After months of legal battle, the Presidential Election Petition Tribunal will, any moment from now, deliver its judgment on the petition filed by the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) and its presidential candidate, Alhaji Atiku Abubakar, against the outcome of the February 23, 2019, presidential election won by the All Progressives Congress (APC) candidate, President Muhammadu Buhari. Although the Justice Mohammed Garba-led five- member panel did not fix any date for the judgment on the matter filed in March, it is expected that it must not exceed the statutory 180 days duration for the hearing of the petition, which expires on Friday, September 15, 2019. The Electoral Act 2010 is explicit on the matter.
Section 134 (2) (3) of the Electoral Act 2010 (as amended) states: “An election tribunal shall deliver its judgment in writing within 180 days from the date of the filing of the petition. An appeal from a decision of an election tribunal or court shall be heard and disposed of within 90 days from the date of the delivery of judgment of the tribunal.”
The presidential election result, declared by the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC), gave President Buhari 15, 191, 847 votes as against the 11, 262, 978 votes of Atiku Abubakar. However, Atiku and PDP had claimed that the figures they got from INEC’s server showed that they defeated President Buhari and the APC with over 1.6million votes. They accused INEC of unlawfully allocating votes to President Buhari and deducting lawful votes that accrued to them, in a bid to ensure that Buhari was returned to office. The petitioners al- leged that the Smart Card Readers deployed by the INEC, in addition to accreditation, also transmitted electronically the results of voting from polling units to the commis- sion’s server.
Atiku also claimed that President Buhari was not qualified to contest the 2019 presidential election, while raising issues about the President’s school certificate. Having claimed that he polled the highest number of lawful votes cast, he therefore prayed the tribunal to declare him as the duly and validly elected President of Nigeria. He also asked the tribunal to order INEC to issue him Certificate of Return as the duly elected President of Nigeria. In the alternative, the petitioners prayed the tribunal to nullify the February 23, 2019 presidential election and order a fresh poll.
During the hearing, Atiku and the PDP presented oral and video evidences. They called 65 witnesses in the 10 days given to them by the tribunal to prove their case. In his defence, President Buhari called three witnesses and presented video evidence. The INEC denied that there was a server or that presidential election result was trans- mitted electronically. Also President Buhari and the APC alleged at the tribunal that Atiku is not a Nigerian, claiming that the PDP candidate’s part of Adamawa State was in the Republic of Cameroun.
Having listened to the witnesses and the addresses of counsels to the parties in the case, the tribunal is set to deliver judgment within the week or thereabout, in line with the provisions of the Electoral Act. Therefore, Nigerians expect the tribunal to dispense justice without fear or favour. They want justice to be done and seen to be done.
Members of the five-man panel of the Presidential Election Petition Tribunal should be above board, bearing in mind that it is not only the conduct of the election that is on trial, but also the judiciary. The judgment is an opportunity for the judiciary to reaffirm its independence and restore its glory, which waned over the conduct of some judges and justices. The tribunal’s justices should be courageous in the discharge of their duties.
In the past, judges and justices had given judgments in election tribunals based on their conviction and point of law. We recall that Justices Alooma Mariam-Mukhtar, George Oguntade, and Walter Onnoghen, former Chief Justice of Nigeria (CJN), at the Supreme Court, delivered a dissenting judgment in favour of President Bu- hari, then candidate of the All Nigeria Peoples party (ANPP), in the case against the election of the late ex-President Umaru Yar’Adua in the 2007 presidential election.
In that case, there was a 4-3 split deci- sion in favour of Yar’Adua. Today, Justices Mukhtar, Oguntade and Onnoghen are re- tired and not involved in election petition matters, but we believe serving judges have courage to dare. Nigerians do not expect technicalities to take precedence of legal principles in the judgment of the Presidential Election Petitions Tribunal.
What Nigerians want is a clear and firm declaration as to whether or not the exercise substantially complied with the extant rules and regulations set out for it. The judiciary has been a strong pillar of democracy. Nigerians believe in the judiciary as the last arbiter. This great confidence reposed in the nation’s judiciary needs to be pro- tected and cherished in order to advance the nation’s democracy and the rule of law.
We urge members of the presidential election tribunal to ensure that justice prevails. It does not matter who eventually wins at the tribunal, but let justice be done.