The Presidential Election Petition Tribunal (PEPT), sitting in Abuja on Wednesday dismissed the petition brought before it by the Presidential candidate of the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP), Alhaji Atiku Abubakar and his party, challenging the declaration of President Muhammadu Buhari as the winner of the February 23, 2019, Presidential election.
The five-member panel of Justices of the Court of Appeal that sat on the Tribunal, in a lead judgment delivered by Justice Mohammed Garba held that Atiku and his party failed to prove the allegations of violation of Electoral Act and corrupt practices in the conduct of the election.
The Tribunal held that the petitioners could not prove the criminal allegations of non-accreditation, invalid votes, deliberate depletion of petitioners vote, anomalies, over-voting, wrongful collation of results in favour of Buhari and APC as well as corrupt practices beyond reasonable doubt as required by law.
The Tribunal also held that Atiku and PDP failed to establish that Buhari was not academically qualified to contest the post of president of the Federal Republic of Nigeria, even as it held that the petitioners failed to also show that Buhari gave false information in the form he submitted to the electoral body to get clearance to participate in the February 23 Presidential election.
In the unanimous judgment, the Tribunal agreed with the submission of Chief Wole Olanipekun (SAN), counsel to President Buhari that Buhari does not need to tender or attach certificate before he can get qualification for any election.
It is on that note that the Tribunal held that President Buhari was eminently qualified to contest the presidential election and resolved issues one and two against Atiku and his party.
On issue three, that Buhari was not validly elected, the Tribunal held that INEC, in their submissions proved that election results were manually transmitted and not electronically via card reader as alleged by the petitioners.
The Tribunal agreed that INEC has no central server, adding that, from the testimony of the petitioners’ witnesses, it shows that collation and transmission of election results were not electronically transmitted.
It also agreed with the respondents in the petition that there is no provision in the Electoral Act that allows the transmission of election results electronically.
“The evidences of PW3, 4,15, 36 and 59 cannot be relied upon to come to a conclusion that INEC has a central server where election results were electronically transmitted to.
“Their evidence lacks probative value and cannot be relied upon. The petitioners failed to prove their case that results were transmitted electronically”, the Tribunal held in the judgment that lasted for about nine hours.
The chairman of the Tribunal, Justice Garba, who read the judgment said the petitioners ought to have called witnesses from all the collation centres across the 774 local government areas of the country to testify on the allegations of corrupt practices, violence and non compliance to the provisions of the Electoral Act to prove their allegations beyond reasonable doubt.
He said Atiku and his party failed to prove that Buhari was not validly elected by majority lawful votes cast.
The Tribunal held that the petitioners’ allegations that the Army, Police and other security agencies harassed and intimidated supporters of the PDP during the election was not satisfactorily proved by the petitioners.
According to Justice Garba, “It is inevitable and unavoidable that the petitioners had failed to satisfactorily prove the allegations contained in their petition.
“This petition is likely to be dismissed and it is hereby dismissed in its entirety, parties are to bear their cost”, Justice Garba held.
While counsel to INEC, Buhari and the APC commended the Tribunal for the judgment, counsel to the petitioners, Dr Livy Nzoukwu (SAN) said the judgment was the longest ever delivered and indicated that the petitioners will study the judgment and will challenge it at the Supreme Court.
Earlier, the Tribunal delivered ruling in some applications filed by parties at the pre-hearing session, one of it been that of INEC which prayed the Tribunal to dismiss the petitioners’ petition on the ground that Vice President Yemi Osibanjo was not added as a party in their petition.
Ruling on the application, the Tribunal held that INEC’s prayer for dismissal of the petitioners’ case on the ground that they failed to join Osibanjo is not well-grounded in law and consequently dismissed it for lacking in merit
Atiku and his party, in their submissions told the tribunal that Buhari used fundamental falsehood to secure clearance from INEC to participate in the poll.
Atiku in his final address insisted that Buhari, as the candidate of the All Progressives Congress (APC) lied on oath in his form CF001 presented to INEC before standing for the presidential election.
In the final address, Atiku through his counsel, drew the attention of the Tribunal to a portion of Buhari’s INEC form where he claimed to have three different certificates; comprising Primary School leaving certificate, WAEC certificate and Officers Cadet certificate.
The petitioners said it was shocking and surprising that, “No Provisional certificate, no certified true copy of the certificates, no photocopy of certificates and in fact, no electronic version of any of the certificates was presented by Buhari throughout the hearing of the petition to dispute the claim of the petitioners.
“More worrisome is the fact that Buhari’s own witness Major General Paul Tafa (rtd), who joined the Nigerian Army with him in 1962 told the tribunal that they were never asked to submit their certificates to the Nigerian Army Board as claimed by Buhari in his form CF001.
“At any rate, the Secretary of the Nigerian Army Board, Olatunde Olaleye had in a statement clarified that Buhari had no single certificate in his personal file with the Nigerian Army”.
Atiku therefore urged the tribunal to nullify the participation of Buhari in the election on the grounds that Buhari lied on oath to deceive Nigerians and to secure unlawful qualification for the election.
The former Vice President informed the tribunal that the claim of Buhari that he can read and write in English language as enough qualification for him was of no moment because ordinary artisans on the streets of Nigeria can also do so, adding that a grave allegation bordering on certificate was not addressed by Buhari as required by law.
The PDP presidential candidate also faulted the claim of INEC that it has no central server, adding that server is a storage facility including computer where database of registered voters, number of permanent voter card and election results amongst others are stored for references.
He said the claim by INEC that it has no device like server to store information, “as laughable, tragic and a story for the dogs”.
Atiku’s lawyer in the final address debunked the claim of INEC that collation and transmission of results electronically was prohibited by law in Nigeria.
He asserted that by Electoral Amendment Act of March 26, 2015, the use of electronics became law and was officially gazetted for the country, adding that section 9 of the Act which made provision for electronic collation of results replaced section 52 which hitherto prohibited the use of electronics, which INEC erroneously held that electronic results transmission is prohibited.
He, therefore, urged the tribunal to uphold the petition and nullified the participation of Buhari in the election on the grounds that he was not qualified to have stood for the election, in addition to malpractices that prompted his declaration as winner of the election.
However, INEC represented by Yunus Usman (SAN), urged the tribunal to dismiss the petition with substantial cost because the electoral body conducted the election in total compliance with the Nigerian constitution and Electoral Act 2010.
Usman insisted that INEC did not transmit election results electronically because doing so is prohibited by law and that the Commission did not call any witness because there was no need to do so.
In his defence, President Buhari through his counsel, Chief Wole Olanipekun (SAN), argued that Atiku’s petition was liable to be dismissed because it is lacking in evidence, merit and substance and that the petition signified nothing.
He averred that there was nothing in law to persuade the tribunal to nullify the February 23 presidential election as pleaded by Atiku and urged the tribunal to dismiss the petition with substantial cost.
The APC represented by Prince Lateef Fagbemi (SAN), in his own submission said the petition lacked quality evidence that could warrant the nullification of the election as pleaded by the petitioners and urged the tribunal to throw out the petition as long as its hand can do with a huge cost.
Fagbemi told the tribunal that the petitioners called 62 witnesses only in a failed attempt to prove their allegations concerning 119,793 pulling units, 8, 809 wards and 774 local government areas and local area councils being challenged by the petitioners and added that the witnesses were from 11 states only including the FCT.
Fagbemi contended that the failure to call witnesses across the states of the federation by the petitioners to establish their allegations as envisaged by law is fatal to the petition and made it liable for dismissal by the tribunal.
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