Election petition tribunal dismisses Atiku's suit declaring Buhari Nigeria's duly elected president

PRESIDENT Muhammadu Buhari's election in Nigeria's last general elections have been upheld by the Presidential Election Petition Tribunal today after it dismissed an appeal filed by his challenger former vice president Alhaji Atiku Abubakar.


In a messy legal battle that has ensued between President Buhari's All Progressives Congress (APC) and Alhaji Abubakar's Peoples Democratic Party (PDP), the two parties have been at each other's throats since the February presidential elections. Alhaji Abubakar lost the elections to President Muhammadu Buhari but has refused to accept the result and sought legal redress before the election tribunal.


After over three months of sitting, the tribunal finally pronounced judgement today, declaring that President Buhari was duly elected in the February 23 presidential elections. It also said it has come to an inevitable conclusion that the petitioners have not proved any of the grounds of the petition as known by law and consequently discarded the petition in its entirety.


Lead judge, Justice Mohammed Garba, ruled: “The petition is hereby dismissed in its entirety."


Before the judgment, however, the tribunal took out time to rule on certain pending motions and applications by the parties in the matter. Part of the resolved applications was that the exclusion of vice president, Professor Yemi Osinbajo from the petition did not negate the legality of the petition by the petitioner contrary to the Independent National Electoral Commission's (Inec's) claim.


This, the tribunal said is because the constitution places the position of the deputy governor and vice president in the shadow as appendages. It further affirmed that the candidates in those capacities are being envisaged in the eyes of the law as interested parties and not necessary parties.


Further, the tribunal also dismissed Inec's motion seeking to strike out Alhaji Abubakar's application challenging President Buhari’s qualification as a pre-election matter. Also, the tribunal struck out the APC motion alleging that Alhaji Abubakar was a Cameroonian and affirmed subsequently that he is a Nigerian and so qualified to contest the presidential election.


Also, the tribunal dismissed part of the PDP petition alleging that the ruling APC deployed security officers to manipulate the 2019 presidential elections. It said that the PDP ought to have included the security officers allegedly involved in the petition as part of the suit.


On the allegations of electoral malpractices by the petitioners, the APC and Inec urged the tribunal to strike them out, alleging that they were vague and nebulous. However, the tribunal refused, deciding that the allegations are not vague and nebulous as claimed by the respondents even though specific areas the malpractices allegedly took place were not mentioned.


On the allegations of none possession of minimum education qualification and the submission of an affidavit containing false information to Inec against President Buhari, the tribunal affirmed that he was eminently qualified to contest the presidential election. It therefore, dismissed the petitioners’ petition saying, the arguments go to no issue and was a rebuttable presumption.


In addition, the tribunal also pointed out that the evidence tendered challenging President Buhari’s academic qualification were not to be relied upon since the PDP was not the maker of the certificate. As for the controversial use of the Inec server and card reader machines, the tribunal said there was no subsisting electoral law mandating the use of smart card reader, a situation it maintained, has not changed since 2015.


It also said the card readers could only be used to administer the voter’s card and authenticate the voter but not to authenticate election results. Furthermore, the five-man panel said the PDP’s application suggesting the use of a central server for the collation of results was, therefore, misconceived.


Justice Garba added: “The issue is can it truly be said that the section amended actually empowered Inec to transmit election results electronically? The court only has a duty to interpret the law, the court has no power to amend the law.


“It is undeniable that the transmission of election results is manual at different at all levels of the elections at different stages from the states to the national level. There is no provision authorising the first respondent or any of its officers to transfer election results to any of the servers.


"There is also nothing allowing the first respondent to use the smart card reader for the collation of results. I’m not aware that the card reader machine has replaced the voters’ register."