There was apprehension yesterday in the ruling All Progressives Congress (APC) and the opposition Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) ahead of today’s judgement of the Presidential Election Petitions Tribunal on the outcome of the February 23, 2019 presidential election.
While the PDP resorted to prayers for the verdict to be tilted in its favour, supporters of the APC were optimistic that the judgement would cause jubilation in their camp and serve the interest of most Nigerians.
The tribunal sitting in Abuja yesterday fixed today to deliver judgment in the petition filed by the PDP and its presidential candidate, Alhaji Atiku Abubakar against the victory of President Muhammadu Buhari in the election.
Buhari was declared winner of the election by the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) with 15,191,847 votes as against Atiku’s 11, 262,978 votes.
The Court of Appeal public relations officer, Mrs Sadiat Kachalla, disclosed yesterday in Abuja the notice of the tribunal’s judgment, which on August 21, 2019 reserved verdict on the appeal after the parties to the dispute adopted their addresses.
Thereafter, Justice Mohammed Garba, the chairman of the five-man panel of justices hinted that the judgment date would be communicated to the parties.
PDP Resorts To Prayers
In its quest for a favourable judgement at the tribunal, the PDP organised a 12-day prayer under the auspices of the PDP National Chapel (PDP-NC) slated to end on September 13, the date speculated for the tribunal verdict.
The theme of the prayer session was: “On the altar with Supreme Judge of the Universe.” The party national chairman, Prince Uche Secondus, served as the national coordinator of the PDP-NC.
A circular to that effect read: “PDP prayer session, with the theme: ‘On the altar with Supreme Judge of the Universe, Isaiah 41: 21, Gen, 13: 4’.
“We are in God’s presence entreating His Divine mercy and justice to prevail on behalf of PDP and Nigerians at the presidential tribunal. Date: August 29 to September 14.
“This is to notify all concerned that the 12-day ongoing prayer project regarding the presidential tribunal (Appeal) judgement which is slated for September 13, 2019 will come to an end on Thursday, September 13.
“Consequently, we are all admonished to come out in agreement to fight this course through prayers,” the circular read.
The party faithful had since August 29 when the prayer session started, besieged the chapel located within the Wadata National Secretariat of the PDP, praying and praising God to grant them and their candidate victory.
The prayer sessions usually lasts between two and three hours since the exercise started.
Meanwhile, pro-democracy groups, Defenders of Nigeria (DEDON) and Justice Now, yesterday called for an enabling environment that will result in justice ahead of today’s judgment.
Its convener, Hon. Vik-Morrow, at a press briefing in Abuja said that “we seek an enabling environment for justice whereby the crackdown on the judiciary possesses serious fear of manipulation.
“It will interest the world to know that all fair-minded people who followed the proceedings of the 2019 presidential election petitions tribunal cannot be in doubt to what the verdict should be on the basis of fairness, that is the more reason we appeal to Your Excellency to tell the judiciary to live up to expectations on the ground of Nigeria first.
“Going forward we can’t continue to be silent or pretend that all is well when all is so wrong. It will therefore please you to know that the potency of the first project of #JusticeNow is resulted to the fact that the presidency of Nigeria houses our common destiny as a people and therefore the need to encourage transparency in election is most necessary in our quest for national transformation.
“Nigeria must arrive in a position where those who win elections legitimately must be allowed to execute the mandate of the people bestowed on them. This campaign is driven by struggles of the oppressed and hungry Nigerians who sincerely want to see the will of the people prevail by allowing the winner of the 2019 presidential election with the majority of the Nigerian votes gets justice now,” he said.
Verdict’ll Reflect The Will Of Nigerians – PSC
On its part, the Presidential Support Committee (PSC) has expressed the confidence that the tribunal will do substantial justice on the matter, adding that its pronouncement will reflect the will of Nigerians.
PSC said that instead of waiting patiently for the tribunal’s verdict, the PDP resorted to self-help and sneaky schemes in an attempt to coerce the justices of the court to give judgement in its favour.
In a statement issued by PSC director of Communication and Strategic Planning, Mallam Gidado Ibrahim, the group described a video in circulation on the social media in which Information and Culture minister, Alhaji Lai Mohammed, allegedly asked Nigerians to pardon Buhari for not having his WAEC certificate as one of the antics of the opposition to influence the tribunal’s judgement.
Ibrahim noted that the desperation of the PDP ahead of the tribunal judgement “will end up in a wild goose chase because a court of law is not a ‘Father Christmas’ that should bow to the whims of a group of individuals by giving a favourable judgement just to suit their parochial political interest.”
He described the video as fake news doctored and edited by the desperate opposition to cause chaos among the populace.
The statement read in part: “After its futile attempt during the 2019 campaigns to turn the country’s presidency into a commodity for sale to the highest bidder, the opposition PDP in this post-election era had been engaging in spurious activities targeted at undermining the sanctity of the temple of justice by intimidating and blackmailing their lordships at the presidential election tribunal into standing the law on its head in their favour.
“But we are glad that today’s judgement will reflect the will of the people of Nigeria who spoke categorically in February this year by voting massively for President Buhari. The voice of the people is the voice of God and we are confident that their lordships at the tribunal will uphold the wish of Nigerians against the plot by the opposition to blackmail them into sacrificing substantial justice on the altar of technicalities…
“PDP and their spin doctors should have come up with serious evidence to give their case legal backing. They should have dwelt on concrete facts instead of doctoring stories and video clips that can only be read on fictional novels. President Buhari’s victory at the 2019 presidential poll was a resounding one.”
While adopting his address, Chief Wole Olanipekun (SAN), counsel to Buhari, had described the petition as a sham because it lacked substance and merit.
According to him, “I have handled a few electoral petition cases, this is one petition that yarns for help, for assistance and for evidence but could not get any. Apart from the hype the matter has generated, there is nothing in law to support the allegations before the tribunal.”
On Buhari’s qualification, Olanipekun said that Section 131 (b) had settled that matter, adding that, “I make bold to say that the nation’s constitution and case laws had not compelled the candidates of the election to tender certificates or to attach same to INEC form before submission.
“The laws only mandate any person contesting election in the country to have gone to school up to secondary school level,’’ he said.
Commenting on the transmission of the election results by electronic means, Olanipekun said that the use of such technology must be provided for in the Electoral Act.
“The allegation on the management of server by INEC is vague. Where is the server? This is a million dollar question that the petitioners could not substantiate.
“My Lords, this petition was not properly diagnosed, the action was ill-advised, I therefore urge the tribunal not to bow to sentiment or public opinion that does not represent the law. This petition is liable to be dismissed with a considerable cost,’’ Olanipekun declared.
Also, the APC counsel, Mr Lateef Fagbemi (SAN), aligned himself with the submissions of Olanipekun.
He said: “My Lords, it is disheartening to see that this petition still remains watery at this stage. The petition made allegations they could not prove. We have done a table showing how the petitioners have proven the case so far.
“The election took place in 119,976 polling units, 8,901 wards in 774 local government areas across the country. It is sad therefore to see that the petitioners only called 62 witnesses. Of this figure, only five witnesses gave direct evidence of what happened in the polling units on the day of the election.
“I feel sad that this matter has been starved of evidence and therefore deserves to be dismissed,’’ Fagbemi said.
Also, Mr Yunus Usman (SAN), lawyer to INEC, asked the panel to uphold all of his objections raised against the admissibility of all pieces of documentary and oral evidence led by the petitioners.
Usman submitted that the electoral body conducted the presidential election in total compliance with provisions of the Electoral Act 2010 (as amended).
He also urged the tribunal to disregard the petitioners’ claims that the results of the election were transmitted electronically to a central server managed by INEC, adding that it was the “greatest lie of the century.’’
He submitted that it was laughable when the petitioners made pleadings that suggested that only the PDP and APC and their candidates contested the election.
Usman prayed the tribunal to take judicial notice of the fact that the Electoral Act 2010 prohibited the transmission of election results electronically.
According to him, the law only provides for manual transmission of election results.
Usman said that all the witnesses presented by the petitioners admitted to the fact that transmission of election results electronically had no place in the country’s statute books at the moment.
In countering allegations that INEC abandoned its pleadings by not presenting witnesses, Usman said that the commission simply extracted salient pieces of evidence from the petitioners’ pleadings to solidify its defence.
“It would have amounted to wasting the time of the tribunal for us to call witnesses when the petitioners could not discharge the burden of proof on allegations they had made,’’ he said.
Usman thereafter prayed the court to dismiss the petition for lack of merit.
But, Dr Livy Uzoukwu (SAN), counsel to the petitioners urged the tribunal to discountenance the addresses of the respondents, adding that the petitioners had indeed discharged the burden of proof.
He said that the tribunal must exercise its powers in good conscience to uphold the petition and return Atiku as president.
Uzoukwu further said that the second respondent (Buhari) was unable to present his secondary school certificate before the tribunal in order to rest the allegation.
“My Lords, we pray the panel to judiciously and judicially evaluate our evidence in context of whether we have justified our allegation against Buhari’s certificate or not.”
On the issue of server, Uzoukwu said that INEC had operated, activated and stored the February 23 election results in a centrally-controlled server.
The tribunal would have to rule on all pending interlocutory applications filed by parties before delivering judgment on the main appeal.
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