By Ikechukwu Nnochiri
Mixed reactions have continued to trail the judgment of the Presidential Election Petition Tribunal that dismissed the case of the Peoples Democratic Party, PDP, and its candidate, Atiku Abubakar, filed to challenge President Muhammadu Buhari’s re-election.
Senior legal practitioners in the country, on Thursday, expressed divergent views on reasons the Justice Mohammed Garba-led five-member panel tribunal adduced for dismissing the petition, especially as it pertained to President Buhari’s educational qualifications.
Though most of the lawyers and members of Civil Society Organizations that spoke to Vanguard, flayed the ratio decidendi of the tribunal’s decision that President Buhari of the ruling All Progressives Congress, APC, was “eminently” qualified to contest the February 23 presidential election even if he possessed only primary school certificate, they however described the Supreme Court as the only option available for the petitioners.
It will be recalled that the tribunal had in a unanimous verdict, determined all five issues the petitioners raised in their petition, against them, stressing that allegation that the presidential poll was rigged for Buhari and APC, was not proved beyond reasonable doubt.
It had among other things, held that the petitioners not only failed to adduce sufficient evidence to warrant the grant of any of the reliefs they sought in the petition, but were equally unable to discharge the burden of proof placed on them by the law.
In determining all the issues that were raised in the petition, the tribunal, in the lead judgement that was delivered by its Chairman, Justice Mohammed Garba, held that President Buhari was eminently qualified to vie for presidency.
It held that PDP and Atiku were unable to prove that Buhari lacked the basic educational qualification to contest the presidential election, adding that Buhari’s curriculum vitae contained “impressive credentials” that qualified him to contest presidential election “even if he tendered primary school certificate”.
The panel held that the fact that Buhari did not attach his certificates to the Form CF001 he tendered before the Independent National Electoral Commission, INEC, was not a ground to draw a conclusion that he does not have the certificates.
It said there was no evidence that Buhari was not qualified in line with provisions of sections 131, 137 and 138 of the Constitution, stressing that the petitioners failed to prove that West African School Certificate was not in existence as at 1961 when the 2nd Respondent (Buhari) joined the Army.
Reacting to the judgment, a Senior Advocate of Nigeria, Mr. Dayo Akinlaja, insisted that members of the panel ought to be commended for their industry, even as he urged President Buhari to be magnanimous in victory.
He said: “There is no doubt that the Justices put so much into the adjudication of the petition in terms of mental and physical energy. To me, it is very imperative to appreciate them for the huge sacrifices that they had to make. Naturally, as to be expected in any adversarial contest, one party must win and another must lose.
“It is, therefore, not out of place for the parties that lost to feel aggrieved. The good thing is that there is opportunity for appeal to a higher court. They should take advantage of that if they must. What is crucial is that at the end of it all, whoever is ultimately victorious should be magnanimous in victory and whoever loses in the long run should endeavour to be gallant in defeat. Head or tail, there is tomorrow and that should be the primary focus for all and sundry. May the good Lord help us all to live tomorrow in the Nigeria of our dream”.
However, a United States of America based lawyer, Mr. Emmanuel Ogebe, accused President Buhari of intimidating judges to kowtow to his wish by handing him a favourable judgment.
He said: “Under a regime that arrests judges at midnight, removes judges unconstitutionally, disobeys court orders and impose judges who don’t understand basic terms with impunity, it would take great souls of significant courage and intellectual dexterity to have had a different outcome.
It appears therefore that Gen. Buhari lost the election but won the Tribunal. The conquest of all democratic structures is complete. Buhari has managed to attend school without certificate, attain the presidency without election and win at a tribunal without adducing evidence.
“He will go down as the 8th wonder of the world for his ability to achieve the greatest self-promotion, above his betters, with the lowest possible effort.
“With the total abnegation of the will of the people of Nigeria, it won’t be surprising if the senate canonizes Buhari as Supreme Emperor with the joyful affirmation of the judiciary”.
A constitutional lawyer, Jideobi Johnmary said: “The judgment just delivered by the Presidential Election Petition Tribunal has heralded another frontier of ratiocination in our corpus juris especially in our election petition jurisprudence. It has opened many interesting chapters, moving forward, in the way and manner elections would be conducted in our nation.
Speaking for myself as a Lawyer, I take the humble but calibrated view that both my heart and head are in disagreement with the divergent reasoning forming the plank of that judicial exercise in view of the gargantuan forensic contest that birthed the proceedings.
“My reasons are manifold but for economy of space I will scale them down to two. One, there is a principle of interpretation called “purposive principle” which enunciates that in undertaking the interpretation of any legislative instrument, the court is to take a holistic view of the entire document being interpreted and should strive to give an interpretation that would breathe life into the instrument in a manner that the purpose of that instrument is advanced and realised than suppressed.
“Had the Court of Appeal been guided by that interpretative polestar, it would not have taken the view that the President is not just qualified but eminently qualified to have been a party in that presidential contest. Secondly, recalling the unceremonious exit of the former Chief Justice of Nigeria when the general election was just by the corner, one is deeply worried as to whether the operation of state capture did not in any way influence our present situation.
“In any event, the Supreme Court has the final say and it is only prudent that we await its verdict. Admittedly, the Nigerian judiciary is under a heavy siege laid day and night by anti-democratic forces who believe in the supremacy of state capture as an instrument of governance with a dark conscience. The Judiciary must wage a decisive and ferocious battle to redeem itself from these hawks whose evil tentacles are well entrenched.
“The Judiciary must be conscious of the burden of history and must resolutely rise on the planes of untainted integrity and inspiring courage to save the destiny of this beleaguered nation. Their Lordships must constantly bear in mind the immortal admonition of that great Judge, Lord Atkin of England, in the case of Liversidge vs. Anderson  UKHL 1, where he aptly stated that “In this country, amid the clash of arms, the laws are not silent. They may be changed, but they speak the same language in war as in peace.”
The impression must not be given that finding justice in our courts is akin to finding a needle in a haystack.
“To the parties, they deserve commendation for yielding to the dictates Rule of Law in ventilation of their grievances in search of electoral justice. They must not depart from this path of constitutionalism whatever be the situation for the endurance of democratic values in our nation”.
Similarly, a Civil Society Activist and lawyer, Mr. Ariyo-Dare Atoye.
Ariyo-Dare Atoye, said: “Judgement has been delivered at the Court of Appeal but justice has not been served. They are two different things. It was the need to ensure that justice is done in a matter that necessitated the creation of Apex Court in the first place. Not only must Justice be done; it must also be seen to be done
“The Court of Appeal verdict in the 2019 Presidential election petition could be likened to Nigeria’s version of September 11. In a strange verdict, we saw how five justices flew unmanned aircrafts into our electoral towers and crashed them. Except this judgment is reversed or remedied by the Supreme Court, it will undo the name.
“We also saw how the Justices, travelled decades back in time, like the Men in Black film or The Time Machine film, and manufactured credentials and documents for the candidate of the APC and submitted same to the Military Board in 1961, when the candidate actually submitted none. This is the only inferences we can make out of that judgment. It is not a verdict of history but a verdict of disruption that useless the essence of certification.
“The way forward is for the National Assembly to immediately upon resumption transmit the amended electoral act to the President for his immediate assent before the Kogi and Bayelsa elections. Anything outside E-collation and E-transmission of results, we will be joking about our commitment to credible elections and toying with calamities. Without this amended act signed into law, it is better to jettison the card reader in its entirety because it is of no effect whatsoever on our electoral process”..
On his part, activist and convener of Concerned Nigerians group, Deji Adeyanju, said: “Our group’s reaction to the judgment is that it came as a shock that a court will now tactically say that educational qualification or any form of qualification is not needed considering the fact that President Muhammadu Buhari did not submit any form of academic qualification to INEC and the manner in which the election petition tribunal went ahead to defend the president, talking about his CV is even more unbelievable to say the least.
“Whether anyone likes it or not, it is a dangerous and wicked precedent for our country that can only hunt and destroy the younger generation. What lessons and rules are they setting for especially for young lawyers and law students?
“Some people will now tell you that it is because of the political atmosphere in the country. But how can you create a law because of an individual, even when the position of the law is very clear that the President must submit his WAEC or its equivalent. Buhari never submitted any WAEC, First School Leaving Certificate or its equivalent. He only submitted any affidavit from the court. To us it makes no sense and we see it as a great travesty of Justice. For us that is our stand”.