the dismissal of the appeal by the Supreme Court on October 30, prompting counsel to the second respondent, Alex Izinyon SAN, to apologise on behalf of the appellants.
But in a quick response, Justice Okoro, who led two other Justices, held that the court would go ahead to give its reasons notwithstanding the absence of the appellants.
The apex court had on October 30, dismissed the appeal filed by Atiku and PDP on grounds that it was unmeritorious, but said reasons behind the judgment would be made known at a later date, which it did yesterday.
Dissatisfied with the judgment of the tribunal, Atiku and PDP had approached the apex court in the land to set it aside on the grounds that the lower court erred in law when it held that their petition lacked merit as none of their allegations made against the presidential election was proved.
However, the apex court within a few hours of hearing the appeal, unanimously agreed that it lacked merit and dismissed it accordingly.
Meanwhile, the Presidency yesterday accepted the reasons the Supreme Court gave in dismissing the appeals of Atiku and the PDP, which challenged the victory of President Buhari in the February 23 poll.
It said the apex court’s ruling represented the “popular will” of Nigerians since Abubakar and the PDP were unable to establish any case against Buhari’s victory.
The Presidency, in a statement by Buhari’s media aide, Mr Garba Shehu, called on the PDP to put the election behind it, adding that it was commendable that the party took the legal route to dispute the outcome of the poll up to the apex court.
The Presidency stated further, “However, now it is time for the PDP to take up the service mandated by this election. The legislative agenda of the Ninth Assembly is ambitious in both size and scope. It is critical that the opposition is there to scrutinise bills and policies, rather than preoccupy themselves with unsustainable court cases.
“We appreciate the PDP and their candidate for taking these claims to courts rather than expressing them in other ways, but now Nigeria needs a robust and rigorous opposition. The nation needs to move on.
“While it is correct to give credit to the courts for affirming this electoral victory-and we commend the courage of the bench to arrive at the right conclusion given manifest and subtle pressures to do otherwise-the reality is that courts were convinced by arguments from the lawyers representing the APC and its candidate, President Muhammadu Buhari that results reflect the true wishes of a majority of our citizens.
“President Buhari won four million more votes than his closest rival, Atiku Abubakar, in the February poll. No serious electoral observers have challenged this result. And now the Supreme Court has explained why the PDP appeal is unsubstantiated. We hope this finally puts the matter behind us. We should now grasp this moment to move forward, together.”
Reacting to the reasons given by the Supreme Court, the Coalition of United Political Parties (CUPP), in a statement by its spokesman, Ikenga Ugochinyere, lamented that the nation’s democracy and electoral processes “have been set back to the dark ages.”
The coalition said the apex court has by this action today, “rewritten the constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria, 1999 as Amended.”