In a ruling that lasted over eight hours, the Presidential Election Petitions Tribunal, yesterday, upheld the declaration of Muhammadu Buhari by the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) as winner of the February 23, 2019, presidential election.
The tribunal unanimously dismissed the petition of the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) and its candidate, Atiku Abubakar, challenging the outcome of the election for lacking in merit.
Justice Muhammed Garba, chairman of tribunal, in his lead judgment, held that the petitioners failed to prove the allegations raised in their petition.
In doing so, the tribunal, in a unanimous judgment, held that Buhari possessed the requisite qualification and was eminently qualified to contest the February 23 election.
Garba, who was supported by five other justices, maintained that the petitioners’ evidence proved that Buhari was not only “highly qualified, but eminently qualified” to contest the election.
Other members of the panel were 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).
Atiku had asked the tribunal to nullify Buhari’s election and declare him the authentic winner of the election.
But the tribunal, after resolving all the issues in favour of the respondents, held that the president was duly re-elected in the last presidential election.
Victory for Nigerians – Buhari
Buhari described the judgment as a victory for Nigerians who trooped out to overwhelmingly elect him for a second term in office.
This is even as he declared that he was unperturbed before now because he knew Nigerians freely gave him the mandate.
In a statement by the Special Adviser to the President on Media and Publicity, Femi Adesina, Buhari said: “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 also extended a hand of fellowship to those who had felt aggrieved at the outcome of the election and went to court, noting that it was within their democratic rights.
PDP heads to Supreme Court, CUPP rejects judgment
The PDP has said it would challenge the tribunal’s judgment at the Supreme Court, expressing optimism that it would get justice at the apex court.
In a statement by its national publicity secretary, Kola Ologbondiyan, the PDP described the judgment as “provocative, barefaced subversion of justice and direct assault on the integrity of our nation’s justice system.
“The party is particularly shocked that the tribunal failed to point to justice despite the flawless evidence laid before it, showing that President Buhari was not only unqualified to contest the election but also did not score the majority of valid votes at the polls.
“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.”
The Coalition of United Political Parties (CUPP) dismissed the judgment as an insult to Nigerians.
Kalu lauds Buhari’s victory
Former Abia governor and Chief Whip of the Senate, Dr. Orji Uzor Kalu, has no doubt that the verdict is good for Nigeria’s democracy.
He said in a statement that the verdict is a re-affirmation of the popularity of the president, stressing that the 2019 presidential election provided another opportunity for Nigerians to compensate Buhari for his goodworks.
Acknowledging the role of the judiciary in sustaining Nigeria’s growing democracy, Kalu advised politicians to embrace the spirit of sportsmanship in their pursuits for the sake of nation building.
He commended the panel for the landmark judgment and insisted that President Buhari’s victory is a reflection of to the outstanding achievements of the current administration.
“I join other Nigerians in celebrating the verdict of the tribunal. President Buhari’s pedigree and goodwill will always speak for him. The President as a strong advocate of democracy, provided a level playing ground for candidates across political parties in the 2019 general election.
“President Buhari’s leadership style is highly commendable. With the judgment, the opposition and other stakeholders should join hands with the President in his determined efforts to reposition Nigeria.”
Kalu while congratulating President Buhari, Adams Oshiomole, National Chairman of the All Progressives Congress (APC), stakeholders and members of the APC, urged Nigerians to be calm, steadfast and law-abiding.
Tinubu: It’s a bright day
APC National Leader, Asiwaju Bola Tinubu described the tribunal verdict as a resounding judicial vindication of Buhari’s personal character and his electoral victory.
“Whatever partisan side one might take, all must agree that today was a bright day for the administration of justice. The Court of Appeal rendered a comprehensive judgment of extraordinary thoroughness, reason and breadth on the many issues presented in this important matter. The Court did so in the open air and before the television cameras that gave eyes to the entire nation to watch this fine moment for the Nigerian judiciary. The court did its job by following the law of the land wherever it might lead.”
Obi, Wike, Obaseki, Abiodun, Oyetola others react
Former governor of Anambra State and running mate to Atiku expressed shock at the verdict.
“The judgment of today (yesterday) is not about President Buhari or Atiku Abubakar, not at all its about the practice of democracy in Nigeria, the rule of law. It’s about the the future of our country. Its about the suffering masses whose future is being toyed with.”
But Rivers State Governor, Nyesom Ezenwo Wike and his Osun counterpart, Adegboyega Oyetola congratulated Buhari.
Wike, in a statement, urged the president to use his victory to work for all Nigerians, irrespective of their political leanings and work towards the unity of the country, noting that the country is divided
Governor Oyetola, in a statement by his media aide, Ismail Omipidan, said the judgment has “laid to rest the tussle over who truly won the election.”
Also reacting, Ogun State governor, Dapo Abiodun, in a statement said: “It shows that while minority would always have their say, the majority would always have their way. I am very proud of the judiciary. The have again, for the umpteenth time demonstrated exemplary candour, courage and integrity for which modern democracies thrive.”
Lagos State Governor, Mr. Babajide Sanwo-Olu in a statement hailed the victory as a final lap of a relay race where the real victor is evidently seen at the finishing line.
Edo State Governor, Mr. Godwin Obaseki described the verdict as well-deserved.
“The tribunal confirms our stance that President Buhari remains the preferred leader at this time, to reset our country on the path of greatness.”
Obaseki saluted the courage of the tribunal in upholding the mandate given by millions of Nigerians.
“It is refreshing that we have reached this threshold and I am confident that this outcome would enhance this administration’s resolve in championing the next level agenda of the President,” he said.
Former governor of Lagos State, Akinwunmi Ambode, in a statement by his media aide, Habib Aruna, said the ruling was a validation of the second term mandate of the people given to Buhari to continue the strides of development and to take Nigeria to the next level.
He urged all supporters of the party and Nigerians in general to rally round President Buhari in his quest to return Nigeria to the path of greatness and respectability.
Also the All Progressives Congress, (South West), in the United Kingdom described it as verdict of the people.
Ikokwu, Ngige, Uwazurike, Okorocha, others react
Senior Advocate of Nigeria (SAN), Emeka Ngige, described the decision of the tribunal as detailed, incisive and brilliantly delivered judgment that will go a long way in shaping Nigeria’s electoral laws.
For Chief Guy Ikokwu, the outcome is a manifestation of a failed system deliberately crafted by the Buhari government to deny modification of electoral system.
“The Buhari executive refused to assent to the Bill on electronic transfer. The last election by INEC had more petitions than any previous election. It is not the function of the judiciary to make new laws. South Africa used electronic transfer of result in its election. What a shame for Nigeria which is rapidly becoming a failed state,” he declared.
Goddy Uwazurike, former President of Aka Ikenga, said the verdict was expected and predictable while the United Progressive Party (UPP), in a statement by its national chairman, Chief Chekwas Okorie lauded the judgment. According to the party, justice has been served just as this victory is essentially victory for democracy.
A lawyer, Joe Nwokedi also faulted the judgement. “This Buhari government is hell bent on destroying Nigeria. It’s so sad. I am not so comfortable with the position of the tribunal on the issue of Buhari’s certificate. Once something is defective ab initio, it is defective ad infinitum. That the president later secured certificates higher that the initial certificate required for his education goes to no issue in law. The electoral act is so clear on this issue. For one to contest an election in Nigeria, he must attach his WAEC Certificate or the equivalent. Buhari did not attach any and he lied on oath. So that alone is enough ground to disqualify him to contest the election and I expected the Tribunal to so hold.”
Another lawyer, Akazuo Nwakasi of Olisa Agbakoba Legals said academic qualification under the electoral laws has no strict provisions and therefore could be interpreted relatively.