More controversies trail tribunal judgment
Obi, Tinubu, Atiku

Given that no presidential election has ever been overturned by the court in Nigeria, not many Nigerians would have expected a different outcome, when five justices of the Presidential Election Petition Tribunal (PEPT) sat on Wednesday, to deliver judgment on petitions filed by Mr. Peter Obi of the Labour Party and Alhaji Atiku Abubakar of the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP), challenging the declaration of President Bola Tinubu as winner of the February 25 presidential election by the Independent National Electoral (INEC).

But given the manner in which the election was conducted, with glaring infractions recorded in places like Rivers State, Lagos, among others, where results were visibly rewritten, with sheets eventually uploaded to INEC portal mutilated and different from those from polling units in many instances, many would have been curious to know the argument the justices would proffer to validate the outcome, and since the judgement was read on Wednesday, with the five judges unanimously upholding Tinubu’s victory, controversies have not been in short supply, amid questions about the arguments proffered by the justices, even as some have suggested that the legal teams of the litigants did shoddy jobs.

The PAN Niger Delta Elders Forum (PANDEF), for instance, argued on Friday that the legal teams of Obi and Atiku did not do a good job in the presidential election matter they handled, an argument also pushed by Liborous Oshoma, a legal practitioner and analyst.

“For an ordinary man, who is not a lawyer, what we saw and witnessed yesterday seems to be sound and the statements that the judges made were explicit that even the ordinary man will understand that the petitioners did not do a good job,” Ken Robinson, national publicity secretary of PANDEF said on Friday.

Making similar argument, Jesutega Onokpasa, a member of the dissolved APC Presidential Campaign Council, noted that, “Peter Obi, who kept asking for adjournment, wasted his time in court and the court’s time. He couldn’t provide substantial evidence to back his allegations.”

Onokpasa’s argument resonates with the prevailing sentiments in the ruling party’s camp, where many have since gone to town to celebrate the verdict as an affirmation of the credibility of Tinubu’s victory, but the judgment has raised several issues, too, and the opposition has picked several holes in it, amid suggestions that it may have been influenced by the ruling party.

“The judgment on the Labour Party’s petition appears to be a direct reproduction of APC’s final address at the tribunal. When will this noble profession jettison technicality for justice?” wondered Valentine Ozigbo, a chieftain of the Labour Party.

“For the record, Labour Party presented an exceptional case, one that far outshone the efforts of the APC lawyers. It’s not HE Peter Obi and LP that lost; it’s Nigeria and Nigerians. If we allow this skewed judgment to stand, then we are not only setting a dangerous precedent but are also rendering our judiciary irrelevant.”

The tribunal had four key issues for determination, particularly in the case of Atiku, among which is whether the return of Tinubu was invalid by reason of substantial non-compliance with the Electoral Act in the conduct of the presidential election; whether Tinubu was lawfully declared the winner of the election when he did not secure 25 per cent of the votes in FCT; whether Tinubu was not disqualified from contesting the election after a U.S court’s forfeiture order against him in a drugs-related case in 1993, and whether Tinubu was lawfully declared as the winner of the election based on the majority of lawful votes.

On whether Tinubu was qualified to contest given that the constitution bars anyone, who is found liable for fraud, as the president in 1993 forfeited $460,000 to the United States government, being proceeds of drug trade, the court held that the constitution only meant criminal conviction and not civil forfeiture.

Justice Haruna S. Tsamani, in the lead judgement held that since Tinubu can enter the U.S, he has committed no offence or crime in the U.S. According to him, “If you commit a crime, it will no longer count against you after 10 years.”

He further held that the $460,000 forfeiture being a proceed of narcotics is to Tinubu’s account and not to his person, a decision that has since led to many wondering if an account holder is different from his account.

Another issue was whether Electoral commission was mandated to transmit the election results electronically. On this call, court held that the Electoral Act does not require so but the requirement is only introduced by the regulations. Therefore, it was not required.

Justice Tsamani held that the BVAS machine was only meant for verification and accreditation of voters and not meant to be used to transmit the result to the INEC iREV.

Meanwhile, Section 60 (5) of the electoral act 2022 provides that, “the presiding officer shall transfer the results including total number of accredited voters and the results of the ballot in a manner as prescribed by the Commission.”

It then goes on to say in Section 64 (4) that, “A collation officer or returning officer at an election shall collate and announce the result of an election, subject to his or her verification and confirmation that the— (a) number of accredited voters stated on the collated result are correct and consistent with the number of accredited voters recorded and transmitted directly from polling units under section 47 (2) of this Act; and (b) the votes stated on the collated result are correct and consistent with the votes or results recorded and transmitted directly from polling units under section 60 (4) of this Act.”

The electoral umpire, it would be recalled, had prior to the election, affirmed on several occasions that it would transmit election results to the iREV in real time from polling units.

Speaking at a forum in the lead up to election, Festus Okoye, INEC spokesperson, had noted that, “The Commission will also transmit polling units level results in real time. Transmission of polling units level results is also a mandatory provision of the law as section 64 (4) of the electoral act has made it mandatory.’

Speaking further, he had said, “We canvassed for the introduction of BVAS and for the electronic transmission of results in the Electoral Act. We, therefore, have a responsibility to keep faith with our own innovation aimed at the conduct of transparent elections.”

Indeed, while rumours emerged in November 2022, three months to the election, that the commission had opted to jettison electronic transmission of polling units results, Prof. Yakubu Mahmood, INEC chairman, took step to restate the commission’s stand.

Speaking at a press briefing in Abuja in November, he said, “Let me seize this opportunity to respond to a story from a section of the media that the commission has decided to jettison the uploading of polling units level results in real time on election day. This should be regarded as fake news. The commission will upload polling units level results and citizens will have access to these results in real time.”

Mahmood repeated the assurances when he appeared at the Chatham House in London late last year. The technology innovations and the assurances had given many hopes that the 2023 polls would be credible, but the commission in the event, failed to transmit polling units results in real time on the election day, and with the judgment of the tribunal, observers argue that the gains of electoral reforms could be lost if the matter is not adequately addressed.

“INEC decided that it will upload results from polling units to IREv. They exercised that choice that the PEPT said they had. It is MANDATORY to transmit,” noted Osita Chidoka, former aviation minister and a chieftain of the PDP.

“The collation is different from transmission. This point is crucial for the upcoming elections in Kogi, Bayelsa and Imo. The PEPT granted INEC the power to go against it’s regulations and election manual.”

Meanwhile, on the issue of whether Tinubu should have been declared winner, when he did not secure 25 percent in the FCT, Tsammani held that from the reading of section 134 of the constitution, the reference to the states of the federation and the Federal Capital Territory indicates nothing more than the consistency of how the constitution refers to them throughout all the provisions whenever they are mentioned together.

Another key point in the legal challenge was the issue of double nomination involving Kashim Shettima, the vice president and running mate of Tinubu in the election.

On this, the tribunal held that Shetima did not intentionally allow himself to be nominated twice, his double nomination cannot be used against him as a reason for disqualification.

Many have continued to pick holes in the decision of the tribunal, amid allegations in some quarters that the ruling party had influenced the decision, the latest in the episode being the appearance of ‘Tinubu Presidential Legal Team’ watermark in a copy of the tribunal judgment that went viral on social media on Friday, with many alleging that it’s an indication that the judgment was drafted by the Tinubu legal team and handed over to the judges.

The allegation was indeed, first raised weeks ago by a certain Jackson Ude, a U.S based journalist, who claimed that Babatunde Fashola, former governor of Lagos State had written the judgement for the judges, a claim the former minister of power and housing has since been denied.

Regardless, the copy, which emerged while Obi and Atiku Abubakar’s lawyers were complaining that they were still being stonewalled by the Court of Appeal in their quest to get copies of the judgment, rekindled the allegations from the opposition camp, many of whom took to social media to suggest that the Tinubu team could have authored the judgment and handed to the judges to read.

“CTC forgot to edit the Judgment that was handed over to them. The top of all the 798 Pages clearly shows Tinubu Presidential Legal Team (TPLT),” noted Lawrence I. Okoro, @LawrenceOkoroPG, a supporter of the Labour Party, via social platform, X.

Another user, Darey, @kunmydrey, alleged that, “Finally, they have thrown themselves into the lion’s den. We all knew the JUDGMENT they read was not written by the Justices. The CTC of Tsammani’s judgment has “Tinubu Presidential Legal Team (TPLT)” as a header on the top left of every single page.”

While some have, however, argued that the watermark may have been inserted in the copy meant for the ruling party, others say such cannot be the case as, according to them, it is not customized to anyone.

“CTC is never custmozed to anyone. If anything that is not on the original appears in the CTC, it is nullified. No one puts a water mark on a CTC. It nullifies it,” noted Chuks Nwachuku, a legal practitioner.

However, in his response to the controversy, Onokpasa, the APC chieftain and legal practitioner, noted that the copy with the watermark is the one circulated by the Tinubu legal team.

“Any copy of the judgment of the Presidential Election Petition Court, PEPC, that bears the watermark of the Tinubu Presidential Legal Team, TPLT, is the copy circulated by the TPLT, itself and this is so because when the judgment was released to it, it decided to watermark it as its own copy while scanning it for release to the public,” he said.

“The original copies released by the PEPC does not bear the TPLT watermark and so the copies circulated by the PDP, Labour Party and APM (if they bother to circulate same) should similarly bear their own watermarks if they so desired but I don’t think they would be minded to do so since they lost so woefully and were so thoroughly excoriated, and rightly so, by their lordships.”

Nonetheless, not everyone is convinced by Onokpasa’s explanation, as the controversy continues to rage on social media.

“The more they try to explain this Tinubu Presidential Legal Team (TPLT ) the more it keeps on sounding like they are defending and covering up some things after being caught,” noted Hon. Rilwan @rilwan_ola01. “For the sake of historical reference, I urge @NGCourtofAppeal Chief Clark /spokesman to clear the air on TPLT and also show of us copy of past judgements because the explanation is not adding up.”

Obi, Atiku head to Supreme Court

Having rejected the decision of the tribunal, both Atiku Abubakar and Peter Obi, the litigants in the case against Tinubu and INEC, have begun the process of filing their appeals at the Supreme Court, which would have the final say within 60 days.

Speaking at a press conference on Thursday in Anambra, Obi said he would not relent in the quest for justice and would appeal the judgement of the tribunal.

“As petitioners in this case, we respect the views and rulings of the court, but we disagree with the court’s reasoning and conclusions in the judgment it delivered,” Obi said.

“It is my intention as a presidential candidate and the intention of the Labour Party to challenge this judgment by way of appeal immediately, as allowed by the Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria.

“Our legal team has already received our firm instruction to file an appeal against the decision. I shall not relent in the quest for justice, not necessarily for myself but indeed for our teeming supporters all over the country and beyond, whose mandate to us at the polls was regrettably truncated by INEC.”

Similarly, at a press conference in Abuja on Thursday, Atiku said he’s instructed his legal team to proceed to the Supreme Court

The former vice president noted that the management of the election by INEC leaves much to be desired, hence his decision to seek legal redress in the interest of democracy.

“The last presidential election in our country and the way it was managed by the electoral umpire, the Independent National Electoral Commission, leaves behind unenviable precedents, which I believe the courts have a duty to redress.

“Our gains in ensuring transparent elections through the deployment of technology was heavily compromised by INEC in the way it managed the last presidential election, and I am afraid that the judgment of the court as rendered by the Presidential Election Petition Tribunal yesterday, failed to restore confidence in our dreams of free and fair elections devoid of human manipulations,” Atiku said.

“Like I did say at the beginning of this legal battle when I instructed my lawyers to file my petition challenging the outcome of the presidential election, my ultimate goal in this pursuit is to ensure that democracy is further strengthened through the principles and processes of fair hearing.

“I take great pains to tell you that the decision of the court of first instance on this matter utterly falls far short of that expectation. I am, therefore, here to tell you that, though the judgment of the court yesterday is respected, it is a judgment that I refuse to accept. I refuse to accept the judgment because I believe that it is bereft of substantial justice. However, the disappointment in the verdict of the court can never destroy my confidence in the judiciary.

“Consequently, I have asked my lawyers to activate my constitutionally guaranteed rights of appeal to the higher court, which, in the instance, is the Supreme Court. It is my conviction that the electoral process in Nigeria should be devoid of untidy manipulations and that the outcome of every election should be a perfect reflection of the wishes of the electorate.

“I believe that such is the only way through which our democracy can have a manifest expression of its true meaning. Whether I prevail in this quest or not, the record of my effort in ensuring an order of credible elections in Nigeria shall remain for the future generations to evaluate.”

The legal teams of both candidates, on Friday confirmed that they had received the Certified True Copies of the judgment of the Presidential Election Petition Court, after raising concerns over their inability to access the materials.

Atiku’s Special Assistant on Public Communications, Phrank Shaibu, had in a statement issued earlier on Friday slammed the PEPC for allegedly failing to release the certified copies of the judgment to the former vice president’s legal team.

“By not making available to Atiku Abubakar, presidential candidate of the Peoples Democratic Party, the Certified True Copies of the judgment of Wednesday for its filings at the Supreme Court, the Presidential Election Petition Court is undermining Atiku’s and Nigerians’ quest for justice,” Shaibu had claimed.

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    When did Nigeria approach the court that the moribund exercise of FOOLS would revert to her?



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