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Between presidential poll, the Judges’ gavels

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By Carl Umegboro

THE Presidential Election Petition Tribunal for 2019 polls concluded its onerous tasks on Wednesday, September 13, 2019 which ended in favour of the ruling party, All Progressives Congress, APC candidate, President Muhammadu Buhari and Prof. Yemi Osinbajo who polled 15,191,847 votes, the highest number of votes, and met all other criteria stipulated in the enabling laws for emergence of a winner in the presidential poll.

In the judgment at the Court of Appeal, the court affirmed President Buhari’s victory as justified. The Peoples Democratic Party, PDP, candidate, Atiku Abubarka polled 11,262,978 votes to emerge the first runner-up in the poll, but dissatisfied with the results, brought actions challenging the return of President Buhari as winner by the returning officer.

Buhari voting at the Governorship and State Assembly Elections at Kofar Baru Polling Unit 003 in Daura Katsina State on 9th Mar 2019election

Atiku alleged he obtained different figures from the server of the electoral umpire, the Independent National Electoral Commission, INEC, which purportedly showed he won the election with margins. Unfortunately, INEC disclaimed the purported servers’ data, stating that the commission didn’t use the server for the poll. The Supreme Court had earlier dismissed the action entirely for lack of merit.

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Whilst Buhari’s supporters hailed the judgements, the oppositions insinuated they were robbed of their mandate by the verdicts, bitterly alleging that the judiciary merely delivered the scripts of ‘the-powers-that-be’. However, in any developing nation, such insinuations are no shocking news, particularly in the camps of the opposition whenever verdicts favour the ruling party.

For example, the same judiciary was overwhelmingly hailed as the last hope of the common man when the court’s gavels, one after another, stopped APC from fielding candidates in Rivers, Zamfara, Bauchi, Sokoto and Cross River states recently which made PDP to sweep the entire polling units. Be that as it may, appraising the poll verdicts demands legal reasoning and critical-thinking in determining if justice is actually done as adumbrated by Lord Hewart CJ in the Appeal Court in R v Sussex Justices, ex-parte McCarthy (1924) – “Not only must justice be done; it must also be seen to be done.”

To do this profoundly, the two contentions which bordered on Buhari’s eligibility to contest elections without the school certificate and also the purported polls results tracked from the commission’s server which the court refused to accept, are germane. Convincingly, the two are the major causes of actions.

Seriously, the contentions vis-à-vis educational qualification ought not to be stretched too far to the Court of Appeal as it is settled ab initio. In fact, it isn’t supposed to go beyond a village square as Part IV of the 1999 Constitution (FRN) as amended which serves as the Interpretation Act clearly dealt with it in a simple language.

From that, it is noteworthy that issues bordering on educational qualification as far as general elections are concerned are exclusive duties of the commission as it is statutorily clothed with discretionary powers to even go beyond certificate holders for all elective offices, including office of the President.

By implication, a candidate or political party lacks powers to challenge another on ground of academic qualification as long as it meets the satisfaction of the commission. This may sound witty but that is the law.

Section 318 (1) (supra) provides: In this constitution, unless it is otherwise expressly provided or the context otherwise requires – “School Certificate or its equivalent” means (a) a Secondary School Certificate or its equivalent, or Grade II Teacher’s Certificate, the City and Guilds Certificate; or (b) education up to Secondary School Certificate level; or (c) Primary Six School Leaving Certificate or its equivalent and (i) service in the public or private sector in the Federation in any capacity acceptable to the clothed with powers to reasonably take judicial notice of Buhari’s status in the Nigerian Army as a retired Major General in government’s payroll to determine his eligibility vis-à-vis education up to school certificate level. Judicial notice enables a judge to accept a fact without the need of a party to prove it through evidence on account of notoriety: things of common knowledge.

On the purported results tracked from INEC server which was the basis for the botched action to upturn the election victory in favour of Atiku and PDP, it sounds absurd in the sense that a serious contention should have been anchored on original results obtained, recorded and signed by all accredited party-agents alongside designated INEC officials at the polling units accordingly.

As a matter of fact, the results authenticated by accredited party agents supersede any results found anywhere whether in the server or INEC records. Thus, any results that are inconsistent with the one duly signed by all the party agents are invariably unacceptable. To leave the results from the polling units and accept whatever data inputted by someone in the server is not a just action.

Instructively, in manual elections, the results from polling units are the primary evidence of scores unlike online voting that the server is a primary source. Thus, where results in the servers don’t correspond with scores obtained at polling units in a manual election, it shows the server’s data were manipulated.

Holistically, the verdicts are profound and distinctively anchored on points of law instead of emotions and sentiments. Thus, I bow to your Lordships.

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