Godwin Tsa, Abuja
After six months of legal battle, the Presidential Election Petition Tribunal finally delivered its judgement on the outcome of the February 23 presidential election. The judgement was in favour of President Muhammadu Buhari of the All Progressives Congress (APC).
The petition was filed by the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) and its candidate, Atiku Abubakar against the return of President Buhari by the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) as winner of the February 23 polls.
It will be recalled that the INEC, had on February 27, declared that Buhari won the presidential contest with 15,191,847 votes to defeat his closest rival, Atiku, who it said polled a total of 11,262,978 votes.
However, in their joint petition marked CA/PEPC/002/2019, Atiku and his party, insisted that the data they secured from INEC’s server, revealed that contrary to the result that was announced, they defeated President Buhari with over 1.6million votes.
The petitioners maintained that proper collation and summation of the presidential election results would show that contrary to what INEC declared, Atiku, garnered a total of 18,356,732 votes, ahead of Buhari who they said got a total of 16,741,430 votes.
They alleged that INEC had at various stages of the election, unlawfully allocated votes to President Buhari, insisting that the announced result did not represent the lawful valid votes cast.
Atiku and PDP further alleged that in some states, INEC deducted lawful votes that accrued to him, in its bid to ensure that Buhari was returned to office. Aside challenging the outcome of the election in 11 states of the federation, the petitioners, alleged that President Buhari lied about his educational qualifications in the Form CF 001 he submitted to INEC to contest the presidential poll.
The petitioners claimed that the 2nd Respondent submitted to the Commission affidavit containing false information of a fundamental nature in aid of his qualification for the said election and also asked that the election to the office of the President of Nigeria which held on February 23, 2019 be nullified and a fresh one ordered.
in the final result, I have come to the conclusion, which is inevitable and unavoidable, that the petitioners have not discharged the burden of proof required of any of the grounds of the petition in paragraph 15 of the petition. This petition is accordingly and hereby dismissed in its entirety.”
Specifically, part of the petitioners reliefs include: “That it may be determined that the 2nd Respondent (Buhari) was not duly elected by a majority of lawful votes cast in the said election and therefore the declaration and return of the 2nd Respondent by the 1st Respondent as the President of Nigeria is unlawful, undue, null, void and of no effect.
“That it may be determined that the 1st Petitioner (Atiku) was duly and validly elected and ought to be returned as President of Nigeria, having polled the highest number of lawful votes cast at the election to the office of the President of Nigeria held on 23rd February, 2019 and having satisfied the constitutional requirements for the said election.”
Delivering its judgment on the issues raised by the petitioners, the tribunal held that Atiku and his political platform failed to provide sufficient evidence against the return of president Buhari by INEC, as winner of the election, as required by law.
Accordingly, the Justice Muhammed Garba five member tribunal resolved all the issues raised by the petitioners against them and unanimously dismissed the petition for lacking in merit.
The first two issues bordered on the petitioners’ claim that Buhari did not possess the requisite qualification to have contested the election, and that he submitted to the INEC in an affidavit containing false information of a fundamental nature in aid of his election.
The tribunal held that president Buhari possessed the requisite qualification and was eminently qualified to contest the February 23 presidential election.
It further held that Buhari’s curriculum vitae that was tendered by the petitioners themselves, “contained impressive credentials” that qualified him to contest the presidential election “even if he tendered primary school certificate.”
The Chairman of tribunal, Justice Garba who was supported by five other Justices, maintained that evidence of the petitioners proved that Buhari was not only “highly qualified, but eminently qualified” to contest the election.
Other members of the presidential panel are Justice Abdul Aboki (Court of Appeal, Abuja), Justice Joseph Ikyegh (Court of Appeal, Benin), Samuel Oseji (Court of Appeal, Lagos) and Justice Peter Ige (Court of Appeal, Abuja).
The panel equally held that the mere fact that Buhari did not attach his certificates to the Form CF001 he tendered before the INEC, was not a ground to allege that he does not possess them.
The tribunal also said the petitioners failed to place any evidence before it to prove that Buhari was not qualified inline with provisions of sections 131, 137 and 138 of the Constitution.
In addition, the tribunal said the petitioners failed to prove that West African School Certificate, WASC, was not in existence as at 1961 when the 2nd Respondent (Buhari) joined the Army.
It posited that the petitioners misconstrued the law by latching unto the statement by the former spokesman of the Nigerian Army, Brigadier General Olajide Olaniyi and arrived at a conclusion that Buhari lacked basic educational qualifications.
Justice Garba further held that equally fatal to the case of the petitioners was their inability to call Brig. Gen. Olaniyi, who made the said statement, as a witness before the tribunal.
The tribunal noted that Brig. Gen. Olaniyi had in the said statement, merely asserted that the Army was not with Buhari’s original certificates, admitting however that he (Buhari) got six credits in English language, Geography, History, Hausa, Health Science and Literature.
The tribunal wondered how Brig. Gen. Olaniyi knew about the subjects Buhari passed in his 1961 WASC if there was no credential in his Army file (Form 119a).
According to the tribunal, since the petitioners failed to produce Brig. Gen. Olaniyi as a witness, the statement he issued with respect to Buhari’s certificate which was admitted in evidence, lacked probative value and deemed to have been dumped on the tribunal.
More so, the tribunal held that whereas section 137 (1) stipulated conditions under which a person could be disqualified, section 318(1) defined what School Certificate or its equivalent means as provided in section 131.
It listed credentials that can qualify a presidential candidate to include the Grade 2 Teachers Certificate, education up to Secondary school, Primary 6 Certificate or it’s equivalent, service in a public sector acceptable to INEC for a minimum of 10 years, as well as the ability to read and write in English language.
The tribunal said there was evidence before it that Buhari finished both his primary and secondary education in 1956 and 1961 respectively before he joined the Army.
It said there was also evidence that Buhari attended military training from 1961 to 1963, saying “it was established beyond doubt that the 2nd Respondent had his educational qualifications”.
The tribunal held that neither the constitution nor the Electoral Act required Buhari to attach any of his certificates to the Form CF 001 before he could be adjudged to have met the pre-requisite for qualification.
It stressed that since INEC’s screening process required candidates to depose to an affidavit to attest to the veracity of the information contained in the Form CF 001, there was no need for the presentation of the actual certificates.
Citing a previous Supreme Court judgment, he said: “Submission of educational certificate is not a requirement for qualification to contest election for governor under section 177 of the Constitution.
“It is established that a candidate is not required under the Electoral Act to attach his certificate to his Form CF001 before a candidate is adjudged to have the requisite qualification to contest the election.
“In effect, the 2nd defendant went through secondary education and then proceeded to military school. The military school is higher than secondary education.
“”Thus our conclusion is that Buhari is not only qualified but eminently qualified to contest the presidential election.”
On the issue as to whether or not Buhari was duly elected by majority of lawful votes, the tribunal also resolved it against the petitioners on the grounds that they failed to prove their case in that regard.
The judge held that the petitioners, who claimed to have won the election by virtue of the results they retrieved from a server into which INEC allegedly transmitted the election results, failed to establish the existence of the server or that results were transmitted electronically.
The judge noted that all the witnesses called by the petitioners failed to give plausible evidence that INEC transmitted results electronically and that it did so into a server.
Justice Garba, faulted the evidence by the petitioners expert witnesses including the Kenyan Information and Communication Technology (ICT) expert, David Njorga invited as the 59th.
The tribunal ruled that the election manual issued by INEC for the conduct of the 2019 presidential election did not provide for electronic transmission of results of the election, adding that the petitioners failed to prove that election results were transmitted electronically.
It added that petitioners’ Witness 59, David Njorga, from Kenya, did not qualify to be referred to as an expert witness, as he only relied on third party information to make a case for the existence of a server into which the results of the election were allegedly transmitted.
It added that card reader was not used to transmit results during the election but was for mere authentication of ownership of voter cards.
Justice Garba also described as hearsay evidence the written statement and oral evidence by the petitioners’ star witness, Osita Chidoka (former Aviation Minister), who served as the PDP’s National Collation Officer.
The judge noted that not only did Chidoka admit that he was at the party’s collation centre throughout the election period, he also, during cross-examination, admitted that results were manually collated in his presence.
Justice Garba also held that the evidence of another expert witness of the petitioners, Gbenga Joseph, who claimed to be a statistician, could not be relied on because it was hearsay.
The judge further held that INEC was not empowered by any law to engage in electronic transmission of election results.
Justice Garba added that all the INEC documents, particularly the results from what they (the petitioners) classified as the 11 focal states, tendered before the court, were merely dumped on the court, because they did not call the makers and did not demonstrate their relevance to the case.
The tribunal further resolved the fourth and fifth issues together, which related to the petitioners claim that the election was marred by irregularities and non-compliance with Electoral Act.
The judge held that the petitioners also failed to prove these issues by failing to call relevant witnesses who witnessed the election at the polling unit level and who could testify as to what actually happened.
Justice Garba noted that rather than calling polling unit agents, as required, the petitioners expended time in calling collation officers, who merely gave hearsay evidence by relaying all that the polling unit agents told them.
The judge was of the view that the only way to prove over-voting, vote manipulation, non-accreditation, among others, which are alleged by the petitioners, was by tendering voters’ register and calling those who could give eye witness accounts.
Comparing the evidence led by the petitioners to the quantum of their allegations, Justice Garba said, “It is like a drop in the ocean”.
It added that the petitioners merely dumped documents particularly result sheets and voter register on the tribunal without demonstrating them by attaching the evidence of any of their 62 witnesses to the documents in their bid to prove the allegations in their petition.
He ruled that: “in the final result, I have come to the conclusion, which is inevitable and unavoidable, that the petitioners have not discharged the burden of proof required of any of the grounds of the petition in paragraph 15 of the petition. This petition is accordingly and hereby dismissed in its entirety.”