By Ikechukwu Nnochiri
The last may not have been heard on what really transpired inside the courtroom on Wednesday, a day the Presidential Election Petition Tribunal that held its proceedings at the Court of Appeal Headquarters in Abuja, dismissed the petition that sought to nullify President Muhammadu Buhari’s re-election.
It is no longer news that the petition marked CA/PEPC/002/2019, which was jointly filed by the opposition Peoples Democratic Party, PDP, and its presidential candidate, Atiku Abubakar, was unanimously dismissed by the Justice Mohammed Garba-led five-man panel tribunal as grossly lacking in merit, the news, however, is that a cross-section of lawyers, slept almost all through the proceeding.
Though the cause of their shared-slumber could not be ascertained, their picture which went viral on various social media platforms, elicited varied reactions from other legal practitioners that shared their thought with Vanguard.
It will be recalled that the judgement which commenced at about 9:30 am last Wednesday, lasted for over nine hours, though the tribunal had shortly after it delivered reserved rulings on eleven pending motions that were filed by all the parties in the matter, okayed a short break that lasted about 20 munities.
The panel reconvened to deliver its judgment on the substantive petition that alleged that the February 23 presidential poll was rigged in favour of President Buhari and the ruling All Progressives Congress, APC.
The Independent National Electoral Commission, INEC, had on February 27, declared that Buhari won the presidential contest with 15,191,847 votes to defeat his closest rival, Atiku, who it said polled a total of 11,262,978 votes.
However, in their joint petition, Atiku and his party, insisted that data they secured from INEC’s back-end server, revealed that contrary to the result that was announced, they defeated President Buhari with over 1.6million votes
The petitioners maintained that proper collation and summation of the presidential election 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.
They alleged that INEC had at various stages of the election, unlawful allocated votes to President Buhari, insisting that the announced result did not represent the lawful valid votes cast.
Atiku and PDP further alleged that in some states, INEC deducted lawful votes that accrued to him, in its bid to ensure that Buhari was returned back to office.
Aside challenging the outcome of the election in 11 states of the federation, the petitioners, alleged that President Buhari lied about his educational qualifications in an affidavit he attached to the Form CF 001 he submitted to INEC for the purpose of the presidential poll.
Meanwhile, in its judgment, the tribunal held that the petitioners grossly failed to establish any of their allegations, even as it resolved all the five issues that were distilled out in the petition in favour of the respondents- INEC, President Buhari and the APC.
Declaring that President Buhari was “eminently” qualified to vie for presidency whether or not he attached his certificates, the tribunal held that the petitioners were unable to prove beyond reasonable doubt that the election was characterized by widespread irregularities, especially in the 11 focal states in the Northern part of the country.
The tribunal was of the view that no law mandated President Buhari to present his certificate, stressing that the affidavit he deposed and submitted to INEC, presupposed that he possessed all the qualifications he claimed in the Form CF001.
Meantime, while the judgement was going on, a group of lawyers who coincidentally sat together in one part of the courtroom were busy snoring, to the discomfort of their neighbours.
Even though it was not readily discernable if their action was a planned protest against the tribunal, some of their colleagues that weighed-in on the matter, said it could have been fuelled by “bizarre” reasons the judgement was anchored on, while others blamed it on fatigue.
A constitutional lawyer, Mr. Johnmary Jideobi said: “Sleeping during Court proceedings is rather a rare occurrence as witnessed on the day the Presidential Election Petition Tribunal [PEPT] delivered its judgement.
“This could be attributed to different reasons. One, recall that we are in the season of election petition across different states of the federation where most of those lawyers have been actively involved in ventilating the electoral grievances of their respective clients.
“Resultantly, we have cases of tiredness arising from massive litigation and general overwhelming workload. I think it was just being human that some of those lawyers were overcome by nature at the time the PEPT was delivering its decision”.
On his part, a senior lawyer and member of President Buhari’s legal team, Mr. Kayode Ajulo, said he was not aware that some lawyers dozed-off, adding on a second thought that it could be that they were only meditating.
He said: “No lawyers slept in court to my knowledge; in fact it is forbidden that lawyers should sleep in their temple of justice being ministers in the temple. Maybe, they were meditating.
“Seriously, there is no room to sleep in the court, particularly when a judgment is given, lawyers are to be on alert, follow the judgment and take notes. I was in the court and we all listened with rapt attention. Although, some lawyers may focus their minds for a brief period of time in silence, to write and meditate”.
Another constitutional lawyer and human rights activist, Chief Nkereuwem Akpan, argued that the ratio decidendi of the judgement was sufficient enough to induce sleep.
According to him, “Those guys slept off because they saw the rather embarrassing direction the judgment was heading”.
Attacking the judgement itself, Chief Akpan said: “It is with regret that I find myself unable to agree in any material particulars with the findings, reasoning and conclusions reached by my lords in the PEPT.
“The real danger is that given our doctrine of stare decisis or what is ordinarily referred to as judicial precedents – a doctrine that enjoins inferior courts to adopt and follow the judgments of superior courts in the hierarchy (unless they can distinguish the facts and circumstances of the decisions of superior courts). This judgment is worrisome, surprising, confusing and truly untenable.
“I am confident that Supreme Court will upturn the judgment otherwise if allowed to stand, it is going to be problematic for want of a better word to use.
“The findings of the tribunal with regards to those documents tendered by both parties and in particular the set of documents relating to the issue of whether or not the President had the basic educational qualifications, with the greatest respect to their lordships, is not supported whether in law or equity. Even the most vociferous supporters of the government are scratching their head. Most surprising is the finding that Mohammed is the same as Muhammadu.
“At the law school we were taught that misspelling on a certificate is fatal. Just a few weeks ago I read in the papers that an Adviser to the President was suspended because of discrepancy on his WAEC certificate. Are we going to have two sets of rules in our jurisprudence?”, he queried.
Similarly, a Civil Society Activist, Mr. Ariyo-Dare Atoye, said: “First, the Court of Appeal judgement in the Atiku vs Buhari petition was the longest in the anal of judicial verdicts in Nigeria.
“It stretched to almost 9 hours. Unfortunately, the most tempting thing to do to nature is for the human being to sit inactive under a reasonable environment. Nature abhors vacuum and the call of nature could be very heavy on you, sitting inactive for more than 8 hours.
“We cannot also discountenanced the very fact the voyage of unexciting discovery embarked upon by the judges, also significantly detached the lawyers who were seated, from the judgement. A judicial verdict that is rich in justice would have sustained their interests in the judgement and averted the sleeping distraction”, he added.