The Presidential Election Petitions Tribunal in Abuja on Wednesday dismissed the petition filed by the Peoples Democratic Party and its presidential candidate, Alhaji Atiku Abubakar, challenging the victory of President Muhammadu Buhari at the February 23, 2019 election.
The five-man bench led by Justice Mohammed Garba unanimously dismissed the case for lacking in merit after resolving all the five issues raised in the case against the petitioners.
Justice Garba, who read the lead judgment, resolved all the five broad issues raised by the petitioners in favour of the respondents.He held that none of the grounds on which the petition was anchored was proved.
Atiku’s evidence is like a drop in the ocean – Tribunal
Comparing the evidence led by the petitioners to the quantum of their allegations, Justice Garba said, “It is like a drop in the ocean”.
He ruled, “In the final result, I have come to the conclusion, which is inevitable and unavoidable, that the petitioners have not discharged the burden of proof required of any of the grounds of the petition in paragraph 15 of the petition.This petition is accordingly and hereby dismissed in its entirety.”
The tribunal held, among others, that contrary to the contention of the petitioners, Buhari had the educational qualification to contest the presidential election.
It held that the petitioners failed to provide any proof that Buhari did not attend the Provincial Secondary School, Katsina and obtained his West African School Certificate from there in 1961.
“It is established that a candidate is not required under the Electoral Act to attach his certificate to Form CF001 before the candidate is adjudged to have the requisite qualification to contest the election,” Justice Garba said.
Citing a previous Supreme Court judgment, the tribunal said, “Submission of educational certificate is not a requirement to contest election.
“In effect, the 2nd defendant (Buhari) went through secondary education and then proceeded to military school. The military school is higher than secondary education.”
Justice Garba also referred to a statement issued in 2015 by the then Director of Army’s Public Relations, Brigadier-General Olajide Laleye, denying that Buhari’s certificate was with the Army’s board.
According to the judge, the denial by Laleye was only to the effect that Buhari’s certificate was not in his personal file but not to the effect that he did not have a certificate.
He pointed out that from Laleye’s statement the Army had verified Buhari’s results at the point of his enrolment into the Army in 1961.
He said Laleye admitted that Buhari possessed some credits and a pass in his West African School Certificate which qualified him to be commissioned into the Nigerian Army.
He said Buhari’s results mentioned in Laleye’s statement must have been copied from Buhari’s Form 99A submitted to the Army Board at the point of his enrolment into the Nigerian Army in 1962.
Justice Garba held, “The 2nd defendant is not only qualified, but also eminently qualified to contest the February 23, 2019 presidential election,” adding, “The fact that he did not attach his certificate cannot lead to the conclusion that he is not educated up to secondary education.”
The tribunal also dismissed the claim of the petitioners that Provincial Secondary School, Katsina, was not in existence as of 1961 when Buhari claimed to have obtained his West African School Certificate from there.
He ruled, “There is no scintilla of evidence that the school stated in Form CF001 submitted to INEC was not in existence as of that time.
“They have failed to discharge the burden of proof of the allegations of non-qualification or submission of false information which is fundamental in the aid of the qualification of the 2nd defendant to contest the election.”
Justice Garba added, “The onus rests squarely on the petitioners to prove their assertion that the 2nd respondent does not possess the educational qualification to contest the election or that he submitted false information which is fundamental in nature to aid his qualification. This, I have mentioned, that the petitioners failed to prove. The petitioners cannot therefore rely on any failure in the case of the respondents.
“I also have no doubt in my mind that the petitioners have failed to prove that the 2nd respondent does not possess the qualification to contest the election into the office of the President as stipulated in sections 131, 137, 138 of the Constitution.
“I am also of the firm view that the petitioners have failed to prove that the 2nd respondent submitted false information which is fundamental in nature to aid his qualification to contest the election into the Office of the President as prescribed in section 35(1) of the Evidence Act, 2011.”
The tribunal also ruled that the election manual issued by INEC for the conduct of the 2019 presidential election did not provide for electronic transmission of results of the election.
It added that the petitioners failed to prove that election results were transmitted electronically.
It added that petitioners’ Witness 59, David Njorga, from Kenya, did not qualify to be referred to as an expert witness, as he only relied on third party information to make a case for the existence of a server into which the results of the election were allegedly transmitted.
The tribunal held that Njorga relied on hearsay information posted on a website, www.factsdontlie.com, by a purported whistleblower who was never known.
It added that card reader was not used to transmit results during the election but was for mere authentication of ownership of voter cards.
It added that the petitioners merely dumped documents particularly result sheets and voter register on the tribunal without demonstrating them by attaching the evidence of any of their 62 witnesses to the documents in their bid to prove the allegations in their petition.
It held that none of the documents tendered by the petitioners was utilised to prove the allegations, such as over-voting or non-accreditation of voters.
Other members of the panel, Justices Abdul Aboki, Joseph Ikyegh, Samuel Oseji and Peter Ige concurred with the ruling.
The judgment, which lasted over eight hours on Wednesday, started at 9.30am and ended at about 5.58pm when the other members of the panel delivered their supporting opinions.
Silence greets Buhari’s tribunal victory
The usual eruption into jubilation within and outside courtrooms following victorious judgments was absent when the Presidential Election Petitions Tribunal on Wednesday in Abuja delivered its verdict affirming President Muhammadu Buhari’s success at the February 23, 2019 poll.
The courtroom was filled with Buhari’s loyalists led by his Chief of Staff, Abba Kyari. The judgment was also aired live.
Many, who could not gain entry into the courtroom, were seen monitoring proceedings from their car and others on the phones.
Despite these, no jubilation was observed among many of Buhari’s supporters that could be among them.
Apart from the exchange of warm glances among the top supporters of the President, no serious jubilation was observed among those favoured by the verdict as it characteristically happens in high-profile cases as the one challenging the election of a sitting President.
Some of the personalities that attended court to hear the judgment were the National Chairman of the All Progressives Congress, Adams Oshiomhole; the National Chairman of the Peoples Democratic Party, Uche Secondus; Minister of Justice and Attorney General of the Federation, Abubakar Malami; Minister of Works and Housing, Babatunde Fashola; and Minister of Labour, Chris Ngige.
They also included the Governor of Plateau State, Simon Lalong; Governor of Kebbi State, Abubakar Bagudu; Minister of State for Niger Delta, Festus Keyamo; Founder of DAAR Communications, Raymond Dokpesi; and pioneer Chairman of the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission, Mallam Nuhu Ribadu.
The prominent politicians arrived at the venue of the tribunal between 8 am and 9 am.
However, the Minister of Sports and Youth Development, Sunday Dare; and Minister of State for Transportation, Gbemisola Saraki, arrived over 30 minutes after the court session had begun.
The two ministers were therefore compelled to sit outside with their entourages, watching the proceedings onscreen in the gallery alongside other stakeholders.
Speculation over Osinbajo’s presence
There was heavy security presence at the venue, including scores of police officers, several of whom were heavily armed and clad in bulletproof vests, and several Department of State Services officers.
About an hour into the session, a convoy of three black vehicles without number plates rode onto the premises led by about eight siren-blaring motorcycles, whose gear resembled those of the presidential motorcade.
A security officer at the venue told our correspondent that the motorcade was conveying the Vice President.
However, the convoy did not stop at the entrance of the venue. It took a route that led to the back of the venue.
Shortly after, the APC and the PDP national chairmen exited the courtroom and headed for the rear of the building.
Some of the security personnel and spectators speculated that the party leaders had gone to meet the Vice President, who allegedly did not want to make an appearance at the court.