The Presidential Election Petition Tribunal on Wednesday dismissed the petition filed by the People’s Democratic Party and its presidential candidate, Atiku Abubakar, against the re-election of President Muhammadu Buhari at the February 23, 2019 presidential poll.
The tribunal said the petitioners failed to prove in their evidence that the 2019 general election was not in compliance with the Electoral Act.
In dismissing the petition, the five-man tribunal in a unanimous judgment held that the petitioners failed to prove allegations of electoral malpractices, violence, amongst other claims contained in their petition.
“Like I had mentioned, there is no admissible evidences to link the witnesses with the allegations of non-compliance to the electoral act or of corruption,” said Muhammad Garba, the presiding judge.
The petition was premised on five grounds, among which was that Buhari lied about his academic qualification as well as schools attended in his form 001 submitted to INEC for the purpose of contesting the 2019 presidential election.
Reacting to judgment, President Buhari said the ruling of the Presidential Election Petition Tribunal was a victory for Nigerians who trooped out to overwhelmingly elect him for a second term in office.
In a statement by his special adviser on media and publicity, Femi Adesina, President Buhari said the ruling has “vindicated him”.
“Good conscience fears no evil report. I was unperturbed all along, because I knew Nigerians freely gave us the mandate. We are now vindicated,” he said.
But the Coalition of United Political Parties (CUPP) condemned the decision of the Presidential Election Tribunal, describing it as “ratification of electoral fraud”.
The CUPP said the verdict indicated that the law is simply turned upside down to provoke all Nigerians.
“By their judgment today [yesterday], majority of Nigerians who had believed, though erroneously, that the judiciary was indeed independent have been brazenly awakened to the fact and correct belief that the Presidency had successfully hijacked the judiciary and Nigerians can only expect judgments and not justice,” CUPP said in a statement by its spokesperson, Ikenga Imo Ugochinyere, in Abuja.
“The Court of Appeal wasted the opportunity and has by so doing endorsed the insecurity in the land, mismanagement of national resources, electoral fraud, forgery of documents and certificates submitted to INEC and indeed threatened the very foundations of our democracy,” the statement said.
On its part, the PDP said it was taking the matter to Supreme Court immediately to acquire justice.
The party, through Kola Ologbondiyan, its national publicity secretary, in a statement in Abuja said the party is particularly shocked that the tribunal failed to point to justice despite the flawless evidence laid before it. It noted that President Buhari was not only unqualified to contest the election, but did not score the majority of valid votes in the 2019 presidential election.
“The PDP finds as bewildering that a court of law could validate a clear case of perjury and declaration of false information in a sworn affidavit, as firmly established against President Muhammadu Buhari, even in the face of incontrovertible evidence,” Ologbondiyan said.
“The party is also rudely shocked that the Court took over the roles of the Respondents’ lawyers who clearly abandoned their pleadings by refusing to call evidence in defence of the petition. The court raked up all manner of excuses to make up for the yawning gaps occasioned by the total absence of any evidence from the Respondents,” he stated.
According to him, Nigerians and the international community watched in utter disbelief when the tribunal ruled that one need not provide a copy or certified true copy of educational certificate such individual claimed to possess, contrary to established proof of claims of certification.
Atiku and PDP had on March 18, 2019 specifically asked the tribunal to disqualify Buhari on the grounds that he (Buhari) did not possess the requisite academic qualification to contest for the office of President.
However, the chairman of the tribunal held that the petitioners did not discharge the burden of proof and as such dismissed the petition.
The tribunal said the fact that Buhari did not attach copies of his certificate to his form 001 submitted to INEC was not enough proof that he was not educated up to secondary school level, adding there is no law that requires a candidate seeking election into office to attach his certificate to his form 001.
The petitioners had also raised issues of deployment of electronic voting, over-voting, substantial non-compliance with the electoral law as well as use of security agencies to rig the election in favour of Buhari.
However, the tribunal in the unanimous decision held that despite the 62 witnesses called by the petitioners, they were unable to prove their allegations against the conduct of the February 23 presidential poll that it was marred by irregularities.
Atiku and PDP had also anchored their petition on the fact that there was a central server which the election umpire used in storing results from the election and had said the results showed they won the presidential election, and therefore demanded that Atiku be sworn in as winner.
But the tribunal held that there was not enough evidence adduced by the PDP and Atiku to lend credibility to the allegation.
The tribunal struck out the evidence given by the Kenyan Information and Communication Technology (ICT) expert, David Njorga, invited as the 59th petitioners witnesses to establish their claim that INEC transmitted results to a server during the last presidential election.
The court described the evidence by Njorga as hearsay evidence because he claimed to have sourced the information about a supposed INEC server from a third party website: www.factsdontlieng.com.
Justice Garba said the court cannot rely on such unbelievable evidence as presented by Njorga to hold that there actually exists a server.
He also dismissed the evidence by the petitioners’ witness, who claimed to be a statistician.
Some prominent politicians and observers who spoke in separate interviews with BusinessDay after the judgment, Wednesday, expressed mixed reactions on the ruling.
Yinka Odumakin, publicity secretary of pan-Yoruba socio-cultural organisation, Afenifere, stated that he expected the judiciary to stand up on its feet, stressing that he was optimistic the PDP would appeal the ruling. He regretted that in recent years, election petition tribunals have not been neutral in the country.
“Appeal is the only option. If you look at the history of presidential election petition in Nigeria, we have never had a radical decision. It is because a Nigerian president is too powerful and it comes with lots of incentives, you can understand what I am saying,” Odumakin said.
Tunji Sheele, a chieftain of the PDP and former chairman of the party in Lagos State, disagreed with the judgment, saying it was manipulated.
“It is a case study. The judgment lasted for more than nine hours; it means that the judges sat, studied and manipulated the process. Enough evidence was presented by the PDP legal team, but most of the time tribunals often want to please the authority in power,” Sheele said.
“They have given their best, but it is not enough; they should realise that there is a higher power up there. The case is not lost yet. I am sure that the Supreme Court would do a proper verdict,” Sheele said.
But Wale Oshun, national leader of Afenifere Renewal Group and a chieftain of the APC, said the judgment was a reaffirmation that the APC won the presidential election.
He urged President Buhari to repay Nigerians the confidence they reposed in him by initiating programmes to galvanise the economy and tackle high unemployment rate among the youths.
FELIX OMOHOMHION, SOLOMON AYADO, Abuja, & INIOBONG IWOK, Lagos