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Anxiety, apprehension as Nigerians await tribunal verdict

PEPT October Declaration: End of Discussion or End of the Beginning?.., Is this Christmas?

The  Presidential Election Petition Court (PEPC)  will today deliver judgment on the petition filed by two major contenders in the last February 25 poll against the declaration of Bola Tinubu of the All Progressives Congress (APC) as the winner.

The opposition parties and their candidates, Atiku Abubakar of the People’s Democratic Party (PDP) and Peter Obi of the Labour Party (LP), are faulting INEC’s announcement of Tinubu by the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC).

INEC had declared Tinubu as the winner of the February 25 presidential poll because the APC scored the highest number of votes cast at the ballot, and he secured not less than one-quarter of the votes cast in each of at least two-thirds of all the states in the Federation and the Federal Capital Territory (FCT) as required by law.

In the results announced on March 1, 2023, Tinubu polled 8,794,726 votes, representing 36.61% of the total votes cast at the election to emerge victorious.
Atiku, who came second, scored 6,984,520, representing 29.07% of the votes cast, while Obi scored 6,101,533, representing 25.40% of the votes cast during the disputed election.

Rabiu Kwankwaso of the NNPP came fourth with 1,496,687, representing 6.40% of the votes.

Read also Labour Party sounds alarm ahead of presidential election verdict

However, in their respective cases, the Obi and Atiku are challenging the election based on INEC’s failure to carry out electronic transmission of results from the polling units.

They also contended that Tinubu failed to secure a majority of votes in the election and 25 per cent in the federal capital territory (FCT), which they argued is a constitutional requirement for a candidate to win the election.

Another issue raised by the petitioners is that the APC vice-presidential candidate, Kashim Shettima, had a double nomination both as vice-president and as senatorial candidate.

The court had reserved judgment after the petitioners, the (PDP) and its standard bearer, Atiku and Obi and the LP closed their cases in June after calling 40 out of the 150 witnesses earlier listed in their petitions challenging the victory of the APC and the President.

Read also Tinubu expresses confidence about Wednesday’s tribunal judgement

The court also reserved judgment on the petitions the Allied Peoples Movement (APM) filed against President Tinubu’s declaration as the election winner.

Recently, the court consolidated the three standing petitions against the victory of President Tinubu.

The court also merged the petitions the various political parties submitted while giving the pre-hearing report on the petition and presenting the trial schedule.

Every day, starting from the day all the parties closed their cases at the tribunal, the expectation of Nigerians both at home and in the Diaspora keeps rising.

Across Nigeria, on the streets, mainstream and social media, there has been general anxiety and apprehension from Nigerians on the nature of the judgement that would be delivered on Wednesday by the Presidential tribunal.

Some have even voiced their concerns over what they regard as a delay by the tribunal to deliver judgment on time.

Observers say the unprecedented attention of Nigerians to the tribunal judgment may be because of the prevailing state of the country and the Tinubu’s administration reforms perceived by some Nigerians as anti-people.

In recent weeks, the anxiety has given rise to increased campaigns on social media platforms; this is seen in the launching of billboards and campaigns with the inscription, “All Eyes on the Judiciary.”

“These fears and growing anxiety are mainly due to the trust deficit Nigerians have for the judiciary system in Nigeria. People are not happy that their will can prevail with all the promises from INEC,

“Many Nigerians are not too optimistic about getting a favourable judgement; that is why you see all these apprehension and moves. But whatever the judgement on Wednesday, there is still an opportunity at the highest court in the land”, Anu Odunkoya, a public affairs analyst, said.

Read also Presidential Election Petitions: Military, Police issue warning ahead of tribunal’s Wednesday verdict

A 2022 survey on citizens’ perceptions of governance in Nigeria by Anvarie Tech and ResearcherNG and Bincika Insights found that about 71 per cent of Nigerians lack trust in the Judiciary.

The Presidential Petitions Tribunal is now seen as a test of the integrity of the Judiciary.

Nigerians want an impartial, undisputable judgment from the five-person panel of judges led by Justice Haruna Tsammani on Wednesday.

In some quarters, there are general concerns that the outcome of the judgment may spark a crisis, especially if perceived to be partial.

However, some legal experts have downplayed such fears; there was still an opportunity to appeal to the Supreme Court.

Femi Falana, Senior Advocate of Nigeria (SAN), says the Judiciary is under unprecedented blackmail and intimidation over the presidential election petitions, saying that the blackmail is unnecessary since there is still an opportunity for an appeal at the Supreme Court.

Falana, speaking to the media yesterday, said no election petition has attracted much attention in the country since colonial rule.

“We have been having election petitions since the colonial era, but none has attracted such level of blackmail and intimidation of the Judiciary.

“I am worried that people give the impression that everything ends with the judgement of the Court of Appeal, the Presidential Election Petition Tribunal.

“Any party that loses on Wednesday still has the opportunity to appeal to the Supreme Court. So, what is the basis for the cheap blackmail that is going on?” the senior lawyer queried.

But Olabode George, a former deputy chairman of the (PDP), warned yesterday that the Judiciary should not be the final determinant of who wins the election in Nigeria;  tribunals and the court should order a fresh election when the results are disputed.

Read also Don’t allow judiciary to interfere in our nation’s election again, Kukah tells Nigerians

According to George, “Whoever eventually comes up or emerges winner after the tribunal litigation, if the Judiciary pronounces anybody the President with this shambolic procedure utilised for the last general elections, it is a shame for this country, It will be a shame.

“The Judiciary should never go to that wrath; the procedure is faulty; they should go back and conduct a fresh election.

“If it takes them one million times to get things right, they should go back and conduct another election.

“Otherwise, if the tribunal pronounces Mr A or Mr B the winner of that shambolic elections, then Nigeria’s democracy will be redefined as the government of the judiciary for the judiciary by the judiciary. Is that a democracy?”

A prominent lawyer, Edmonton Harvey Specter, said Obi of the (LP) and Atiku of the PDP focused more on technicalities than substance.

He further explained that the quest to get President Tinubu disqualified on the grounds of Perjury, Conviction of a criminal offence, and others are not strong enough reasons to disqualify the APC candidate.

Read also PEPT: ‘Don’t decide winner,’ Bode George,calls for fresh election

“Perjury is a criminal offence but is not grounds to disqualify him. If you want to prosecute him for it, you wait until he is no longer President”, he said.

As the tribunal delivered judgement, many Nigerians are looking up to the tribunal to salvage democracy and be the final hope of the electoral.

“Many people are disappointed in INEC; there is a general sense of hopelessness among the voters on the way the 2023 general election was conducted, especially that Presidential poll where people had so much hope.

“But we should be calm; I am sure the judiciary can stand up and interpret the law; Nigerians must stay calm,” U”ong Eno, the political analyst, said.