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Tribunal judgement exposes petitioners’ poor legal research, trial plan-Akindiya

Olumide Akindiya is a practising Lawyer and notary public and the principal counsel of Olumide Akindiya Co., based in Lagos State. In this interview with Iniobong Iwok, he reacted to the ruling of the presidential election petition tribunal. Excerpts:

What is your general take on the tribunal judgement?

The Judges thoroughly pointed out principles of law and cited relevant laws, applied them to the facts in issue as raised by the petitioners and examined the evidence all permitted by Evidence Act, 2011 as tendered during trial of these consolidated 3 cases and arrived at just conclusion.

To me, the Judgement exposed lack of poor legal research and sound trial plan. Instead of petitioners to supply relevant documents and with their lawyers doing thorough logical trial plans, they did not allow their lawyers to do a sound job by a slogan stolen mandate; or claiming and looking at excuses or loopholes of INEC which could not help their case.

Imagine none of the petitioners mentioned their scores or figures that made them winners instead of election results declared by INEC.

Where is the election result Labour Party gave former President Olusegun Obasanjo that they are the winner of the presidential election 2023? Major political parties have situation rooms which guide them on their performance during the election and have copies of election results at polling units.

So if they did not fill any agent at a particular polling unit who has this fault? Where are their copies of election results at polling units? Was it for exhibition or to be useful in court?

To me, you can’t put something on nothing! Petitioners failed before tribunal sitting and failed in court rooms on how the matter was handled.

For example, Labour Party and PDP are claiming to be winners as opposition parties, then it even showed that one of them is lying about winning the election.

Two winners cannot emerge in an election. However, they have a right to appeal to the Supreme Court over the Judgement but their chances are slim.

Was the judgement what you expected or against it?

I will say yes. The instant case was determined based on facts and evidence before the Tribunal. The burden of proof is on the petitioner; because he who alleged must prove and these Judges are bound by Electoral Act, 2022; Evidence Act, 2011, constitution of FRN 2009 as amended and other relevant laws and previous Supreme Court precedents that are relevant to this case. They were equally bound by court proceedings and not facts outside the courtroom.

Obi and LP said they would rely on spreadsheets, forensic reports, and expert analysis of their expert witnesses; they failed to attach the documents to the petition or serve the same on the respondents as required by the law.

The Court held that though the petition contained serious allegations that bordered on violence, non-voting, suppression of votes, fictitious entry of election results and corrupt practices, the petitioners failed to give particulars of specific polling units where the incidents took place.

The Court said INEC was at liberty to determine the mode that election results would be transmitted, despite assuring Nigerians that the 2023 general election results would be transmitted electronically. What is your take?

On assuring Nigerians that the 2023 general election results would be transmitted electronically, I would not blame the Presidential Election Petitions Tribunal (PEPT). That BVAS would be used to snap and scan results to INEC Portal means it is electronic and manual.

The transmission of results electronically is a promise or INEC regulation which cannot override the Electoral Act or Constitution. INEC created a room to doubt the process, how it does not in any way mean the election was rigged.

The issue of INEC is at liberty to define mode of transmitting election result, to me; INEC is an independent body which derives its power to organise, coordinate, and conduct election in Nigeria from the constitution of FRN 1999 as amended and Electoral Act 2022 is a guide on how INEC will operate in the conduct of the election, particularly 52 and 65 of Electoral Act, 2022.

IREV is an initiative which INEC employed to make their job easy with BVAS to snap and upload results of each polling unit to the INEC portal.

The method used either electronically or manually is within the purview of INEC to decide. It was well decided upon in OYETOLA VS Governor ADELEKE.

To checkmate the election process and in fulfilment of the requirement of the Act Electoral Act, permits each party to have a polling unit agent in each polling unit centre, who will sign after voting has been concluded and have copy of the result after same result will be uploaded and taking to collation centre at their ward.

In terms of argument on result at polling unit, those voters or those observing the election or agent of the party aggrieved can help on complaint on result before the court being an eyewitness to confirm compliance with the Act or any form of illegality – See BUHARI Vs INEC.

The judgement was based on INEC being an independent body and could determine how election results should be transmitted.

Read also Tribunal verdict: Future elections at risk as citizens may rethink participation

Don’t you think with this ruling it would spell more confusion in the off-season gubernatorial elections in three states in November?

It depends. There is still the Supreme Court to decide as the highest Court in Nigeria over this ruling.

However, political parties should explore every right given to them in the Electoral Act, 2022 by ensuring they have agents at each polling unit and at collation centre at each ward for monitoring and their copies of result should be there to help in calculating results too in their situation rooms.

The end stage is transmission of results and INEC should get it right this time without any problem with their IREV or decide to transmit manually even though we are supposed to be moving forward.

The parties said the court ignored serious evidence presented to prove that the election was rigged in several states. The LP wondered why the Court refused to allow media live coverage of the proceedings and accused the tribunal of bias. Do you agree?

I am not in a position to agree or disagree for now as the CTC of the proceedings have been read. To say the Court ignored serious evident presented, however, with 12 hours of reading the Judgement, it was encompassing and 10 out of 13 witnesses rejected or struck out based on fundamental mistake or error that went to the root of the matter from Labour Party counsel not attaching their statement on oath or witness statement on oath along with petition filed is a sign of their lack of readiness and being in court now searching for witnesses or filing their statement on oath is their burden.

According to PEPT, LP did not, by way of credible evidence; establish their allegation that the February 25 election was characterised by manifest corrupt practices.

The Court noted that whereas Obi and the LP insisted that the election was rigged in 18, 088 polling units across the federation, they were unable to state the locations of the said polling units.

That Obi’s allegation that fictitious results were recorded for President Tinubu and the APC, by the INEC, was not proved it held that the petitioners were unable to state the figures they claimed were reduced from election results they garnered in different states of the federation, especially in Ondo, Oyo, Rivers, Yobe, Borno, Tabara, Osun and Lagos state.

It held that the petitioners failed to state the polling units where over-voting occurred or the exact figures of unlawful votes credited to Tinubu by the INEC.

Media coverage of the proceedings to me is a distraction to the Judges. Court is a public place, all parties and their counsel, media practitioners are allowed in Court, besides it is not backed by law.

There is nothing bias there the parties involved were in Court. I believe avoiding this word was the reason the Judgement was televised and they took time to deliver the Judgement to the extent that lawyers, parties, even media practitioners dosed off. It is just belief and assumption that is unknown to law.

Read also Peter Obi asks lawyers to file appeal against tribunal’s verdict

Was the tribunal wrong in nullifying the case of APM against the eligibility of the Vice President?

The PEPT gave precedents and cited relevant laws and considered defence of the Vice President with steps he took in resigning from conducting from senatorial seat and INEC involvement and Masari’s withdrawal.

It is a pre-election matter and it should be treated as such and the onus is on APM to prove otherwise.

There is judicial precedent that the Supreme Court had previously decided that a political party does not have the right to challenge a nomination that was made by another political party by Section 131 and 237 of the 1999 Constitution, as amended in 2011 which made provisions for the qualification or disqualification of candidates in an election.

Simply, they were not wrong. However, it is appealable. Court realised that the main grouse of the APM was on the alleged invalid nomination of Tinubu’s running mate, Kashim Shettima. That non- qualification of President Bola Tinubu as the 3rd Respondent centered on the alleged invalid nomination of Vice President, Kashim Shettima as the 4th Respondent. It is a pre-election matter.

The PEPT relied on section 84(3) of the Electoral Act, 2022, stipulating that political parties should not impose qualification criteria on a candidate, except as provided for in the constitution.

The parties are now heading to the Supreme Court, are you confident they would uphold the victory of President Bola Tinubu?

I am not confident that the Supreme Court can uphold the victory based on the instant matter. Besides, no presidential election has been upturned in Nigeria because of the burden of proving non-compliance with the Electoral Act and how to prove that the irregularities in the election was so substantial as to affect the whole election.

Former President Muhammadu Buhari before he was declared winner in 2015 presidential election did not win any of his petitions in courts. Gathering sufficient and reliable witnesses from different polling units and enough copies of relevant election results are another challenge with more than one hundred thousand polling units now.