By Ikechukwu Nnochiri
All is set for President Muhammadu Buhari of the ruling All Progressives Congress, APC, to defend the allegation that he was not the legitimate winner of the February 23 presidential election.
The Independent National Electoral Commission, INEC, had on February 27, declared that Buhari garnered a total of 15,191,847 votes to defeat his closest rival, Alhaji Atiku Abubakar of the opposition Peoples Democratic Party, PDP, who it said polled a total of 11,262,978 votes.
The result had since elicited varied reactions, with four political parties approaching the Presidential Election Petition Tribunal sitting in Abuja to challenge President Buhari’s re-election.
Aside the petition marked CA/PEPC/002/2019, which was entered against Buhari by the PDP and its candidate, Atiku, on March 18, the second petition marked CA/ PEPC/001/2019, was by the presidential candidate of Hope Democratic Party, HDP, Chief Ambrose Owuru who secured a total of 1,663 in the election.
The third petition, CA/PEPC/004/2019, was lodged by the presidential candidate of the Peoples Democratic Movement, PDM, Pastor Aminchi Habu, who is seeking a fresh election on the basis that his party’s logo was not included in the ballot paper.
The last petition with suit No CA/PEPC/003/2019, was filed by the Coalition For Change, C4C and its presidential candidate, Geff Chizee Ojinka, who are contending that Buhari’s re-election was vitiated by substantial non-compliance with mandatory statutory provisions.
The petitioners maintained that the irregularity substantially affected the election, “such that the 1st Respondent was not entitled to be returned as the Winner of the Presidential election”.
Remarkably, unlike in all the other petitions where only Buhari, the APC, and INEC were cited as Respondents, the C4C, which garnered a total of 2,391 votes at the presidential poll, cited the Vice President, Prof. Yemi Osinbajo, as the 2nd Respondent in its case.
Meantime, notwithstanding the innocuousness or otherwise of the last three cases, there is no doubt that the petition by the main opposition PDP and its candidate will assume the focal point in the coming days.
Specifically, in their joint petition, Atiku and his party, PDP, insisted that data they secured from INEC’s server, revealed that they clearly defeated President Buhari with over 1.6million votes.
The petitioners alleged that INEC had at various stages of the presidential election, unlawfully allocated votes to President Buhari, saying they would adduce oral and documentary evidence to show that result of the election as announced by the electoral body, did not represent the lawful valid votes cast
Atiku alleged that in some states, INEC deducted lawful votes that accrued to him, in its bid to ensure that Buhari was returned back to the office.
The petitioners said they would call evidence of statisticians, forensic examiners and finger-print experts at the hearing of the petition to establish that the scores credited to Buhari were not the product of actual votes validly cast at the polling units.
More so, in one of the five grounds of the petition, Atiku and the PDP maintained that Buhari was not qualified to run for the office of the President, contending that he does not possess the constitutional minimum qualification of a school certificate.
The petitioners serialised results that were recorded from each state of the federation in order to prove that the alleged fraudulent allocation of votes to Buhari and the APC, took place at the polling units, the ward collating centres, local government collating centres and the State collating centres.
They argued that proper collation and summation of the presidential election results would show that contrary to what INEC declared, Atiku, garnered a total of 18,356,732 votes, ahead of Buhari who they said got a total of 16,741,430 votes.
The Petitioners stated that whereas the actual number of voters accredited at the election was 35,098,162, the 1st Respondent wrongly suppressed and/or reduced the number of accredited voters to 29,394,209 to the detriment of the Petitioners.
Part of their prayers includes an order directing the 1st Respondent, INEC, to issue Certificate of Return to the 1st Petitioner as the duly elected President of Nigeria.
In the alternative, the petitioners prayed the tribunal to nullify the February 23 presidential election and order a fresh poll.
Atiku’s petition vague, nebulous- Buhari
However, in a swift reaction, both Buhari and the APC, filed preliminary objections to challenge the competence of the petitions, even as they challenged Atiku’s locus-standi to even participate in the Presidential poll.
In his objection, Buhari described Atiku as a serial loser, boasting that he had always defeated him in every electoral contest that they took part in.
President Buhari insisted that electorates always chose him ahead of Atiku in both inter-party or intra-party contests, using the 2014 presidential primaries of the APC, as an instance.
Besides, President Buhari, queried the powers of the tribunal to nullify his election victory at the poll, contending that the joint petition Atiku and the PDP entered against him was incompetent as it was based on conjectures.
Insisting that reliefs the petitioners are seeking from the tribunal were “vague, nebulous and lacking in specificity”, they argued that most of the issues and grounds of the petition were not only “mutually exclusive”, but also outside the jurisdiction of the tribunal.
He contended that by virtue of section 31(5) and (6) of the Electoral Act, 2010, as amended, only the Federal High Court or High Court of a State has jurisdiction to adjudicate on some the issues, among which included the allegation that he was bereft of the requisite educational qualification.
Atiku is an Alien – PDP
Likewise, his party, the APC, in its own objection, branded Atiku an alien, alleging that he is not a Nigerian by birth and therefore was not qualified to contest the February 23 presidential poll. APC told the tribunal that the PDP candidate is a Cameroonian.
According to APC, Atiku was born on November 25, 1946, in Jada, Adamawa, in Northern Cameroon and is, therefore, a citizen of Cameroon and not a Nigerian by birth.
It told the tribunal that prior to 1919, Cameroon was being administered by Germany, adding that following the defeat of Germany in World War 1, which ended in 1918, Cameroon, became part of a League of Nations mandate territory which consisted of French Cameroon and British Cameroon in 1919.
APC noted that in 1961, a plebiscite was held in British Cameroon to determine whether the people preferred to stay in Cameroon or align with Nigeria.
It stressed that while Northern Cameroon preferred a union with Nigeria, Southern Cameroon chose alignment with the mother country, saying it was as a result of the plebiscite that Northern Cameroon, which included Adamawa, became part of Nigeria.
The ruling party argued that contrary to Atiku’s claims in his petition, he had no right to be voted for as a candidate in the election to the office of President of the Federal Republic of Nigeria held on February 23, 2019.
It averred that by reason of Atiku’s ineligibility to contest the election, all votes credited to him and the PDP in the February 23 election ought to be deemed as wasted votes.
APC contended that most of the claims contained in Atiku’s petition have become statute-barred, arguing that the Tribunal was therefore bereft of the jurisdiction to entertain it.
I am a full-blooded Nigeria- Atiku
However, in a further response he filed before the tribunal, Atiku, rebuked the APC, describing the allegation that he is a Cameroonian as puerile, face-saving, vexatious, absolutely and completely unfounded.
Atiku maintained that he is a full blooded Nigerian, even as he urged the tribunal to ignore what he termed as “extraneous facts, contradictory, diversionary, evasive, speculative and vague assertions”, by both the APC and President Buhari.
Atiku told the tribunal that contrary to APC’s allegation that he is an alien, he said he is a Nigerian by birth and a Fulani by tribe, adding that his parents were from Jigawa and Sokoto states.
He told the tribunal that he has been a Nigerian politician for about 30 years, adding that in 1992, he contested in the Presidential Primaries under the platform of the Social Democratic Party (SDP) alongside the late Chief M.K.O Abiola and Ambassador Baba Gana Kingibe.
“The averments in the aforesaid paragraphs are indeed fabricated, contrived, made in bad faith and designed to embarrass the 1st Petitioner”, he said.
Meantime, INEC was not left out in the exchanges, as the electoral body, in a preliminary objection, it filed before the tribunal, challenged the validity of figures Atiku claimed was obtained from its back-end server.
The commission further contended that contrary to Atiku’s claim, it did not electronically transmit results to its server, using the Smart Card Reader Machines.
As the tribunal gets set to commence hearing, there is no doubt that the February 23 poll will go down in history as one of the most disputed presidential election.