Anxiety as Nigerians await presidential election petition verdict


Obi, Tinubu and Atiku

By Wandoo Sombo

Judgment is around the corner. In the week ahead the Presidential Election Petition Court, (PEPC) will deliver its verdict on the controversial 2023 presidential election.

What will the decision of the court portend for Nigeria’s political growth and democratic consolidation?

Whether President Tinubu triumphs over his opponents or not there is no doubt that the hearing of the election petitions was one of the most riveting in Nigeria’s presidential election petitions history.

All the parties in the case have played their roles. The rest is now in the hands of the court led by Justice Haruna Tsammani

“The judgment of the Presidential Election Petition Court is one that will make history or make misery,’’ says Mr Emmanuel Ogebe, a United States-based human rights lawyer.

Alhaji Abubakar Atiku and his party, the Peoples Democratic Party, (PDP) as well as Mr Peter Obi and the Labour Party are challenging the outcome of the Feb. 25 presidential election at the PEPC.

On Aug.1, parties in the petition were summoned by the Justice Haruna Tsammani-led five-member panel of justices to adopt their final addresses which would give room for the final judgment.

The adoption of final addresses is the precursor to fixing a date for judgment.

The battle before judgment is delivered is also referred to as closing or final arguments, whereby parties bring together all the arguments they had canvassed in one single document.

In this case, as directed by the five-member panel of justices, it was a forty-page document.

The final address gives counsel the opportunity to emphasise, highlight and buttress their key points in adumbrations, which simply put is the act of giving the main facts and not details about something.

The atmosphere around the Court of Appeal premises, where the PEPC is sitting on the day of the adoption of the final address was different.

Atiku whose only appearance in court was during the its inaugural sitting on March 8 was present on this day.

Obi had been a regular in court from day one but on this day, there was something unique about his entourage. The award winning author, Chimamanda Adichie was part of the supporters that followed Obi to court.

This did not go unnoticed as several fans thronged the section of the court reserved for the petitioners and their supporters, to get a closer glimpse of her, shake her hand, and of course take pictures.

Tsammani announced that the time allotted to each counsel to adopt their address and adumbrate was 20 minutes.

It is important to note that the court had alternated the time for the petitioners’ to be in court between morning and afternoon shifts each week.

On this day, Atiku and the PDP had the morning session.

The three respondents; the Independent National Electoral Commission, (INEC), President Bola Tinubu and the All Progressives Congress, (APC) took turns adopting their 40-paged final addresses.

Mr Abubakar Mahmoud, SAN, counsel to INEC prayed the court to dismiss the petition for lacking in merit.

Mahmoud insisted that the presidential election was validly conducted in substantial compliance with all the relevant laws.

Mr Wole Olanipekun, SAN, counsel to Tinubu also prayed the court to dismiss the petition for grossly lacking in merit and substance.

The senior lawyer maintained that the petitioners failed to place valid evidence before the court to assist it in delivering a judgement in their favour.

“No where did the petitioner draw the court’s attention to the number of votes scored by him, the court is not a “father Christmas”.

“The court cannot give to the petitioners what they did not ask for,” Olanipekun said.

Mr Lateef Fagbemi, counsel to the APC, equally urged the court to dismiss the petition for failing to provide evidence to back the claim of electoral malpractices.

On alleged criminal activities involving Tinubu, Fagbemi said Tinubu was given a clean bill as far as any criminal indictment is concerned in the United States.

On the issue of dual citizenship, Fagbemi said that Sections 137 and 28 of the Constitution postulated that a citizen of a country by birth, such as Tinubu, could not be disqualified from contesting an election on the grounds of dual citizenship.

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He also submitted that there was no document to substantiate the allegation of forging of university certificates.

“There is no document from the University of Chicago denying that he attended school there”, he argued.

Mr Chris Uche, SAN, counsel to the petitioners, in adopting his final address, prayed the court to declare that Tinubu was not qualified to contest the presidential election and declare his client, Atiku winner.

In the alternative, he asked the court to nullify the election and order a re-run or fresh election.

The petitioners hinged their request on the grounds that INEC, in spite of receiving over N355 billion for the conduct of the election, deliberately manipulated their system to deny them victory.

“It is our submission that it was a deliberate manipulation to bypass all the technological innovations introduced for the purpose of the 2023 general elections.

“The essence of the innovation was to enhance transparency in the collation of results and secondly, to enhance the integrity of results declared.

Uche said that his clients were vehemently objecting to the submission of INEC that there was a technical glitch on the election day.

He also said that in such a situation, the burden was on INEC to explain the glitch which they failed to.

He prayed the court to discountenance the objections of the respondents and grant all the reliefs of his clients adding that “let justice be done and the heavens will not fall.”

Obi and his party, who took the afternoon shift on this day, asked the PEPC to annul Tinubu’s election.

They said their request is based on the grounds of substantial non-compliance with the provisions of the Constitution, the Electoral Act 2022 and guidelines for the conduct of the election by INEC.

Mahmoud again, in adopting the final written address on behalf of INEC, submitted that Obi and LP’s petition should be dismissed for lacking in merit.

He told the court that the petitioners failed to show that there was electronic collation of results anywhere in the country during the election as they claimed.

Mahmoud argued that what was in the place of electronic collation was the manual collation system.

On the technical glitch, Mahmoud said the petitioners failed to prove the allegation that the glitch was caused by human interference.

He said, “The glitch that occurred, which affected transmission for about four hours did not affect the election results.’’

For his part, Tinubu, through Olanipekun said, from the results declared, he scored the highest number of votes across the 36 states of the federation and Federal Capital Territory, Abuja.

He added that, there was no nexus between the petition and the reliefs sought and urged the court to dismiss the petition for, “being a jurisprudential fiction”.

The APC through Fagbemi argued that in this petition, even if the court ordered a re-run of the presidential election, Obi was not qualified to participate.

He said this was because it was a two-horse race between a winner of an election and the person who came second in the election.

Fagbemi said the FCT did not enjoy any special status as far as the presidential election was concerned.

Mr Livy Uzoukwu (SAN), lead counsel to Obi and Labour party told the court that the respondents had laboured in vain to degrade and dismiss the importance of IReV in the election.

He said that the Supreme Court held in the case of Oyetola and INEC that IReV was part of an electoral process.

Uzoukwu also submitted that an election in which 18,088 blurred results were uploaded to INEC portal was a very poor election.

He added that it was not in doubt that Tinubu forfeited the sum of $460, 000, being proceeds of narcotics trafficking.

After all parties had taken their turn, the court adjourned both petitions for judgment to a date to be communicated to the parties.

The fate of the country is now in the hands of the judiciary. Barring any unforeseen circumstances, the PEPC is expected to deliver its judgment sometime in September.

There is anxiety about the judgment as some partisan pundits posit it would either set a precedence or be business as usual. The nation is on the edge.

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