The Presidential Election Petition Tribunal, which has the status of the Court of Appeal, has affirmed the victory of President Muhammadu Buhari, who was declared by the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) as the winner of the February 23, Nigeria presidential election.
In affirming President Buhari’s victory, the Tribunal unanimously dismissed all the prayers in the petition by the People’s Democratic Party (PDP) and its candidate, Atiku Abubakar, challenging the outcome of the election.
The Five learned Justices of the Presidential Election Petions Tribunal are: Justice Mohammed Garba of the Lagos Division of the Court of Appeal, who is the Presiding Justice of the five man panel; Justice Abdul Aboki of the Abuja Division of the Court of Appeal; Justice Joseph Ikyegh of the Benin Division of the Court of Appeal; Justice Samuel Oseji of the Lagos Division of the Court of Appeal and Justice Peter Ige of the Abuja Division of the Court of Appeal.
Alhaji Atiku and the PDP had petitioned the Tribunal to challenge President Buhari’s March 23 presidential election victory on five substantive grounds viz; Who, among the two scored Majority of lawful votes, as Atiku and PDP had alleged that Buhari and APC suppressed, deflated votes while INEC made wrong entries in result sheets in their strong states (which they named in the course of the tribunal hearing) to deny them victory; That the election was marred by malpractices and corruption in glaring contravention of the Electoral Act, 2010 (as amended) by the Nigerian Police, Army etc. Atiku and PDP also alleged that the Tradermoni initiative by the Vice President, Yemi Osinbajo, amounted to vote buying; That Electronic transmission and server results differed with announced result, as Atiku and PDP claimed that they scored higher votes above that of Buhari and APC, through results transmitted on INEC server and made available by adhoc officials on the field; Qualification to contest election, as Atiku and PDP wanted the tribunal to decide whether Buhari and APC satisfied the provision of Section 131 of the Nigerian Constitution for school certificate as one of the qualifications for the office of the President and; Citizenship, as Buhari and APC had claimed that Atiku did not qualify to contest the election having been born in Jada, Adamawa State in 1946 at a time the state was part of Northern Cameroon and therefore, not a citizen of Nigeria as required by the Constitution.
There was also the matter of whether Atiku’s Lawyer, Livi Uzokwu, SAN, was legitimately enrolled and qualified to practice Law in Nigeria let alone appear before the Tribunal in his capacity as lead counsel to Atiku Abubakar.
The Justice Muhammed led tribunal decided to dispense with what was regarded as the preliminary prayers of the petition and after almost four hours of addressing these prayers, delivered the following rulings, summarized thus:
1) INEC’s Motion Challenging Competence of Petitioner Counsel Livi Uzoukwu, SAN, was Dismissed;
2) Application to strike out case for Noninclusion of the respondent deputy Osinbajo Rejected, as he and President Buhari were on the same presidential ticket and regarded as one;
3) The Panel dismissed Motion of allegations of misconduct against security agency;
4) The 5 Judges agreed and struck out or dismissed INEC’s motion arguing that Atiku lead counsel Levi Uzoukwu SAN is not a legal practitioner.
5) Court struck out some Paragraphs in petitioners reply being in breach of rules over criminal complaints against individual not listed.
6) The Tribunal refused INEC’s request to dismiss Atiku’s prayers seeking President Buhari disqualification on the ground that he was not qualified to contest the election, ruling that the President’s qualification can be challenged;
8) The court struck out some documents and by implication, the entire witness statement of Osita Chidoka, who was the star witness of the Petitioner, on the ground that they amounted to amending petition.
9)The Contention by President Buhari that Atiku Abubakar of the PDP did not qualify to present the petition was dismissed and Atiku’s citizenship was affirmed;
10) The Tribunal agreed with counsel to President Buhari that it can not adjudicate on allegation that Vice President Osibanjo used government fund to induce voters.
Having thus dealt with preliminary issues of the petition, the Panel retired for a short break and when the Tribunal reconvened about an hour later, the panel set forth to deliver its ruling on the substantive prayers on the petition.
Justice Muhammed Garba, who delivered the lead judgment ruled that the petitioners failed to prove all the allegations raised in their petition and in so doing, the Tribunal unanimously upheld the election of President Muhammadu Buhari, as duly elected on February 23, 2019.
Addressing the issue of Academic qualification and certificate, Justice Garba Mohammed ruled that President Buhari possessed the requisite qualification and was eminently qualified (he also used the term ‘over qualified at some point) to contest the February 23 presidential election.
Highlighting the point that Buhari’s curriculum vitae which was tendered by the petitioners themselves, “contained impressive credentials” that qualified him to contest the presidential election the Tribunal further noted that the President “even if he tendered primary school certificate” was sufficiently qualified to contest the presidential election, as stipulated in the relevant sections of the constitution of the Nigeria and the Electoral law, which were quoted copiously to buttress the ruling.
The ruling on the qualification of President Buhari to contest the February 23 presidential election is summarized thus:
1. The mere fact that Buhari did not attach his certificates to the Form CF001 he tendered before the INEC was not a ground to allege that he does not possess them.
2. The petitioners failed to provide any evidence to prove that Buhari was not qualified in line with provisions of sections 131, 137 and 138 of the Constitution.
3. The petitioners failed to prove that the West African School Certificate (WASC) was not in existence as at 1961 when President Buhari joined the Nigerian Army.
4. The petitioners misinterpreted the law by believing that the statement deposed to by the former spokesman of the Nigerian Army, Brigadier General Olajide Olaniyi, translated into the conclusion that Buhari lacked basic educational qualifications.
5. In the opinion of the Tribunal, Brig. Gen. Olaniyi had in the said statement merely asserted that the Nigerian Army was not with Buhari’s original certificates, but also admitted however that he (Buhari) got credits in the following subjects: English language, Geography, History, Hausa, Health Science and a pass in English Literature.
6. That the only way Brig. Gen. Olaniyi could have known about the subjects Buhari passed in his 1961 WASC, since there was no credential in his Army file (Form 119a), was that President Buhari actually presented the said Certificate to the Army.
In the words of Justice Garba Mohammed: “The reasonable inference is that the 2nd Respondent presented his WASC to Army. It will be incredible to hold in the face of exhibit P-24 that the 2nd Respondent does not possess qualification to contest for the office of President of the Federal Republic of Nigeria as stipulated in section 131 of the Constitution.”
7. The fact that the petitioners were were unable to call Brig. Gen. Olaniyi, who made the said statement, as a witness before the Tribunal, was equally fatal to their case and that since the petitioners failed to produce Brig. Gen. Olaniyi as a witness, the statement he issued with respect to Buhari’s certificate, which was admitted in evidence, lacked probative value.
8. That whereas section 137 (1) stipulated conditions under which a person could be disqualified, section 318(1) defined what School Certificate or its equivalent means as provided in section 131 and listed credentials that can qualify a presidential candidate to include the Grade 2 Teachers Certificate, education up to Secondary School, Primary 6 Certificate or its equivalent, service in a public sector acceptable to the INEC for a minimum of 10 years, as well as the ability read and write in the English language.
9. Flowing from the above submissions, the Tribunal concluded that there was evidence before it that Buhari finished both his primary and secondary education in 1956 and 1961, respectively, before he joined the Nigerian Army and there was also evidence that Buhari attended military training from 1961 to 1963.
“It was established beyond doubt that the 2nd Respondent had his educational qualifications,” Justice Garba declared, adding that neither the Constitution nor the Electoral Act required Buhari to attach any of his certificates to the Form CF 001 before he could be adjudged to have met the pre-requisite for qualification, especially since the INEC’s screening process required candidates to depose to an affidavit to attest to the veracity of the information contained in the Form CF 001, which renders the presentation of the actual certificates, unnecessary.
The Tribunal lead Justice then cited a previous Supreme Court judgment, to buttress his ruling thus: “Submission of educational certificate is not a requirement for qualification to contest election for governor under section 177 of the Constitution. It is established that a candidate is not required under the Electoral Act to attach his certificate to his Form CF001 before a candidate is adjudged to have the requisite qualification to contest the election.
“In effect, the 2nd Defendant went through secondary education and then proceeded to military school. The military school is higher than secondary education. Thus our conclusion is that Buhari is not only qualified but eminently qualified to contest the presidential election.
10. That the onus of proof rests squarely on the petitioners to prove their assertion that the 2nd Respondent does not possess the educational qualification to contest the election or that he submitted false information which is fundamental in nature to aid his qualification.
According to the Tribunal Justice; “This I have mentioned that the petitioners failed to prove. The petitioners cannot, therefore, rely on any failure in the case. I come to the conclusion and I resolve issues 1 and 2 against the petitioners.
“I have no doubt in my mind that the petitioners have failed to prove that the Second Respondent does not possess the qualification to contest the election into the office of the President as stipulated in section 131, 137, 138 of the Constitution. I am also of the firm view that the petitioners have failed to prove that the Second Respondent submitted false information which is fundamental in nature to aid his qualification to contest the election into the Office of the President as prescribed in section 35(1) of the Evidence Act, 2011.”
On the other substantive prayer regarding the issue of whether INEC has a server and whether results were transmitted electronicically electoral officers to the server, the Tribunal also dismissed the claim of Atiku and PDP that there was a central server and ruled that there was no electronic transmission of results, even as Justice Garba and other panel members collectively insisted that the manual and practice guidelines provided by the INEC for the conduct of the election, did not provide for electronic transmission of results.
Also, the Tribunal resolved that the evidence of the expert witness, relied substantially on information sourced from a website which is alien to the Tribunal and as such can best be qualified as third party, hearsay evidence, which is neither admissible nor authentic, in the overall consideration of it’s import yo the case.
Justice Garba said: “These claims cannot be countenanced because they lack worth. Based on the available evidence, it is clear that the results were collated manually.
“The evidence and report of witness 59 of the petitioners (PW59) cannot be relied on that there was indeed INEC server or servers, as the case may be, into which the results of the presidential election were transmitted.
“Card reader machine has not replaced the voter register. I have carefully examined Exhibit 28 (INEC Manual for Election) tendered by the petitioners, I did not see where there is provision for electronic transmission of result of election.
“The petitioners have therefore failed to prove that the Second Respondent (President Buhari) did not score a majority of lawful votes in the election.
”This matter (issue 3) is hereby resolved against the petitioners.”
The Tribunal also quashed the allegation of malpractices during the election on the grounds that the petitioners failed to provide concrete and substantial ballot evidence and comprehensive witnesses to support the allegations of malpractice and electoral violations
Having thus resolved all the issues in favour of the respondents, the panel held that President Muhammadu Buhari was duly re-elected and the All Progressives Congress was victorious in the February 23, 2019 presidential election in Nigeria.