By - Tobi Idowu
This week is going to be crucial to the outcome of the 2019 Presidential Election, held on February 23. It is expected that the election tribunal will deliver its verdict on the petition filed by the major contender and runner up to the eventual winner, former vice president Atiku Abubakar.
What the Electoral Act says:
According to the provision of the Electoral Act, petition to election must be heard and final judgment delivered within 180 days of filing it, as any moment extending beyond this guideline will render the petition incompetent and of no probate value to the petitioner. In the case of the 2019 presidential election, September 13th is the last day of the 180-day stipulated timeframe. The onus is now on the Presidential election tribunal, led by the Justice Muhammed Lawan Garba to hand down its much anticipated verdict on the merits of the application filed by Alhaji Atiku and his party, the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP).
Legal intrigues and question of precedence
While there have been a lot of legal intrigues explored and exploited by both counsels to the petitioners and the defendants in the course of the hearings at the tribunal, with some of them dealing with technicalities and other law jargons that non-initiates to the law profession might find uninteresting and daunting, the question on the lips of everybody will surely be that, could a precedent be set by the tribunal in nullifying the victory of President Muhammadu Buhari?
This question has generated a lot of interests and unimaginable conjectures among Nigerians and international observers. On the one hand, overturning of a presidential election has never happened in the history of the country; and on the other hand, there is a considerable doubts on the ability of the Nigerian judicial system to do the unthinkable that would have been the overturning of the victory of a president, considering the overbearing influence occupier of that position has in the affairs of the country. This is not being suggested that president Buhari’s victory ought to be overturned; however, it is only been asked if Nigerian judicial system, represented by the presidential tribunal in this stance, is capable of overturning Buhari’s victory if it finds merit in the petitioner that asks for it?
Atiku’s Case Merit
It is as well important to consider the merit or otherwise of the petition filed by the former vice president and his party. It needs to be stated that Atiku and PDP have always insisted that Buhari did not win the election as announced by the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) but that Atiku had won the elections square and fair. This obviously influenced the predication of their petitions at the tribunal on the fact that the number declared by INEC was altered and contradicted the actual number of votes captured in the central server; and that this was done to favour the All Progressives Congress (APC). Importantly, Atiku and PDP would be so forceful, both at the tribunal and on the social media, in asking the tribunal to compel the electoral umpire to make available, the central server, where votes were electronically transferred. This issue of server generated a lot of interesting and ludicrous commentary. While INEC and the APC have maintained that there was no server that housed the result, Atiku and the PDP insisted that there was a server.
To give bite to their argument, Atiku and PDP even went as far as calling a star witness, former Corp Marshal, Federal Road Safety Corps (FRSC) and Minister of Aviation, Chief Osita Chidoka. Chidoka had been hailed as the man who would expose all that needed to be exposed about the server, and in the process shamed INEC and swung the pendulum of the judgement to Atiku. His salvo at the tribunal was hinged on his task as the National Collation Agent and Head of PDP Situation Room for the February 23 election.
He then informed the tribunal that INEC Chairman, Mahmoud Yakubu, had consistently told them at various times that a server would be used for the purpose of electronic transmission of results, even though results would be collated manually at the ward level. Chidoka would then refer to the humongous money spent by the electoral umpire, N27billion! on Information Technology, which apparently was for the deployment of server use in the election. While this part of the tribunal proceedings seemed to be very useful to the overall interest of the PDP, there would come a mellowing part which would have given the PDP cold feet and strengthened the hope of President Buhari and his party.
Upon cross-examination Chidoka would admit that he was not at any polling unit when results were transmitted electronically. In fact, the supposed IT expert, who curiously was brought in from Kenya, gave a so underwhelming performance, not least in the fact that he was not certificated. At the end of his session, it was said that Nigerians at Computer village would have given a better performance.
Atiku’s other premise for wanting the declared victory of President Buhari overturned was that the President lied on oath when he claimed that he had three certificates but could not produce even a photocopy to support his Form CF 001, submitted to Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) during clearance. Perhaps, there is a veritable cause here as the minister of information, Lai Muhammed has been reported of begging Nigerians to forgive the president for losing his certificate!
Still on the Certificate and Buhari’s Defence
According to a report by the Guardian, there was also another revelation by the current Chief of Staff to President Buhari, Alhaji Abba Kyari, who claimed to have known the President for over 40 years. He told the Tribunal that he personally received Buhari’s Cambridge WASC Certificate on July 18 this year. The witness further admitted that his boss listed the schools he attended but failed to list the certificates obtained from them.
However, the paper would further report that there was another respondent’s witness who maintained that President Buhari didn’t lie about his certificates. It said, “In fact, Sule MaiAdua, a retired civil servant disclosed that he attended the same secondary school with Buhari and that he even took photographs with him while they were in class six.” For Chief Wale Olanipekun (SAN), Buhari’s lawyer, Sule MaiAdua’s evidence has satifactorily cleared doubt over his client’s certificate controversies. “After all, no law stipulated presentation of certificates as a prerequisite for the qualification to contest election for the office of the president,” he said in court.
To Supreme Court
Although where the pendulum of victory will swing this week is unknown, it is expected, however, that the tribunal will not fail Nigerians in administering its judgement to best interpretation of the law. It will not be out of place and conjecture to predict that whatever the tribunal says about the election will not be taken as the end of the matter by any of major contenders who finds himself losing. The case is surely heading to the apex court in the land, the Supreme Court.
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