‘We‘ll rely on three grounds to win at S/Court’

‘We‘ll rely on three grounds to win at S/Court’
  • You’ll Lose Again – APC
  • ‘It is His Right to Appeal But…’

Lawyers for the presidential candidate of the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP), Alhaji Atiku Abubakar, and those for the party will rely on three grounds to get the Supreme Court to overturn President Muhammadu Buhari’s Wednesday victory at the Presidential Election Tribunal.

Atiku and his party will be challenging the unanimous judgement by the five-man tribunal that confirmed Buhari’s victory at the February 23 presidential poll.

Atiku went to the tribunal seeking to overturn the victory of the candidate of the All Progressives Congress (APC), who was running for a second term in the February 23 presidential poll.

His petition did not succeed for failing to prove allegations of irregularities against the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC), President Buhari and the APC, the tribunal declared in a judgement that lasted for over 8 hours on Wednesday.

In a unanimous judgement delivered by Justice Mohammed Garba, the panel held that all the five issues raised by the petitioner against the respondent were not proved.

Shortly after the verdict, Atiku and the PDP vowed to go to the Supreme Court to challenge the decision, but they did not give the date they will be doing so.

Section 134(3) of the Electoral Act, 2010 provides that an appeal from the tribunal would be heard and disposed of within 90 days from date of the judgement.

‘On these grounds, they will fall’

Atiku’s lead counsel, Levy Uzoukwu, a Senior Advocate of Nigeria (SAN), said there were a number of grounds upon which the appeal would be successfully challenged.

First ground: Issue of qualification

Uzoukwu said that contrary to the position of the tribunal that you don’t need to attach copies of certificates listed, the INEC Form CF001 clearly states that you must attach evidence of qualifications before you swear to an affidavit.

He added that the chairman of the tribunal also erred by his statement that “for army to say so, it could be inferred that he submitted his certificates upon his enlistment. Interestingly, none of the three respondents raised that point in the trial. So, the court generated that, and that would tell you the extent the justices went.”

Second ground: Issue of server

“Just look at the issue of the server, which has now thoroughly embarrassed them; the presiding justice unequivocally said the existence of the server was not proved. Now the second justice, who gave the second judgement said that the petitioners recklessly hacked into the server and shamelessly presented the material to the court. This completely contradicts what the presiding justice said.

“That is not all, Justice Oseji came from another angle and said that the petitioners proved the issue of the server, and agreed with us that server is a storage device, which a computer is and that the INEC relied on our case and called no evidence. So, I just don’t understand.”

Third ground: Issue of cancelled votes

Another fundamental one, where we indicated that the areas put together, where elections did not take place, the total number of voters nullified the difference of the votes between Atiku and Buhari, they didn’t say one word on any of that.

“In this one, we subpoenaed the INEC, which brought Form EC40G, where on its own tabulated areas, election did not take place and the registered number of voters came to 2.7 million, where elections were cancelled. We tendered this and addressed it copiously.

“We also tendered what they published on their website. I think that one was 2.6 million, where they organised supplementary elections for National Assembly, and elections were cancelled. It took place simultaneously with the presidential. Accreditation was also simultaneously by the same parties.

“At the point of voting, you go to the box for National Assembly. So, you cannot say that for presidential, election took place and for National Assembly, election did not take place in the same polling unit.

“We addressed all these issues. But they cleverly departed from it and not a word on it, and moved on as if nothing happened.

“We are going to articulate all these in our Notice of Appeal. We have 14 days and they have not given us the judgement because they said they were going to correct some errors,” he said.

Also speaking about the intention to challenge the judgement, counsel to Atiku, Mike Ozekhome, a Senior Advocate of Nigeria (SAN), said several things were wrong with it, among which he said were poor evaluation of evidence, non-evaluation of evidence, misplacement of exactly what the case of the petitioners is, and the fact of provisions of the Electoral Act being misinterpreted and misapplied.

“At the Supreme Court, there will be seven very good heads that will hear the appeal from here. There is no question about that; we will appeal the judgement,” he said.

‘Their appeal will enrich our country’s law’

The Minister of State for Niger Delta and one of the lawyers to the APC, Festus Keyamo, did not respond to calls and text message to him over the matter.

But one of the lawyers to Buhari, Sam Ologunorisa, a Senior Advocate of Nigeria (SAN), said the appeal was expected, but added that it would help to enrich the country’s law.

“As lawyers, our opinions on issues of law and evaluation of facts arising therefrom are bound to differ. The presidential election petition and the issues so distilled will generate this type of reaction as the stakes are high.

  Some lawyers at the 2019 Presidential Election Petitions Tribunal in Abuja last Wednesday, during the judgment of a petition filed by the PDP presidential candidate, Atiku Abubakar against the victory of President Muhammadu BuhariPhoto: NAN
Some lawyers at the 2019 Presidential Election Petitions Tribunal in Abuja last Wednesday, during the judgment of a petition filed by the PDP presidential candidate, Atiku Abubakar against the victory of President Muhammadu Buhari Photo: NAN

“In all, our legal jurisprudence is bound to be richer and I hope the political class will learn one or two lessons and initiate appropriate reforms to deepen our democracy.”

Also, the national publicity secretary of the PDP, Mr. Kola Ologbondiyan, said the party was confident of winning at the Supreme Court.

Speaking to Daily Trust on Sunday, Ologbondiyan said the Supreme Court would dwell on the substance of the case and deliver justice.

“There are two levels of courts and we believe that the tribunal took over the responsibility of the respondent counsel by shopping for the cases they didn’t make. That is the position of our party, which was changed to law and jurisprudence.

“We believe that when we go to the Supreme Court, which is the highest court, we will take another look at the substance of the five issues the tribunal claimed to have addressed, and we believe that they would do justice on all the issues,” he said.

Similarly, the presidential candidate of the PDP, Atiku, confirmed that his team and that of the party were working together to challenge the judgement.

Atiku’s special adviser on media, Paul Ibe, told our correspondent in a telephone interview that his boss and PDP’s legal teams were studying the judgement before taking the necessary action at the apex court.

Asked whether Atiku or his camp had confidence of winning at the Supreme Court, Ibe simply replied, “Let’s get there first. We are on the road. This is not about Atiku, it is about Nigeria and Nigerians. It is about our future and the need to reset our destiny. It is about creating jobs and making Nigerians better.”

You’ll still fail at the apex court – APC

However, the ruling APC has described Atiku’s case as a lost battle, telling him that he would also fail at the Supreme Court because he had nothing new to add  to what it called, ‘spurious claims’ that he and his party took to the  Presidential Election Petitions Tribunal.

The national publicity secretary of the party, Malam Lanre Issa-Onilu, in an interview said the PDP was not ashamed to continue its ‘ridiculous dance.’

“I must say that the issue is more about Alhaji Abubakar Atiku, who has become a victim in the hands of a gang of merciless politicians and lawyers who have made up their minds to drain him of his money. And it is all about that.

“Every reasonable person know well enough that the whole case is a charade. We can only look on and wait for them at the Supreme Court for the final lap of their futile effort. There’s nothing more they can add to the spurious claims they took to the tribunal. They will still fail.”

In the same vein, the APC national chairman, Comrade Adams Oshiomhole, in his reaction to the ruling, predicted that the PDP and its candidate would lose, even if they approached a ‘world court.’

Oshiomhole said it was a lost battle since they could neither introduce new issues nor bring in new witnesses.

“We heard the PDP still wants to go to the Supreme Court. We, as a party, are confident that if it is within the Nigerian law for the PDP to go even to the world court, we will meet them there. The Supreme Court of Nigeria is not that of the PDP or the APC, the Supreme Court is governed by law and is to interpret the evidence before the Court of Appeal.

“They are not at liberty to introduce new issues, neither can they bring in new witnesses.

“So, if it is what I heard at the tribunal, which I believe you also heard, thanks to the media, most Nigerians were detained for eight hours listening to arguments of the judges, one after the other.

“Even though we thought it was getting longer and longer, we realised that they tried to deal with the issues raised, even the ones you and I, as a laymen will consider inconsequential; they dealt with each of them, trashed them and arrived at a conclusion.

“I don’t want to sound arrogant. I hope this whole contestation is about Nigeria who actually won the election and both parties are committed to building Nigeria. It is not about who should be given the key.

“Now, this has been resolved and it is time to queue behind the winner and move on. Our winner is the best example that losing election is not tantamount to the end of your political life. He lost three and today he is the president.

“President Buhari is ready to meet Atiku Abubakar at the Supreme Court, just as the APC is ready to meet the PDP there. Adams Oshiomhole is ready to meet Secondus at the Supreme Court, and he will take second and I will take first, Insha Allah.”

‘It is Atiku’s right to appeal, but…’

Adding his view to the argument about going to the Supreme Court, a former director-general of the Nigerian Law School, Prof Tahir Mamman, said it was within the right of Atiku and the PDP to appeal against the decision of the tribunal. He explained that the cost element of the petition may not be a problem for Atiku.

“It is okay if he appeals, but whether or not his appeal succeeds is a different matter. Nobody tried to predict what the Appeal Court would do earlier. But overall, if you look at the unanimous judgement of the court, it is a landmark decision; very comprehensive. All the issues were taken within the prism of the requirement provisions of the Electoral Act and the Evidence Act,” he said.

Mrs Idayat Hassan and Mrs Idayat Hassan
Mrs Idayat Hassan and Mrs Idayat Hassan

But Jibrin Okutepa, a Senior Advocate of Nigeria (SAN), faulted the tribunal’s decision, saying it erred by claiming that the petitioners dumped electoral materials on the tribunal by not leading evidence through the makers.

“It is a misapplication of the principle in Duriminya v. C.O.P (Supra) to expect the petitioner to come and read afresh to the court the same evidence already contained in the exhibits, which were tendered and received without objection. The tribunal erred seriously by failing to see that forms EC8A and EC8B are statutory forms complete on their own as to their source and purport, and which cannot, therefore, be equated with ordinary documentary exhibits.

“It is, therefore, my contention that there is a need for our courts to reconsider their stand on the issues of who can tender certified true copies of public documents and the weight to be attached to it and the arguments that unless documents tendered are demonstrated, courts should regard them as dumping. If court cannot look at documents tendered and interpret the man making meaning out of it, then what is the duty of the court?” He queried.

Another lawyer, Abeny Mohammed, a Senior Advocate of Nigeria (SAN), however, advised both parties in the matter to obtain copies of the judgement and study them before determining the next course of action.

Atiku following in Buhari’s footsteps – Balarabe Musa

A former Kaduna State governor, Alhaji Balarabe Musa, has described the decision by Atiku to head to Supreme Court as the right decision, saying Buhari did same years back.

The elder statesman also said it was in the interest of Nigerians for the matter to go to the Supreme Court because that would show everybody that there is justice in the country.

“I think his decision to go the Supreme Court is right. He should do it for his own sake because he feels aggrieved. That is one. Secondly, even his competitor, Buhari, went up to the Supreme Court when he had the same problem. So why can’t Atiku also go?

“Thirdly, it is even in the interest of Nigerians for the matter to go up to the Supreme Court because that will show everybody whether there is justice or not. The Supreme Court is supposed to be more articulate than the tribunal; therefore, it can do more justice.

“Finally, the outcome of the Supreme Court will enable Nigerians to know more about the law. Of course, in addition to this, I, therefore, say also that for me as an individual politician, there is no different between the PDP candidate, Atiku and the APC candidate, Buhari,” he said.

The director, Centre for Democracy and Development (CDD), Ms. Idayat Hassan, toeing the line of Balarabe Musa, also argued that the tribunal, having given its reasons for the decision, the petitioner, Atiku and the PDP have a right to exhaust all remedies, and that is why they are going to the Supreme Court.

“However, the most important thing to happen is that our electoral jurisprudence must change. The burden of proof on the petitioner to prove his case may lead to the defeat of justice in the long run. We have to reach a point where it shouldn’t just be “he who asserts, must prove,” but also those who claim to have conducted elections must prove that they did it within extant regulations,” she said.

On his part, the executive director, Civil Society Legislative Advocacy Centre (CISLAC), Auwal Musa Rafsanjani, said the country was running a constitutional democracy, and under constitutional democracy, the courts must be obeyed.

“Whatever the feelings of any aggrieved party, they have to accept the verdict of the court, and if they strongly believe that they have a case, they can proceed to explore other democratic and legal means. We will not encourage anybody to do anything that is not within democratic norms.

“I think this is not really good because President Buhari’s victory was not challenged in 2015, and now in 2019, his election is being challenged, which means that there may be infractions in the conduct of the election. We appeal to Nigerians to remain calm and for President Buhari to face governance. He should also caution his aides, supporters and officials from making derogatory remarks or mockery of opponents.

“We should face governance now. The only thing that would ameliorate the disaffection of the people who felt otherwise is for Buhari to put tangible programmes that would deliver good governance and job security for the people. The president should be focused and make the anti-corruption efforts succeed,” he said.

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