Supreme Court on Buhari’s Election: PDP should’ve called 250,000 witnesses

Supreme Court of Nigeria (judge)
Supreme Court of Nigeria

The Supreme court has said the Peoples Democratic Party and its presidential candidate, Atiku Abubakar, should have presented 250, 000 witnesses before the 2019 election tribunal to prove its case.

The court said this on Friday while explaining why it dismissed PDP’s appeal against the September 11 decision of the Court of Appeal that upheld President Muhammadu Buhari’s re-election in February.

The court said that PDP failed to prove its allegations against the re-election of Mr Buhari, and that the APC candidate eminently qualified to participate in the election.

Mr Abubakar and his party approached the apex court after the Court of Appeal dismissed its petitions in September. It asked the court to give further interpretation to its claims against Mr Buhari’s qualifications to contest the election.

On October 30, a seven-member panel of the apex court ruled against the appeal, describing it as lacking in merit. It said it would explain its reasons on a future date.

First Reason

While stating its reasons on Friday, the Supreme Court said there were two main issues seeking interpretation regarding the PDP’s petition.

The court said the first issue bothered on an alleged non-compliance to the Electoral Act, while the second issue related to the question of whether or not Mr Buhari qualified to take part in the election.

Regarding the allegations of non-compliance, the court said the PDP had a responsibility, not only to provide witnesses but to do so sufficiently to support its allegations.

“The appellant cannot just call witnesses. He has to call witnesses who are eyewitnesses and he may have to call 250, 000 witnesses,” said Justice John Okoro who joined two other panelists to explain the court’s decision.

As agreed by parties at the tribunal, the PDP was given 10 days to call its witnesses, while the other parties had six days each to do the same.

The PDP called 62 witnesses before closing its case on July 19.

The petitioners had 180 days from the date of filing its petition to have all the complaints heard and a judgement reached at the tribunal.

Second reason

In deciding on the allegation against Mr Buhari’s educational qualifications, Justice Okoro said the issue was a constitutional matter and added that Section 131 (d) of the constitution only requires that a candidate vying for the position of president should be “educated up to at least School Certificate level or its equivalent.”

Mr Okoro read through Section 318 of the Constitution to further explain the meaning of “school certificate or its equivalent’.

“This include: secondary School Certificate or its equivalent, or Grade II Teacher’s Certificate, the City and Guilds Certificate; education up to Secondary School Certificate level; Primary Six School Leaving Certificate or its equivalent and -service in the public or private sector in the Federation in any capacity acceptable to the Independent National Electoral Commission for a minimum of ten years.”

He said the law also allows a candidate who has attended “courses and training in such institutions as may be acceptable to the Independent National Electoral Commission for periods totalling up to a minimum of one year, or has the ability to read, write, understand and communicate in the English language to the satisfaction of the Independent National Electoral Commission to participate in the elections, as well as a person who possesses any other qualification acceptable by the Independent National Electoral Commission,” according to the same section 318.

“A person is not expected to have all the qualifications. Possession of one of the certificates will suffice,” he said.

“The court was right to hold that the second respondent was eminently qualified to contest election. The admission by the appellants witnesses that Buhari rose to the head of the military and served as military president were compelling enough to help the lower court reach its verdict,” Mr Okoro said.

Mr Okoro said the apex court and the Court of Appeal had at various times decided on the issue of educational qualification of a candidate and that the current decision was made in line with previous decisions.

The court also said the PDP had the duty of proving that the documents tendered in court regarding Mr Buhari’s qualification were false since that was part of their claim.

Mr Okoro said the failure of the PDP to obtain a subpoena for the presentation of the secretary of the military board at the tribunal was flawed.

“The fact remains that the petitioners failed to call former the former director army public relations, Brigadier General Olajide Olaleye, to testify,” Mr Okoro added.

“What the petitioners did was tendering the documents on the bar, with no one to authenticate it,” Mr Okoro said.

On the contention that Mr Buhari failed to attach his certificate to the form CF001, Mr Okoro said: “Neither the constitution nor the electoral act requires that a candidate must attach his certificate to the form CF001 before he can participate in an election.”

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