All five members of the Presidential Election Petition Court in Abuja, on Wednesday, unanimously affirmed Bola Tinubu as the validly elected President of Nigeria, a decisive judicial resolution of the credibility questions that have hovered around his election for over six months.
In its over-12-hour-long judgement, the panel of judges led by Haruna Tsammani dismissed all three petitions challenging Mr Tinubu’s election in his lead judgement.
The rest of the members of the panel – Stephen Adah, Misitura Bolaji-Yusuf (the only female on the bench), Moses Ugo, and Abbah Mohammed – took their turns to also adopt the reasoning and conclusion of the lead judgement.
The petitions decided by the court were filed within three weeks of the declaration of Mr Tinubu as the winner of the 25 February presidential election on 1 March.
The petitioners were Atiku Abubakar of the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP), who was declared as the first runner-up in the election; Peter Obi of the Labour Party, the second runner-up, and the All Peoples Movement (APM), whose presidential candidate only managed to poll a little over 2,000 votes out of the 24 million votes cast in the election.
The panel unanimously stressed the total lack of credible evidence adduced by the petitioners to support their cases and described some of the legal arguments of Atiku and Mr Obi as “fallacious and ridiculous”.
“From the foregoing, therefore, it is very clear and certain that the petitioners have failed to prove that the 2023 presidential election and the return of the 2nd respondent (Mr Tinubu) was invalidated by reason of corrupt practices or non-compliance with the Electoral Act 2022,” Mr Tsammani declared.
The declaration came at a point in the unusually drawn-out proceeding when members of the members of the audience in the packed courtroom had reduced by almost half.
The Vice-President, Kashim Shettima, whose manner of nomination was a major plank of arguments decided on by the court, was present throughout the proceeding. But President Tinubu was absent, likewise Atiku and Mr Obi, who was regular in court at the hearing stage.
Mr Tsammani said, “It is very clear that there was no credible evidence by the petitioners to prove the allegations of corrupt practices” and that the petitions failed to present alternative results upon which they claimed they had won the election.
The court held that INEC was, therefore, right to declare Mr Tinubu as the winner of the election “in the absence of any other rival or alternate results placed before this court by the petitioners that the second respondent (Mr Tinubu) who scored 8,794,722 votes as against 6,984,520 votes scored by the petitioners (Atiku and PDP).”
“Having considered and decided that the three petitions … are all devoid of merit, the petitions are hereby dismissed.
“Accordingly, I find the declaration and return of Bola Ahmed Tinubu by the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) as the duly elected President of the Federal Republic of Nigeria,” Mr Tsammani declared.
In what appeared to be a rebuke of overzealous supporters of the opposition candidates, Mr Adah, in his concurring opinion, held that justice “is neither based on technicality nor on justice according to the suggestive clout of pressure groups.”
“When a court of law is called upon to determine an election dispute, he is called upon to do justice. Our notion of doing justice is not that of doing justice according to the whims and caprices of the judges or the parties; it must be justice according to law,” Mr Adah, the second most senior judge on the panel, added.
The two leading opposition candidates – Atiku and Mr Obi – individually had asked the court to either declare them the winner of the election or order a fresh poll. Should the court choose to call a fresh election, they prayed that Mr Tinubu and his party, the APC, should be barred from participating in it.
They alleged in their separate petitions that the election was marred by widespread irregularities and corrupt practices, including manipulation of results, suppression of votes, overvoting, harassment of voters, wrong computation of votes, and inflation of Mr Tinubu’s votes in virtually all the 36 states of the federation and the federal capital, Abuja.
They also alleged corrupt practices perpetrated by the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) in connivance with Mr Tinubu and his party, the All Progressives Congress (APC).
They alleged that INEC deliberately refused to upload the scanned copies of polling unit results in real-time as provided in the election guidelines to manipulate the figures favouring Mr Tinubu.
They also made a huge issue out of INEC’s failure to upload scanned copies of polling unit results to the IReV, an online platform designed for the public to view the polling unit results in real-time. This, they said, smacked of non-compliance with the provisions of the Electoral Act, a serious breach that ordinarily invalidates an election if proved.
They stressed that Mr Tinubu failed to meet the full constitutional requirements to be declared the winner of the election by virtue of his failure to secure a minimum of 25 per cent of the votes in the federal capital, Abuja.
Mr Atiku also raised the issue of Mr Tinubu’s alleged double citizenship of Nigeria and Guinea, a situation he claims disqualified the president from running for the election in February based on the constitution of Nigeria.
The PDP candidate, who lost the 2019 presidential election and a legal challenge to the outcome in court to then President Muhammadu Buhari, also alleged, like Mr Obi, that Mr Tinubu was not qualified to contest the 2023 presidential election on the basis that a US court in Northern Illinois ordered him to forfeit $460,000 in a drugs-related case in 1993.
On its part, the APM argued, as the only ground of its petition, that Mr Tinubu’s nomination was invalidated by virtue of the double nomination of his running mate, Kashim Shettima, as both the vice-presidential candidate and Borno Central senatorial candidate of the APC in the 2023 presidential election.
The Tsammani-led panel of justices dismissed all the arguments and the evidence led by the petitioners.
The petitions were not supported by “credible evidence”, Mr Tsammani ruled, with his colleagues on the bench also stressing the same finding in their concurrent opinions.
“Election petition is a serious issue,” Ms Bolaji-Yusuf remarked in a clear expression of her displeasure about what she considered to be evidence-starved cases of the petitioners. “A petitioner is not permitted to engage in fishing expedition or a roving enquiry as the petitioners herein did.”
“It is clear from the outset that the petitioners were engaging in wild goose chase and an inquisitorial adventure,” she added.
The court also spotlighted procedural blunders committed by the petitioners’ legal teams.
One such was the court’s finding that the petitioners failed to comply with strict legal and judicial authorities that mandate petitioners to file the statements on oath of all their witnesses along with their petitions or before the close of the three-week window for filing an election petition.
Lack of adherence to this led to the court rejecting 10 out of the 13 witnesses called by Mr Obi and 15 out of the 27 presented by Atiku.
The court, therefore, expunged all the testimonies of the affected witnesses and the exhibits they tendered.
“While they were complaining of non-compliance with the provisions of the Electoral Act against the first respondent (INEC), their own petitions were massively deficient and were in non-compliance with the same Electoral Act,” Mr Adah said.
The court also dismissed a substantial number of paragraphs of the petitions that were adjudged to be “vague”, “imprecise”, and “generic” with no particulars, such as the details of polling units alleged irregularities took place.
The court resolved all the key issues raised by the petitioners against them and upheld the arguments of the respondents – the INEC, Mr Tinubu, Mr Shettima, and the APC.
For instance, it dismissed the claim by the petitioners that Mr Tinubu needed to have won 25 per cent of the lawful votes cast in the federal capital even when he had met the requirement in more than two-thirds or 24 out of 36 states of the federation. The court said all votes are equal, as such, the votes of the federal capital voters could not have superior value.
The court also dismissed the issue of the judgement of a US District Court in Northern Illinois, which ordered the forfeiture of $460,000 belonging to Mr Tinubu, and said it could not be a basis for disqualifying him from running for the presidency.
Ms Bolaji-Yusuf held that it was “civil forfeiture” and not a “criminal forfeiture”.
She said civil forfeiture or non-conviction-based forfeiture “is not a conviction or verdict of guilt after an indictment, trial and conviction”. He said it was used “when the government’s interest is merely to recover proceeds of unlawful activity.”
She explained further that the criminal forfeiture envisaged under section 137(1)(d) of the constitution cited by the petitioners “is the seizure of the property connected with a crime after obtaining a conviction, as part of the sentence for the crime.”
The court also ruled the Supreme Court had decisively decided the alleged double nomination of Mr Shettima as APC’s vice-presidential candidate and Borno Central candidate as untrue.
The court held that Mr Shettima had withdrawn his nomination as a senatorial candidate before he was nominated Mr Tinubu’s running mate.
The court also held that the failure of INEC to upload polling unit results to IReV, an online portal accessible by the public to view scanned copies of the result sheets in real time, did not invalidate the election results.
The court said the collation process of results recognised by law is manual, adding that IReV “is not a collation system”.
Ms Bolaji-Yusuf said the petitioners claimed that it was impossible to do a valid collation of results because INEC failed to transmit the election results electronically.
Both Atiku and Mr Obi have indicated their intentions to appeal against the judgement at the Supreme Court, which is the final court on presidential election matters.
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