UPDATED: Tribunal dismisses party’s petition against Buhari’s re-election

President Muhammadu Buhari will swear in new ministers on August 21
President Muhammadu Buhari

The presidential election petition tribunal, on Thursday, dismissed the petition filed by Hope Democratic Party and Ambrose Owuru challenging President Muhammadu Buhari’s victory at the February 23 election.

In a unanimous judgment on Thursday, the five-member panel led by Mohammed Garba dismissed the petition on grounds that it was premised on a purported referendum which allegedly held on February 16 this year.

HDP had asked the tribunal to nullify the February 23 general elections following allegations that Mr Buhari connived with the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) to frustrate the voting rights of Nigerians.

According to the HDP, the decision by INEC to reschedule elections, shortly before the earlier agreed time, on February 16, was unconstitutional and liable to ensuring the nullification of the elections.

According to the HDP, its presidential candidate, Mr Owuru, emerged winner of the referendum and should be returned elected as President of Nigeria.

But in its judgement on Thursday, the tribunal upheld the separate objections of the respondents – INEC, Mr Buhari and the All Progressives Congress (APC) – and said it lacked jurisdiction to entertain the petition.

According to the tribunal, the petition did not challenge the February 23 election but presented a purported referendum that was not conducted by the electoral commission.

Mr Garba further held that the suit was liable to be dismissed on grounds that being a pre-election matter, it was also filed outside the 14 days provided by the law.

The tribunal said that the petitioners failed to prove the allegations that they were excluded by the second respondent, INEC, in the February 23 presidential election.

According to the tribunal, the available exhibits showed that the first petitioner’s name was number 69 on INEC’s final list and that the logo of the party was conspicuously pasted on the ballot papers used for the election. It, therefore, held that the claim of unlawful exclusion was unwarranted.

Dismissing the petition, the tribunal held that there was no provision in the constitution, electoral act and associated laws for the election of the president through a referendum and the claim of referendum election was strange and alien to the mode of electing a president.

The tribunal agreed that the body that conducted the purported referendum is not known to law and the purported emergence of Mr Owuru as president through a voice vote at the referendum of over 50 million was not established.

Mr Garba added that the petitioner’s claim was spurious since it was only Mr Owuru that participated in the referendum.

“This tribunal is not persuaded to invoke its powers to grant any of the reliefs sought by the petitioners because it has no jurisdiction to do so and on the fact that the petition is predicated on a purported February 16 referendum and not the election of February 23 that has the force of power.

“What is more, the only witness called by the petitioners, Yusuf Ibrahim, admitted in his evidence that the February 16 referendum was not conducted by INEC and that the February 23 presidential election was conducted by INEC and that he voted thereby making the claims and reliefs of the petitioners sought from the tribunal to be flying in the air and not grantable”.

The tribunal further held that the claim of the petitioners that INEC has no power to postpone election is absurd because of the relevant laws that empower the electoral commission to shift election and appoint a date for the election and that the petitioners only demonstrated lack of knowledge of the electoral law.

The judge said the petition is vexatious, lacking in merit, liable for dismissal and consequently dismissed having failed on all fronts.

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