By - Makinde Ebenezer
Like many judicial interventions in electoral politics in Nigeria, the decision of the Presidential Election Petition Tribunal to dismiss the petition of the presidential candidate of the Peoples` Democratic Party (PDP) challenging the electoral victory of the APC and President Muhammadu Buhari at the 2019 presidential election has been met with celebrations and criticisms. For some, the PEPT did well, while to others, the delivered judgment is nothing but a charade. But how has the Tribunal faired in its judgment? Were the real issues adequately addressed?
The basic arguments of the PDP and its presidential candidate, Alhaji Atiku Abubakar is that the presidential election held on the 23rd of February, 2019 was marred with irregularities and electoral manipulations in some states of the federation and that in fact, it was Alhaji Atiku Abubakar of the PDP that won the highest number of votes during the election and should have been declared as the duly elected president of Nigeria by the Independence National Electoral Commission (INEC). And more importantly that the presidential candidate of the APC, President Muhammadu Buhari does not have a minimum educational requirement: Secondary School Certificate to contest for the election.
Therefore, the substantial issues for the court to decide were firstly, whether the elections were rigged to favour the APC by INEC and this brings to forth the argument of the PDP that there was a central INEC server which showed that PDP actually won the election. Secondly, the court was to decide on whether President Muhammadu Buhari of the APC was educationally qualified to have participated in the election.
The Rulings of the Tribunal (PEPT)
After hearing the arguments of the petitioners (Alhaji Atiku Abubakar and the PDP), the tribunal concluded that they were not able to prove beyond reasonable doubt that indeed President Buhari and the APC did not win the election and that the presidential candidate of the APC, President Muhammadu Buhari was not educationally qualified as required by law to contest for the post of the president.
On the issue of the certificate, the tribunal`s ruling was based on section 131 (d), which says that: “A person shall be qualified for election to the office of the President if he has been educated up to at least the School Certificate level or its equivalent.” And Section 318 (1) which defines “School Certificate or its equivalent” to mean “a) a Secondary School Certificate or its equivalent, or Grade II Teacher’s Certificate, the City and Guilds Certificate; or (b) education up to Secondary School Certificate level; or (c) Primary Six School Leaving Certificate or its equivalent and – (i) 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, and (ii) attendance at courses and training in such institutions as may be acceptable to the Independent National Electoral Commission for periods totaling up to a minimum of one year, and (iii) the ability to read, write, understand and communicate in the English language to the satisfaction of the Independent National Electoral Commission, and (d) any other qualification acceptable by the Independent National Electoral Commission;”
The Tribunal argued that President Muhammadu Buhari has more than the required Primary School Certificate and that the available evidence shows that he possesses Secondary School Certificate or its equivalents having attended famous Military Colleges in the UK, US and India. Based on this fact, the Tribunal concluded that President Muhammadu Buhari was “eminently” qualified to have contested the February 23, 2019 Presidential Election.
On the second substantive issue, the Tribunal basically argued that since the Electoral Act (2010) as amended does not empower INEC to carryout electronic transmission of election results as it were; the petitioners have no case in this regard. In other words, there is no server for which the petitioners can identify because extant electoral laws do not allow for this. According to the Tribunal, “undeniably, the procedure for collation and transmission of election results in the above Paragraphs of Exhibits P27 and P28 is manual…. There is no provision in either Exhibit P27 or P28 (Electoral Acts) for the transmission of election results electronically either by the use of the Smart Card Reader or other means at any level of an election… In addition…there is no provision in the Amended Electoral Act authorizing or empowering 1st respondent (INEC) or any of its officers or officials including Presiding Officers 1, 2, 3 to transmit results of the election electronically to any server through the use of Smart Card Reader.” In the light of this, the court submitted that emphasis on INEC server by the petitioners (The PDP and Alhaji Atiku Abubakar) was misplaced.
A Travesty or Justice Well Served?
A curious and interested individual in the judgment of the Tribunal will be baffled with some of the submissions of the Court of Law especially on the substantive issues before it: those related to the certificate and the INEC server. The Tribunal argued that there was no place in the petitions brought before it where the petitioners either complained nor pleaded on the fact that President Muhammadu Buhari did not attach his certificate to the form he submitted to INEC during registration. This means that the petitioners and invariably the Tribunal are only concern about whether the presidential candidate of the APC has a certificate or not, an allegation that the petitioners have not been able to prove beyond reasonable doubts. In the light of this, the Tribunal submitted that though Mr. Buhari did not submit his certificate to INEC, this does not translate to the fact that President Muhammadu Buhari does not have a certificate.
The implication of this is that, according to the Tribunal, President Muhammadu Buhari can continue to rule the people of Nigeria even without knowing the whereabouts of his certificate. It is perhaps astounding that the Tribunal conveniently justified the failure of President Muhammadu Buhari to tender his Secondary School Certificate to INEC on the ground that the petitioners have only complained about the fact that Mr. Buhari does not have a certificate. Yet President Muhammadu Buhari did not provide his certificate. More so, the Tribunal was satisfied with the failure of INEC not to provide explanations on how and why it was satisfied with President Muhammadu Buhari`s failure to submit his certificate during registration. This means that INEC perhaps has unlimited power to determine who meets or does not meet Section 131 (D) of the Nigerian Constitution and more importantly, that INEC has no explanation to make as to how it determines that. It should bother all Nigerians that the Tribunal has just approved President Muhammadu Buhari`s claim of possessing a secondary school certificate without displaying a valid copy of the said certificate.
The argument of the Tribunal on the existence or not of INEC server was more astonishing. To say the least, it shows the limitation of practical reality in the face of the law and the judicial system in Nigeria. As argued above, the petition of the PDP in relations to INEC server was simply dismissed on the ground that the Electoral Act and other extant electoral guidelines in Nigeria does not allow for electronic transmission of voting. It was not an issue for the Court to decide if in practical reality INEC had used any form of electronic transmission of votes, hence the existence of server. It is perhaps disturbing that INEC was not made to explain the charade of transmission of election results from the card readers to “central server” in line with what they had in electoral manual for the 2019 presidential election and from which all their electoral officials were trained.
It was not only that INEC told Nigerians that they had a server before the 2019 elections, but that its officials were trained on how to transmit election results from their respective card readers to a “central server” which many of them complied with during the election. It is therefore shameful that the Tribunal was able to dismiss the petition in relations to INEC server on the ground that Electoral Act did not support it regardless of boundless evidence to show that INEC did use electronic transmission of election results during the 2019 General Election. The Court in their ruling on INEC server dismissed the testimonies of the five witnesses of the petitioners on the ground that their argument that INEC gave them instructions and pins to transmit election results to a server “could not make an impact.” “That it was a drop in an ocean.” According to the Tribunal, “their evidence either alone or together failed to establish any claim of the petitioners on the issue of electronic transmission of results. In effect that aspect of the petitioners` case is not proved or established.” In effect, the Tribunal decided to be ignorant of the practical fact that indeed, quite a number of electoral officials were given pins to transmit electoral results from their respective card readers to an unknown location.
It is difficult for any sane human being to accept many of the submissions of the Presidential Electoral Petition Tribunal (PEPT), hence, the decision of the PDP to proceed to the Supreme Court; indeed, many of the contending issues were not sufficiently clarified by the Tribunal. But can the Supreme Court do justice to the substantive issues or we are going to witness another Osun scenario where real issues were left for trivialities?
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