Says Atiku, PDP relied on election results from dubious server
Insists Buhari was eminently qualified to contest
By Ikechukwu Nnochiri – Abuja
The Supreme Court, on Friday, explained why it declined to nullify President Muhammadu Buhari’s re-election, stressing that the Peoples Democratic Party, PDP, and its candidate, Atiku Abubakar, failed to prove their case against the outcome of the February 23 presidential election.
The apex court which gave its reasons, sixteen days after it summarily dismissed the joint appeal the PDP and Atiku lodged to challenge the Presidential Election Petition Tribunal judgment that upheld Buhari’s election, held that the appellants relied on results they obtained from a website that has a dubious origin, to insist that they won the presidential contest.
According to the Supreme Court, whereas the appellants claimed that results of the presidential election were electronically transmitted to a central server by the Independent National Electoral Commission, INEC, they however tendered before the tribunal, results they said were obtained from a website they gave its name as www.factsdontlieng.com.
In a unanimous decision, the seven-man panel of Justices of apex court panel headed by the Chief Justice of Nigeria, CJN, Justice Tanko Muhammad, held that the issue to be considered was not whether or not INEC had a website, but whether it was the owner of the website the appellants secured the supposed election results from.
Even though the CJN prepared the lead judgment, it was, however, read on Friday by Justice Inyang Okoro.
He said: “The issue in this appeal is not whether INEC has a website. It is not whether INEC posted the results of the presidential election on its website. It is whether the www.factsdontlieng.com from which the appellants downloaded the results belonged to INEC.”
The apex court said it was not unmindful of section 71 of the Electoral Act that mandated INEC to own a website.
It noted that while the appellants contended that the election results, which they said were uploaded by an anonymous whistleblower, belonged to INEC, the electoral body on the other hand denied ownership of the said website.
“The burden of proof, which means adducing credible evidence in proof of facts in pleadings rests in the appellants”, the court held, saying it was satisfied that the purported electronically transmitted results that gave the appellants a victory margin of over 1.6million votes, emerged from a “doubtful and unreliable source”.
It held that the appellants neither linked nor proved that the server belonged to the INEC, adding that “all the results and calculations from the unreliable server are of no moment”.
On the issue of President Buhari’s educational qualification, the apex court said it was satisfied with the conclusion of the tribunal that he was “eminently qualified” to vie for the presidency.
It held that the 1999 Constitution, as amended, explicitly provided that any candidate that has a Primary School Certificate, and who has worked in the public or private service for a period not less than 10 years, and can read, write and communicate in the English language to the satisfaction of INEC, is qualified to contest for presidency.
The Supreme Court stressed that section 131 (d) of the Constitution stipulated that a person shall be qualified for election to the Office of President if “he has been educated up to at least school certificate level or its equivalent”.
It further noted that section 318 of the Constitution explained that School Certificate or its equivalent, means: (a) a Secondary School Certificate, 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 Independent National Electoral Commission for a minimum of 10 years.
The court went further to explain that attendance of courses and training in such institutions as may be acceptable to the INEC for periods totaling up to a minimum of one year, and the ability to read, write, understand and communicate in the English language to the satisfaction of the electoral commission, would qualify any candidate to contest for presidency.
It held that by allowing INEC to recognize any other qualification, the constitution empowered the commission to accept any piece of employment paper as a School Certificate equivalent.
The CJN said: “In interpreting the constitution, care must be taken to give it its clear and ordinary meanings. I am well guided by the provisions of section 131(a) that the attendance of Secondary School suffice for the 2nd respondent (Buhari) to contest the presidential election without an actual possession of the certificate”.
“The constitution is liberal to the extent that by section 131 (d), any other qualification accepted by INEC qualifies a person to contest for the position of the president.
“What a liberal constitution. It does not require a person to have all the qualifications listed. Possession of one of them will suffice. The word “or” implies that any of the highlighted requirements suffice.
“I also agree with counsel to the 2nd Respondent (Buhari) that INEC has consistently cleared him to contest presidential elections.”
Besides, the court held that Certified True Copies of Buhari’s academic qualifications, which he tendered as exhibits before the tribunal, were not challenged by the appellants by way of calling oral evidence to prove that they are false.
“They ought to have led oral evidence to prove that the documents tendered by the 2nd Respondent are false”.
Likewise, the apex court noted that evidence of the Secretary to the Military Board, Brig. Gen. Olajide Olaleye as contained in his press statement that was produced by the appellants, confirmed that Buhari was educated up to Secondary School level and passed some subjects.
“I am satisfied that the court below was right to hold that the 2nd respondent was eminently qualified to contest the presidential election.
“The 2nd respondent possessed more than Secondary School Certificate having attended military courses in the United States of America (USA); the United Kingdom (UK) and India and rose to the rank of a General and became a Head of State”, the CJN added.
On the allegation that Buhari submitted an affidavit to INEC containing false information about his educational qualifications, the court, held that the appellants failed to prove the allegations beyond a reasonable doubt.
It noted that since the allegations were firmly rooted in acts of criminality, they ought to have been proved beyond a reasonable doubt.
“The appellants must adduce reasons and lead credible evidence to prove, which they failed to do. They should have called the Secretary of the Military Board, Brig. Gen. Olajide Olaleye to testify and be cross-examined by the respondents on this issue.
“The failure to call him as a witness was fatal to their case because the 2nd respondent does not need to call him to prove allegations against him as doing so would amount to standing the law on its head. This is because he who alleges has the duty to prove the allegations.”
More so, the apex court held that PDP and Atiku ought to have sued Buhari over the allegation that he gave false information in the Form CF001 he submitted to INEC.
The court further held that the appellants failed to prove that the presidential poll was marred by irregularities that included over-voting in 11 focal states in the Northern part of the country
It held that the appellants merely dumped documents on the tribunal without calling witnesses to demonstrate them, stressing that those documents, though tendered from the Bar, could not be accorded any probative value.
The court noted that out of 62 witnesses the appellants produced before the tribunal to prove alleged irregularities across the federation, only five of them were Polling Unit Agents.
On the issue of discrepancy in the name on Buhari’s certificates which bore the name ‘Mohamed’ instead of ‘Muhammadu’, the apex court, held that the appellants were unable to prove that the documents do not belong to him.
It observed that there was also a discrepancy in the name of Atiku’s lead counsel who signed the substantive petition as ‘Dr. Livy Uzoukwu’, even though the name in his Call to Bar certificate read ‘Livinus Uzoukwu’.
The court said it was not in doubt that both Livy and Livinus referred to the same person.
Meanwhile, though about sixty lawyers represented Atiku and his party at the tribunal and on October 30 when the apex court summarily dismissed the appeal and reserved its reasons, none of them appeared on his behalf on Friday.