•Ex-VP calls pressure on him to abandon legal challenge ‘ridiculous’
By Dirisu Yakubu
Barely one week after the Independent National Electoral Commission, INEC, declared President Muhammadu Buhari, the candidate of the All Progressives Congress (APC) the winner of the February 23 presidential election, his Peoples Democratic Party, PDP, counterpart, Alhaji Atiku Abubakar, on Wednesday, made good his promise to legally challenge the outcome of the election.
Atiku, according to INEC, polled a total of 11, 262, 978 votes, 3, 928, 869 votes less than Buhari who garnered a total of 15, 191, 847 votes to clinch a fresh term of four years. But to Atiku and his party, the outcome of the exercise does not reflect the will of the vast majority of Nigerians, who, they claimed, voted against the ruling party.
In announcing his decision to challenge the election result, Atiku had eulogized the judiciary saying, “I am encouraged by the presence of fearless men and women of the bench. The judiciary which had in the past discharged itself ably is once again being called upon to deliver judgment on this matter that will be untainted by lucre and uncowed by the threat of immoral power.”
Early last week, Atiku and his legal team, led by Dr. Livy Uzoukwu, SAN, secured the nod of the Presidential Election Tribunal to inspect materials used for the exercise but had their request to subject ballot papers to forensic examination rejected. In a ruling by a three-man panel headed by Justice Abdul Aboki, the tribunal argued that audit of ballot papers used for election is outside the provision of the Electoral Act.
Atiku and the PDP, in deciding to head to the court, had premised their rejection of the poll’s outcome on a number of issues, even as they stated that they had in their custody the authentic result derived from polling units and voting points across the nation. So, what are these issues?
The National Chairman of the PDP, Prince Uche Secondus, insists that violence, which marred the presidential and National Assembly polls in some parts of the country, called into question the APC administration’s commitment to peaceful elections. According to him, the death of some Nigerians in the course of the elections was sufficient to dissuade many voters from coming out to exercise their franchise.
Although the military has explained its own side of the electoral violence, the PDP believed the events were preventable and avoidable.
The party also argued that the cancellation of more than 157, 000 votes in Nasarawa State was the making of the electoral umpire, acting in connivance with security agents to thin the ranks of PDP supporters, all in a bid to win the state for the ruling party.
The Wazirin Adamawa alleged that a systemic scheme designed by INEC to prune voting figures in PDP strongholds largely informed the outcome of the election. According to Atiku, card readers were compromised in some states of the federation, thus making it difficult for a good number of voters to get accredited for the exercise. For instance, the former Vice President argued that in Rivers and Akwa Ibom states with 3,215,271 and 2,119, 727 registered voters respectively, paltry 678, 167 and 695, 677 voters passed the accreditation hurdle eventually.
Although he won in the two oil-rich states, the margin of victory in Atiku’s reckoning would have been significantly higher had INEC carried out its duties thoroughly without recourse to partisanship.
The PDP presidential candidate wants INEC to explain why in war-torn Borno and Yobe states, voter turnout failed to mirror the security challenges on ground. Similarly, he argued that in its strongholds outside the South-South and South-East geo-political zones, the margin of victory he had over Buhari was questionably low.
The major opposition party in the country also pointed to the role of security personnel in the elections. To the PDP, security agents, particularly the police, picked up some of its stalwarts ahead of the elections to prevent them from mobilizing support for Atiku.
While the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission, EFCC, insists that the picking up ordered on alleged financial crimes, the PDP and indeed Atiku believe it was orchestrated to punish those who continued to support the party’s quest for the highest elective office in the land.
The figures recorded in favour of Buhari at the polls have also been faulted in many public outings by the PDP and its candidate. In Yobe and Borno states, for instance, the PDP says it is at a loss as to how a people ravaged by Boko Haram attacks could turn out the figures produced by INEC.
In Yobe, the ruling APC garnered a total of 497, 914 votes while the PDP got 50, 763 votes. The story was no different from neighboring Borno where Buhari polled an impressive 836, 496 votes, leaving Atiku with 71, 788 votes. Thus, an independent authentication of these figures, according to the party, would go a long way in determining the legitimacy or otherwise of Buhari’s tenancy of Aso Rock beyond May 29, 2019.
Why court is our only option – Atiku
As some eminent Nigerians, including royal fathers and a senior lawyer, continued to urge the PDP to accept the result of the elections by congratulating the President, Atiku says such a counsel is one he is not going to heed because going to court is the reasonable route to take.
Speaking exclusively to Sunday Vanguard on the issue, spokesman for the Atiku Presidential Campaign Organization, Prince Kassim Afegbua, said the refusal to permit a forensic audit of the ballot papers used for the elections would be appealed by the former Vice President at the appropriate time.
He said, “It is ridiculous to read very enlightened members of the bar advising Alhaji Atiku Abubakar not to seek legal redress. Why then do we have laws if they would not be subjected to test at the relevant courts of law? How do you advise a man not to take a civilized route to demand for justice where injustice has been seen to have been committed?
“The refusal to grant the order for forensic analysis will be appealed because, that is one scientific way to determine multiple voting and reckless thumb-printing that was perpetrated during the election. We will carry out the examination of other election materials to establish discrepancies which are so visible in the way that figures were concocted in certain areas.
“We will pursue this case to a logical conclusion to strengthen the processes of election and electoral conduct so that powers-that-be would not just wake up and conjure figures to represent voting outcome. There were issues with card readers which formed the basis for the voting and we do not expect INEC to violate her own rules and regulations.
“If the card readers did not work as directed by INEC, what was the substitute? Is that valid in law? Please tell those advising our candidate not to go to court to keep their advice. We will test the validity of our laws as contained in relevant documents to ensure that they are not run in the breach whimsically without consequences.”
Laudable as the option taken by Atiku is, pundits are worried that the slow pace of justice in the land may render the pursuit of the option not only difficult but also frustrating for the man seeking redress from the judiciary.