By Ikechukwu Nnochiri
ABUJA – The Presidential Election Petition Tribunal sitting in Abuja, on Monday, reserved its judgement in the petition the Hope Democratic Party, HDP, and its candidate, Chief Ambrose Owuru, filed to challenge President Muhammadu Buhari’s re-election.
The Justice Mohammed Garba-led five-member panel tribunal adjourned for judgement, after all the parties, through their lawyers, adopted their final briefs of argument.
The petitioners’ counsel, Mr. Chukwunoyerem Njoku, urged the tribunal to uphold the petition and grant reliefs therein, by annulling the outcome of the February 23 presidential election that was declared in favour of President Buhari.
According to the petitioners, the Independent National Electoral Commission, INEC, failed to follow condition precedents that were stipulated in the Electoral Act, when it postponed the presidential election that was originally fixed for February 16.
The party claimed that its candidate, Owuru, secured over 50million votes in a referendum that was conducted by both electorates and observer networks that were dissatisfied with the unilateral postponement of the presidential election by INEC.
While adopting their argument, HDP, urged the tribunal to take cognisance of affidavit and documentary evidence it adduced against President Buhari’s re-election, as well as the evidence of the lone witness that testified in the matter.
However, President Buhari’s lawyer, Chief Wole Olanipekun, SAN, that of INEC, Mr. Yunus Usman, SAN, and that of the All Progressives Congress, APC, Chief Akin Olujinmi, SAN, in their respective briefs of argument, urged the tribunal to dismiss the petition they said was incompetent and grossly lacking in merit.
INEC specifically demanded that the purported referendum should be dismissed with substantial cost to serve as a deterrent ahead of the 2023 general elections.
Whereas the petitioners filed their briefs of argument on July 27, all the respondents filed their processes on July 26, insisting that that the petition was “wholly misconceived”.
The tribunal said it would communicate the judgement date to all the parties.
The petitioners had on July 22, closed their case after they called one witness, Mr. Yusuf Ibrahim, in his testimony, insisted that they defeated President Buhari at the referendum they said held on February 16.
HDP and its candidate equally tendered some documents that comprised of Certified True Copies of Newspaper publications, final list of presidential candidates INEC, released before the February 23 presidential poll, as well as a report of a referendum purportedly conducted by Citizens Observers Referendum/Election Right Protection of Nigeria.
All the documents were admitted into evidence and marked as Exhibits P1 to P10, though all the respondents challenged their admissibility, urging the tribunal not to accord them any probative value.
The witness had under cross-examination, the witness debunked allegation that the referendum was spiritually conducted.
He admitted that though INEC was the body with statutory powers conduct and regulate election in Nigeria, he said a referendum held for “people’s voice to be heard.”
Asked if the referendum was celestial or something that happened in the spiritual realm, the witness said: “It was a physical one and not spiritual.”
He said it was neither done over the internet nor through INEC’s server.
Ibrahim said his party and its candidate were not seeking to be declared winners based on the outcome of the February 23 presidential Poll, but on the strength of the referendum.
None of the respondents produced a witness before the tribunal.
The tribunal had last rejected a motion the petitioners filed for an order that would remove President Buhari and declare their candidate, Owuru as President.
In the motion dated June 17, the petitioners gave reasons why the tribunal should invoke its powers and order the Chief Justice of Nigeria, Justice Tanko Muhammad, to within 48 hours, swear Owuru in to replace Buhari based on the outcome of the referendum.
They maintained that the referendum took place after INEC, upon realising that President Buhari would be defeated at the poll, abruptly postponed the election date.
In the application titled “Notice Of Intention To Contend”, Owuru, aside seeking to be sworn-in as President, prayed the tribunal to nullify the outcome of the February 23 presidential election on the premise that it held in substantial non compliance with the Electoral Act.
The tribunal however dismissed the application it described as “alien and extraneous” to all the laws in Nigeria.