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OPINION

Presidential Election Petition Tribunal: The Chasing Shadow Moves Of Atiku Abubakar And PDP

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As expected, the Peoples’ Democratic Party and its Presidential flag bearer in the 2019 election, Alhaji Atiku Abubakar are in Court challenging the victory of All Progressives Congress and its flag bearer, President Muhammadu Buhari. Alhaji Atiku and his party, the PDP had filed 146 pages petition before the Presidential Election Petition Tribunal sitting at the Court of Appeal Complex, Abuja.

Alhaji Atiku and his party have alleged irregularities, non-qualification, violence, intimidation, bias on the part of Independent National Electoral Commission and outright rigging.  The Petitioners pray jointly and severally against the Respondents as follows:- (a). That it may be determined that the 2nd Respondent was not duly elected by a majority of lawful votes cast in the said election and therefore the declaration and return of the 2nd Respondent by the 1st Respondent as the President of Nigeria is unlawful, undue, null, void and of no effect. (b). That it may be determined that the 1st Petitioner was duly and validly elected and ought to be returned as President of Nigeria, having polled the highest number of lawful votes cast at the election to the office of the President of Nigeria held on 23rd February 2019 and having satisfied the constitutional requirements for the said election. (c). An order directing the 1st Respondent to issue Certificate of Return to the 1st Petitioner as the duly elected President of Nigeria. (d). That it may be determined that the 2nd Respondent was at the time of the election not qualified to contest the said election. (e). That it may be determined that the 2nd Respondent submitted to the Commission affidavit containing false information of a fundamental nature in aid of his qualification for the said election. IN THE ALTERNATIVE (f). That the election to the office of the President of Nigeria held on 23rd February 2019 be nullified and a fresh election ordered.

To start with, Atiku had prayed the tribunal to grant him access to check the supposed INEC server, the tribunal declined. Pressed for evidence before the tribunal to ascertain the existence of the server, the petitioner produced a video clip showing Mike Igini, Resident Electoral Commissioner of Akwa Ibom State, speaking on a TV program of the possibility of INEC employing electronic transmission of results during the 2019 general elections; INEC countered during one of the tribunal sittings that Igini is its not spokesperson. 

The Petitioners listed about 400 witnesses to prove their petition and have even gone ahead to generate results of the said election, purportedly from the INEC server in which the Petitioners won the 2019 election!

The Petitioners have opened their case and have so far called 58 witnesses out of the 400 originally listed in 9 days out of 10 days allotted to them to prove their case. It is now safe to assess the witnesses called thus far by the Petitioners to see if and if, they will be able to discharge the burden of prove placed on them by our electoral laws and jurisprudence. But before them, let me pose a very pertinent question, is 400 witnesses, taking into consideration our electoral laws and jurisprudence into consideration, enough to establish the case of the petitioners? Our subsequent discussion will provide answer to this question.

Conventionally, once a case is before the court or a legally and fittingly constituted tribunal, it is subjuidice to discuss facts of the litigious matter within the context of the law outside the courtroom. Thank goodness, I won’t be found wanting in this regard as I am neither a lawyer nor a worker in the temple of justice.

Be that as it may, while this article is not meant to be another tribunal to adjudicate on the matter, it is not out of place to analyze some curious developments pertaining to Atiku’s presidential petition so far for the number of times the tribunal has sat. It is as dramatic as it has come.

Like stated above, the Petitioners have thus far called 58 witnesses from the 400 they listed. An assessment of the performance of the witnesses called thus far will show that the Peoples’ Democratic Party and Alhaji Atiku Abubakar are only chasing shadows at the tribunal.

During one of the trials, the Petitioners called one witness from Enugu State. The witness averred in his witness statement on oath before the tribunal that he did transmit the result of the election in the area he officiated to the INEC server with a code provided by INEC. But during cross-examination, the witness could not provide the code as he alleged that he left the code in his phone. The witness could not also state the name of the server he sent his result to. As the trials continue, we have seen how the witnesses the Petitioners called were largely unable to substantiate their depositions during cross-examination. One Ambassador Madiel Samaki told the court under cross-examination that he knew Atiku was born on 25 November 1948 in Jada, present-day Adamawa state by Nigerian parents and is therefore a Nigerian by birth. He added that he also attended Provisional Secondary School in Yola, Adamawa State with Atiku in 1961. He however claimed that he was neither aware that Jada in Adamawa State, where Atiku was born, was at any time a part of Northern Cameroon nor that prior to 1919, Cameroon was being administered by Germany. He stated that to the best of his knowledge, Jada was in Northern Nigeria before 1946 and although he was in secondary school in 1961, he was not taught how Northern Cameroon became part of Nigeria. He also admitted not being present when Atiku’s mother gave birth to him.

In a similar testimony, One Mohammed Kabir Kayatu told the court that his deceased father told him that Atiku was born in Nigeria.  Ali testified that a certain INEC Commissioner by name Abubakar Kaura accepted a bribe of Ten Thousand Dollars ($10,000.00) from an APC agent and that he made a verbal report of the incident to the Police about it but had no extract from the Police at the time of his testimony.

Comrade Abubakar Sadiq Abdullahi admitted that there were over 517 Polling Units in his Local Government Area and he visited about 201 of them and spent approximately ten minutes at each one. This would have amounted to a total of thirty-three and half hours, even though he admitted that polling hours were between 8.00am and 5.00pm in most areas.

Mohammed Opaluwa told the court that he got the figures he quoted as the scores of the PDP and APC respectively from “those who voted.” He could not recall the number of registered voters, accredited voters and actual voters in his polling unit.

The 16 July 2019 trial opened with the cross examination of Mr. Segun Sowunmi, media adviser to Atiku Abubakar and the one PDP referred to as ‘star witness” by the respondents. President Buhari showed the court a video clip of an interview granted to Channels Television by the INEC Chairman, Professor Mahmood Yakubu on 6 February 2019 wherein the latter gave reasons why the results of the 2019 elections would not be transmitted electronically. In the video, Professor Yakubu cited the problems of communication, poor network coverage and the challenge of cyber security as factors that would militate against electronic transmission of results. Sowunmi denied knowledge of the interview and claimed to have only listened to an interview where the Chairman had said electronic transmission of results is possible.

Haruna (Haru-spice) writes from Garki Abuja

In the organogram of the electoral commission, the only person who can speak authoritatively on and about its activities in the public is the national chairman or the spokesperson of the body or anyone the chairman delegates his powers to. Against this background, according to INEC, Igini’s position is null, void and immaterial to the sustenance of the narrative around the fictitious server.

Now back to our question, can 400 witnesses prove allegations listed in the petition? The answer is, of course in the negative. Plethora of authorities have stated the standard of proof required to nullify a Presidential election. Even as the tribunal sitting continues, it is crystal clear to the discerning that the centrality of Atiku’s petition is his ability to prove the existence of the ghost server where he allegedly won the February 23 presidential election. If the morning tells what the day will look like, then there is nothing, even remote, to demonstrate that he will be able to prove that the server actually exists and it was used for the transmission of results during the election. The second leg of his petition- that Buhari does not have the minimal qualifications to participate in the election-is already amputated, as it is a pre-election matter.

Cases such as Awolowo vs Shagari, Buhari vs Obasanjo, Buhari vs Yar’adua and Buhari vs Jonathan have all stated that for a petitioner to move the court to nullify a Presidential Election, such a petitioner (s) needs to prove polling unit by polling unit across the entire nation the allegation he or she is alleging in his or her petition. No doubt, these cases will be nemesis to Atiku and the PDP in their chasing shadow moves at the Presidential Election Petition Tribunal.

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