•Verdict part of our democratic challenges — Atiku; vows to keep fighting for Nigeria
•Discard all destructive, disruptive agenda, APC urges PDP, Atiku
•Buhari lauds Atiku, PDP, says matter now closed —

By Henry Umoru, Ikechukwu Nnochiri, Levinus Nwabughiogu, Omeiza Ajayi & Dirisu Yakubu

 

ABUJA — The Supreme Court ,yesterday, upheld President Muhammadu Buhari’s re-election, as it dismissed a joint appeal the Peoples Democratic Party, PDP, and its candidate, Atiku Abubakar, lodged to challenge the outcome of the presidential election which held on February 23.

The apex court, in a unanimous judgement by a seven-man panel of justices, led by the Chief Justice of Nigeria, CJN, Justice Tanko Muhammad, held that the case the appellants brought before it on October 8 lacked merit.

However, the panel reserved reasons behind its decision to dismiss the appeal against President Buhari’s re-election till a date it said would be communicated to all the parties.

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The judgement drew the reaction of key political leaders and stakeholders in the country, including the All Progressives Congress, APC, Peoples Democratic Party, PDP, its presidential candidate, Atiku Abubakar, and his running mate, Peter Obi, Senate President, Hamad Lawan, and Speaker of the House of Representatives, Femi Gbajabiamila.

“We have examined all the briefs of argument and the exhibits for over two weeks and we have all agreed that there is no merit in this appeal.  The appeal is hereby dismissed. Reasons to be given on a date to be announced,” the CJN held.

Other members of the panel that concurred with the lead judgement were Justices Rhodes Bode-Vivour, Olukayode Ariwola, Inyang Okoro, Amiru Sanusi, Uwani Abajji and Ejembi Eko.

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The verdict was delivered barely 30 minutes after the apex court heard the substantive appeal marked SC/1211, which sought to set-aside the September 11 judgement of the Presidential Election Petition Tribunal that gave victory to President Buhari and his party, the All Progressives Congress, APC.

Though seven separate appeals were filed to challenge various decisions of the tribunal, however, before it allowed all the parties to adopt their final briefs of argument, the CJN-led panel, consolidated all the appeals, stressing that the outcome of its lead judgement would determine the fate of the other six appeals.

The consolidation order followed a ruling the panel delivered against the appellants who had prayed the apex court to handle all the appeals separately, noting that some of them were filed to challenge the decision of the tribunal that struck out several portions of their petition and statement on oath of some of their witnesses.

The apex court waved aside the contention, saying its decision to consolidate all of them was to avoid the duplicity of efforts and multiplicity of judgements on the same subject matter.

Meanwhile, immediately all the parties argued and adopted their processes with respect to the main appeal, the CJN, announced a brief stand-down “to reconstitute the panel”.

Though there was no change in composition of the panel when it reconvened at exactly 1:25pm, Justice Muhammad proceeded to deliver the judgement.

Respondents in the matter were the Independent National Electoral Commission, INEC, President Buhari and the APC.

The appellants had through their lawyer, Dr. Livy Uzoukwu, SAN, started with President Buhari’s qualification to contest the presidential election.

The appellants told the court that President Buhari failed to give any explanation regarding the discrepancy in the name that appeared on the certificate he claimed before the tribunal which bore ‘Mohamed’ instead of ‘Muhammadu’.

Relying on a Supreme Court decided case-law in Titilayo Plastic Limited Vs. Chief Joshua, reported in 2019, 14-NWLR, part 1611, Uzoukwu, SAN, said: “My lords there is absolutely no pleading on record to the effect that the 2nd  Respondent is also known as Mohamed. In the absence of any averment in terms of an affidavit explaining the discrepancy, we submit that this is a fundamental issue that goes to the root of his qualification”.

He further argued that President Buhari did not adduce any reason why he could not produce the three certificates he filled in his Form CF 001 he submitted to INEC for the purpose of the election, adding that he equally failed to produce a testimonial from the Secondary School in Katsina he claimed to have attended.

Similarly, the appellants maintained that results of the election were transmitted to a central server, arguing that INEC failed to put on record before the tribunal where it stored all the data that it generated from the Smart Card Reader Machines that were deployed for the conduct of the election.

Insisting that contrary to the position of INEC, section 52(2) of the Electoral Act as amended in 2015, made provision for electronic election, the appellants told the Supreme Court that a member of the tribunal panel, Justice Samuel Oseji, had in his contributory judgement, confirmed that the electoral body, indeed, has a server.

They argued that the tribunal relied on the old Electoral Act and held that electronic election was prohibited in the country.

On its part, INEC, through its lawyer, Mr. Yunuz Usman, SAN, urged the court to strike out the appeal on the premise that the appellants “woefully failed to prove that the 1st  appellant, Atiku, scored majority of lawful votes cast at the election”.

He told the court that out of over 191, 000 polling units in the country, the appellants only called five polling unit agents out of the 62 witnesses they called to testify before the tribunal.

Contending that failure to call polling agents from all the contested units,  proved fatal to the case of the appellants, INEC, told the court that Atiku and PDP based their case on result they procured from a server identified as  www.factsdontlienigeria.com, which does not belong to it.

Relying on Supreme Court decision in Ikpeazu Vs. Otti, reported in 2016, INEC maintained that unless the Electoral Act was amended, it could not transmit result of any election electronically, saying the 2015 amendment only allowed it to set guidelines to be adopted for the general election.

Similarly, President Buhari’s lawyer, Chief Wole Olanipekun, while seeking the dismissal of the appeal, said it was proved before the tribunal that there was no difference between ‘Mohamed’ and ‘Muhammadu’.

He noted that a copy of President Buhari’s certificate tendered as exhibit R-22 had his picture, adding that his client equally tendered photograph he took with his classmates.

“The constitution does not mandate or prescribe that any candidate for presidential election must attach certificate. The appellants therefore have no right to place additional burden on the 2nd  Respondent who has complied and satisfied the constitutional requirement regarding his qualification”, Olanipekun argued.

He contended that the appellants failed to tender any server before the tribunal.

While adopting Buhari’s argument, the APC, through its lawyer, Prince Lateef Fagbemi, SAN, argued that the issue of discrepancy in the name on certificate was not a ground in the petition.

APC argued that President Buhari satisfied both sections 131 and 318 of the 1999 Constitution and was qualified to contest.

It will be recalled Atiku and his party had in their 66-ground of appeal, insisted that judgement of the tribunal was perverse and occasioned grave miscarriage of justice against them.

The appellants told the apex court that the tribunal wrongly evaluated gamut of evidence they produced to prove that Buhari lost the presidential election with over 1.6 million votes, as well as the allegation that he was bereft of the requisite educational qualifications to vie for Presidency.

We leave it to God —PDP

Reacting to the judgement yesterday, National Chairman of Peoples Democratic Party, PDP, Prince Uche Secondus, thanked Nigerians for rallying behind the party and support for efforts aimed at deepening democracy in the country

In a statement issued by his media adviser, Ike Abonyi, Secondus noted that though the apex court has given its ruling, the ultimate judgement comes from God.

“We thank you for your support for PDP, for your commitment to democracy. Nigerians know that you voted PDP; even APC knows that you rejected them on February 23, 2019, international community knows you voted for PDP.    If Supreme Court of seven justices says otherwise, leave it to God the ultimate Judge, Secondus said.

He also commended the media for its commitment to democracy and good governance in the land and urged them not to relent in the role of holding leaders accountable to the people.

The Peoples Democratic Party, PDP, in a statement by the National Publicity Secretary, Kola Ologbondiyan, said it presented enough evidence to show the world that its candidate won the February 23 Presidential poll.

The statement read: “What we witnessed today (Wednesday) was not what majority of Nigerians who participated and observed the Presidential election expected; and this includes even members of the All Progressives Congress, APC.

“The PDP notes that it indeed made a solid case, with undisputable evidence, showing that Atiku Abubakar won the Presidential election and as such is surprised that the justices of the Supreme Court held otherwise; however, that is the highest court of the land.

“Notwithstanding, the distinction of our case remain for Nigerians, including generations yet unborn, to appreciate. The PDP expresses gratitude to millions of Nigerians across board for voting Atiku Abubakar in the election as well as for their unflinching support for our party during the election and throughout the duration of court proceedings.”

It, however, urged the justices to make available to Nigerians the reasons for the dismissal of the appeal.

Atiku, Obi react

In his reaction, presidential candidate of Peoples Democratic Party, PDP, in the election, Alhaji Atiku Abubakar, descried the dismissal of the appeal he filed at the election petition tribunal by the Supreme Court as part of the democratic challenges being faced by the nation.

Atiku, who stated this in a statement he personally signed in Abuja, said:  “The judgement is part of democratic challenges we must face as a nation. It is said that the Supreme Court is not final because it is infallible, but that it is infallible because it is final.

“While I believe that only God is infallible everywhere, and only Nigerians are infallible in our democracy, I must accept that the judicial route I chose to take, as a democrat, has come to a conclusion.

“Whether justice was done is left to the Nigerian people to decide. As a democrat, I fought a good fight for the Nigerian people. I will keep on fighting for Nigeria and for democracy, and also for justice. I thank all Nigerians who have stayed the course since the commencement of trial in the petition on the February 23 Presidential election.

“The Nigerian judiciary, just like every estate of our realm, has been sabotaged and undermined by an over-reaching and dictatorial cabal, who has undone almost all the democratic progress the Peoples Democratic Party and its administrations nurtured for sixteen years, up until 2015.

“Can Nigeria continue like this? Recently, former United States Assistant Secretary of State for Africa, Linda Thomas-Greenfield, averred that Nigeria had rolled back the democratic gains she made in 2015. When democracy is rolled back, the economy, the society and the judiciary will not be far behind. Today, the nail has been put on the coffin and the gains we collectively made since 1999 are evaporating, and a requiem is at hand.

“In a democracy, you need a strong judiciary, a free press and an impartial electoral umpire. Nigeria has none of those three elements as at today.  One man, one woman, one youth, one vote, should be the only way to make gains in a democracy. And when that is thwarted, the clock starts to tick.

‘’Two and a half millennia ago, Sophocles said ‘if we are to keep our democracy, there must be one commandment: ‘Thou shalt not ration justice.’ Nigeria will do well to observe this warning.”

He also fired a warning to those who were likely to jubilate over his fate, saying he was too focused to be distracted.

“To those who think they have broken my spirit, I am sorry to disappoint you. I am too focused on Nigeria to think about myself. I gave up that luxury twenty years ago. The question is not if I am broken. The question is if Nigeria is whole?

“This is not a time for too many words. It will suffice for me to remind Nigeria of this- we are an independent nation and we are the architects of our fate. If we do not build a free Nigeria, we may end up destroying her, and God forbid that that should be the case.  I was a democrat, I am a democrat, and I will always continue to be a democrat. May God bless Nigeria!” Atiku said.

Also reacting yesterday, Atiku’s running mate, Peter Obi, said the election was not about President Muhammadu Buhari or Atiku Abubakar but about the future of Nigerians who were yearning for purposeful governance.

Fielding questions from journalists at the apex court premises, Mr. Obi said:  “I want to thank them (members of the panel) for this court process and our reason for coming to court was the fact that we believe the election result was not the result of lawful vote cast.

‘’But the process has come to an end and I thank all those who were involved- the lawyers, the judges and everyone. This election and the judgement are not about President Muhammadu Buhari or Atiku Abubakar. It is about the future of our country and what we are going to bequeath to our children.”

APC reacts

The ruling All Progressives Congress, APC, in its reaction to the judgement by the National Publicity Secretary, Mallam Lanre Issa-Onilu, said:  “The party hails the Judiciary for standing firm in the face of the PDP and Atiku’s subterfuge and for siding with the Nigerian electorate who through their votes decided to do away with PDP’s ignominious past and re-elect the President Buhari-led APC administration which has ushered in a new era of progressive growth for our country.’’

According to APC, the ruling by the Supreme Court has finally affirmed President Buhari’s election victory and Atiku and the PDP must jettison their destructive and disruptive agenda against the state.

“We enjoin the PDP and Atiku to jettison their destructive and disruptive agenda against Nigeria, which they have made up their minds to pursue for the next four years.

“The PDP and Atiku should not confuse opposition politics for their unpatriotic agenda. Democratic politics cannot be practised in the state of anarchy, confusion which the PDP and Atiku wish to achieve. Such diabolic plan will definitely fail.

“Going forward, the President Buhari-led APC government will continue to focus on delivering our Next Level plans for the country,” the ruling party added.

Lawan reacts

Also reacting, President of the Senate, Senator Ahmad Lawan,  said the unanimous verdict of the Supreme   Court has removed whatever doubt that might have been raised on the integrity of the February 23 Presidential election.

Lawan, in a statement by his Special Adviser, Media, Ola Awoniyi, said:  “Now that the litigation is over, we should all rally as one people behind the President of Nigeria, Muhammadu Buhari, in his commitment to build the great nation of our dream.

“The petitioners should gracefully accept the final verdict of our court of law while the winners should demonstrate magnanimity by extending the hand of fellowship to the opposition with a view to carrying all Nigerians along in the arduous task of nation-building.”

He urged President Buhari and his government to continue to focus on good governance so as to deliver on his agenda of improving the lives of Nigerians and putting the nation on the path of sustainable development.

Lawan promised that the ninth National Assembly would continue to produce good legislation and pursue harmonious relationship between the organs of government and among Nigerians for the unity, peace and progress of the nation.

Gbaja reacts

Speaker of the House of the Representatives, Femi Gbajabiamila, in his reaction, expressed happiness with the judgement of the Supreme Court.

In a statement by his Special Adviser on Media and Publicity, Lanre Lasisi, the speaker said: “I want to use this opportunity to congratulate the President and Commander-in-Chief of the Armed Forces on his final electoral victory that was challenged by PDP and its presidential candidate, Alhaji Atiku Abubakar.

“It is my conviction that this final victory, which has never been in doubt since the conclusion of the election would allow the President to concentrate on his determination to champion good governance for the generality of Nigerians, the reason why he was voted for in the first place.

“I also congratulate our great party, the All Progressives Congress (APC) for the victory. This goes to show that the party has come of age in party politics and in putting forward the best hands that can and will take Nigeria to greater heights through the fulfillment of our Manifestos and support for government policies.

“I want to urge, Mr Atiku Abubakar, who has put to test our justice delivery system by contesting the election result from the lowest to the highest court, and the PDP to accept the judgment in good faith and in the spirit of sportsmanship and help the government in building a strong, prosperous and united Nigeria.  I rejoice with President Buhari and our party, APC over this victory”.

Tinubu reacts

Similarly, National leader of All Progressives Congress, Asiwaju Bola Tinubu, in his reaction,

said “the rule of law conclusively affirmed the collective voice of the people by dismissing the petition filed by the Peoples Democratic Party, PDP, and their presidential candidate, former Vice President Atiku Abubakar. The sun rose high in the Nigeria sky today (yesterday) to shine its light over the entire land.”

In a statement he personally signed, Tinubu also commended PDP and Atiku “for the energetic electoral campaign they conducted and for their tenacious pursuit of what they believed was their legal remedies.’’

He said the PDP and its former presidential candidate should now channel the energy and intellect deployed in the electoral and legal processes toward joining APC “to move this nation more rapidly and assuredly forward.”

The statement, entitled “Presidential Election: Supreme Court Affirms Will of The People” read:  “On February 23, the people tendered the foremost expression of their sovereign, democratic will by voting for the reelection of President Muhammadu Buhari. ‘’Today (yesterday), the rule of law conclusively affirmed the collective voice of the people by dismissing the petition filed by the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) and their presidential candidate, former Vice President Atiku Abubakar. The sun rose high in the Nigeria sky today to shine its light over the entire land.

“This decision and this day will be recorded as important milestones on Nigeria’s insuperable march toward perfecting democracy and the rule of law across our land.    Democracy has been affirmed and strengthened.

‘’By its ruling, the Supreme Court also affirmed that the rule of law is paramount; that the law is to be applied objectively, without regard to fear, friend or foe. The law is the law. Nothing is to be added to it and nothing subtracted from it. No one should enjoy undue favor or suffer unjust prejudice from its application.

“I thus commend the Supreme Court for its expeditious and highly competent treatment of this important matter. In so doing, it undergirded its reputation as the highest court in the law and the ultimate guardian of the rule of law in our nation.

‘’By extension, I must recognize the vast majority of the judiciary for the impartial administration of justice in electoral and other matters. Improvements are still needed in some areas but we have come far and are faced in the right direction.

“I congratulate President Buhari and the entire APC on a well-deserved legal affirmation of a hard-won electoral victory. The victory is a result of the President’s hard work and of the trust the people have in him as a committed leader.

‘’With these electoral and legal victories now behind us, the APC must give due honor to the faith the people have reposed in us. They expect us to govern in a way that produces the shared prosperity and enlightened future they deserve. We must commit ourselves fully to this profound and august task.

“I must also give due respect to the PDP and former VP Atiku for the energetic electoral campaign they conducted and for their tenacious pursuit of what they believed was their legal remedies.

‘’Although they lost at the polls, they did not seek to overturn the system. Instead, they respected the system that had so often decided in their favor in previous elections and judicial proceedings.

“They behaved like good democrats by seeking redress through the courts as is their right. This was the legal and moral thing to do. Although we are political opponents, I must commend them for following the pathways of democracy and peaceful, legal resolution of their grievances.

‘’This is as it ought to be. In an election there can only be one winner. By conducting themselves as they have, the PDP may not have gained the verdict they wanted in court.

“However, the verdict of history will be that their comportment thus far has helped strengthen our political democracy and its legal safeguards. I pray that they recognize the importance of this and that this service to the nation provides them a degree of solace going forward.

‘’I ask them to now channel the formidable energy and intellect they deployed in the electoral and legal processes toward joining with us, to the extent possible, to move this nation more rapidly and assuredly forward.

‘’As I stated before, I know the magnanimity of President Buhari. His hand is extended to them in friendship and cooperation. For the good of the nation, I urge them to take it.

“Most importantly, it is fitting to commend the people of Nigeria.  You are a law-abiding and good people. You voted in peace and good faith and you awaited the judicial process in like manner. ”

 Vanguard

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