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EDITORIAL

Presidential Tribunal Judgement: Matters Arising

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The Presidential Election Petition Tribunal has given its verdict on the matter filed by the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) and its candidate, Alhaji Atiku Abubakar challenging President Muhammadu Buhari’s victory in the February 23, 2019 general election.

The key rulings given by the five-man panel of justices, led by Mohammed Garba, were the dismissal of the Independent National Election Commission’s (INEC’s) motion asking Vice President Yemi Osinbajo to be joined in the petition; ruling against INEC’s motion on Atiku’s lead lawyer, Livy Uzoukwu (SAN),  by declaring that he is a legal practitioner called to the Nigerian Bar; striking out INEC’s request to dismiss Atiku’s prayer seeking Buhari’s disqualification; and dismissal of Atiku’s claim on police and military interference, harassment and intimidation during the February 23, 2019 elections.

Other highlights of the judgment included the dismissal of Atiku’s application accusing Osinbajo of inducing voters with the TraderMoni scheme, where the Tribunal ruled, rightly, that it did not have jurisdiction over the matter; and the dismissal of Buhari’s application that Atiku was not qualified to file a petition because he is not a Nigerian by birth.

We commend the five-man panel of Justices for delivering the judgment within the stipulated time provided by law despite the complexity of the petition. Also we commend the petitioner, Alhaji Atiku Abubakar and the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) for their patience and calmness while the case lasted.

In the opinion of this newspaper, the Tribunal’s ruling striking out APC’s argument that Atiku was not qualified to contest the last presidential election because he is allegedly not a Nigerian by birth is spot on. That claim, in our view, is diversionary as it was outside the powers of the tribunal. Similarly, the Tribunal’s averment that a candidate who was allowed to participate in an election could not have been prevented in any way from going to court for what he believed worked against his interest in the election or be denied the right to assert his position that he won the election and should be declared winner is within the ambit of natural justice.

However, as is to be expected in such a legal proceeding with constitutional implications, the Tribunal’s ruling on Buhari’s educational qualifications, especially that the attachment of the certificate to his Form CF001 is not required by the electoral law are generating some controversy and is receiving the attention of the highest court in the land – the Supreme Court. And to that extent it is subjudice at this point.

The Tribunal, perhaps, in anticipation of this simmering controversy cited a previous Supreme Court judgment, which clearly stated that, “Submission of educational certificate is not a requirement for qualification to contest election for Governor under section 177 of the Constitution.” From this perspective, therefore, it is only appropriate to accept the position of the eminent jurists that the petitioners had failed to discharge the burden of proof of the allegation of non-qualification or submission of false information, which is fundamental in aid of the second respondent’s qualification. But most Nigerians are waiting to hear the position of the apex court that merely listing of educational qualifications without evidence of possession of such certificates is allowed in law because of its far-reaching implications.

It is in this regard that we appreciate the opportunity created by the same law and which allows the aggrieved, in this case, Alhaji Atiku and the PDP, to seek higher affirmation of the Tribunal’s ruling or quash it.

It is incontrovertible that the course of justice will be better served when the Supreme Court reviews the ruling and makes its own pronouncement. From that understanding, we appreciate the fact that the effort to push the case to the apex court will, in the long run, enrich jurisprudence and strengthen the nation’s democracy and rule of law.

We salute the candour of the President when he appealed to Nigerians to see the Tribunal’s ruling as an opportunity to unite and move the country forward. His call to the opposition parties to join hands with him in the task of taking the nation to the next level in her developmental strides strikes the right cords. As in all human activities, it must be realised that there are bound to be lapses, even if unintended, in such monumental legal occasions for the simple reason that it is also a human situation. But whatever perceived lapses that may have been observed in the tribunal’s verdict, and whatever criticism that might have greeted the judgement, do not vitiate the reasoning and argument that undergird it. We are persuaded by the fact that in the prevailing circumstances, the ruling was influenced by considerations that are, in our view, in the nation’s best interest as understood by the justices. Bearing this in mind, we urge all well-meaning Nigerians to continue to have their faith in the Judiciary as the last hope of the proverbial common man.

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