..says PDP failed to challenge Buhari’s eligibility in court
By Ikechukwu Nnochiri
ABUJA – The Independent National Electoral Commission, INEC, has revealed before the Presidential Election Petition Tribunal sitting in Abuja, why candidate of the Peoples Democratic Party, PDP, Atiku Abubakar, was not declared the winner of the last presidential election.
The electoral body said it was satisfied that Atiku did not secure majority of lawful votes during the election, even as it denied the allegation that votes were illegally awarded to the ruling All Progressives Congress, APC, to ensure that President Muhammadu Buhari was re-elected for a second term.
In a final written address it filed before the Justice Mohammed Garba-led five-member panel tribunal, INEC, through its team of lawyers led by Mr. Yunus Usman, SAN, sought the dismissal of the petition Atiku and PDP lodged to query the outcome of the February 23 Presidential election, insisting that the petitioners failed to justify why a fresh election should be conducted.
It told the tribunal that from collated results of the presidential election that was announced on February 27, President Buhari, scored majority of lawful votes cast and got not less than one quarter in each of at least two-third of the 36 states of the Federation and the Federal Capital Territory.
INEC maintained that Atiku’s claim that it unlawfully awarded votes to Buhari in some states, being an allegation that is criminal in nature, ought to be proved beyond reasonable doubt.
“We refer to the relevant paragraphs of the petition where the petitioners made the sundry allegations of deliberate wrong entry/falsification of election results by the 1st Respondent.
“Clearly, it can be gleaned that nothing concrete or specific has been offered by the Petitioners in this regard.
“For example, the petitioners pleaded wrong and deliberate entry of wrong results by the 1st Respondent in 11 states of the country, namely: Borno, Yobe, Bahchi, Gombe, Jigawa, Kaduna, Kano, Katsina, Kebbi, Niger and Zamfara States.
“Thereafter, the petitioners proceeded to break down this allegation State by State.
“However, a cursory appraisal of paragraph 155(4) of the petition dealing with this allegation of ‘posting wrong results’ to the non-existent 1st Respondent’s server and not the wrongful entry of the results in the physical /manual Form EC8 series.
“The most astonishing part is that the petitioners failed to call witnesses who were at the various Units to observe these various alleged anomalies.
“We submit that allegations bordering on alleged wrong entry/falsification of election result are criminal in nature and must be proved beyond reasonable doubt.
“Furthermore, by virtue of section 150(1) of the Evidence Act, the results declared by the 1st Respondent enjoy a presumption of regularity. Accordingly, the petitioners herein are duty bound to rebut this presumption with credible evidence”.
On Atiku’s allegation that cancellation of election took place in 4,171 polling units across the country with a total 2, 906,384 registered voters affected, INEC, argued that he failed to by way of credible evidence, show how the number of votes cancelled affected the election.
It noted that Atiku’s witness had agreed under cross-examination that it did the right thing in cancelling the election.
“We submit that it is trite law that not only is the petitioner duty-bound to prove each and every allegation on non-compliance; he is also expected to prove that such non-compliance substantially affected the result of the election. See BUHARI V OBASANJO (supra), NYESOM WIKE V DAKUKU &ORS (supra).
“We humbly submit from the foregoing that the petitioners have failed to prove the allegation of non-compliance with the Electoral Act, and indeed every other allegation contained in the petition. The petition, therefore, lacks merit and should be thrown out on this point and this honourable court is urged so to do.
“In the instant petition, the petitioners called 62 witnesses in proof of their petition. Only 5 were polling agents, while 5 were Assistant Presiding Officers, who incidentally had no problem with the conduct of the election but only came to assert that they transmitted the election result to a fictitious and non-existent server.
“The rest of the witnesses called are Ward, Local Government, State or National Collation Agents. And the aim of the petitioner is to use them to prove allegations of non-compliance with the Electoral Act during the Presidential Elections in 36 States of the Federation and the Federal Capital Territory Abuja. What a mission impossible!”
It faulted the petitioners for failing to call Polling Agents to testify before the tribunal, noting that alleged improper accreditation, non-authentication of results, over-voting, inflation and deflating of votes and wrong entries in Form EC8A, non-counting of ballot papers, non-announcement of scores of candidates and alteration of results, “undoubtedly occurred at the Polling Units or voting points and may only be observed at the respecting Polling Units where the infractions supposedly took place.
“The eyes of the parties and candidates in an election at the Polling Unit are their respective agents and voters who were present to cast their votes. Consequently, in calling witnesses in proof of these allegations, these class of individuals are indispensable.
“Taking a rational, reasonable and critical examination and assessment of the evidence placed before this honorable court, one cannot but submit most humbly that the elements of the allegations of corrupt practices against the 1st, 2nd and 3rd Respondents have not been proved at all talk less of proof beyond reasonable doubt “, INEC argued.
It urged the tribunal to ignore evidence of both the Kenyan Information Technology Expert, Mr. David Njorga, and former Minister of Aviation Minister, Chief Osita Chidoka, who was PDP’s National Collation Agent, to the effect that results of the presidential election were electronically transmitted to a central server.
INEC argued that the petitioners, by claiming that they defeated President Buhari with over 1.6m votes based on data they obtained “from a strange website called www.factsdontlieng.com”, merely attempted to send the tribunal on “a voyage of speculation and discovery without supporting their case with relevant evidence”
It told the tribunal that the said website was created on March 12, 2019, 21 days after the declaration of the Presidential Election results, by an anonymous person, “who for all intent and purposes may be the petitioners themselves who having realised that they lost the election, created the website and pooled together some phony/baseless figures”.
On the issues of eligibility, the electoral body, blamed the PDP and Atiku for failing to go to court to challenge the credentials and educational qualifications President Buhari claimed in the Form CF001 he submitted to contest the presidential election.
INEC argued that since the petitioners failed to within 14 days after the Form was tendered to it, drag Buhari to court over the allegation that he submitted false information, the issue of his eligibility to contest has become status barred.
“The 1st petitioner submits that the above grounds constitute pre-election matters which are only actionable within 14 days of the occurrence of the event.
“Consequently, since the petitioners did not commence the action at the time stipulated by the constitution, the ground have become statute barred and the tribunal lacks the jurisdiction to adjudicate upon them”.
It argued that the petitioners were not able to show with any level of certainty that President Buhari gave false information of a fundamental nature, urging the tribunal to dismiss the petition.
“We therefore respectfully urge My Lords to dismiss this petition in its entirety and uphold the return of the 2nd Respondent as the lawful winner of the election”, INEC added.
The Justice Garba-led panel had earlier fixed Wednesday as the day all the parties in the petition would adopt their final briefs of argument.
Both Buhari and his party, the APC, had since filed their respective final addresses, wherein they also prayed the tribunal to dismiss the petition as grossly lacking in merit.
Nevertheless, on their part, the petitioners, through their lawyers led by Dr. Livy Uzoukwu, SAN, maintained that with the quantum of both oral, documentary and video evidence they adduced before the tribunal, they successfully established that the election was rigged in favour of President Buhari through wrong computation of results by INEC.
Besides, they argued that Buhari was unable to prove that he has the requisite educational qualifications to vie for presidency.
Though the petitioners sought for an order to declare that Atiku was the valid winner of the presidential contest, in the alternative, they prayed the tribunal to nullify the outcome of the February 23 poll and order a fresh presidential election.