The D-Day is around the corner! September 16, or before, is the judgment day for the much awaited legal challenge to the Independent National Electoral Commission’s declaration of Bola Ahmed Tinubu as president of the Federal Republic of Nigeria, and Commander-in- chief of the armed forces.
Nigerians are waiting in anxiety and anticipation, as passions remain inflamed and expectation rising, especially against the backdrop of the hardship in the land, as the five Justices that listened and heard the election petitions filed by the candidates of the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP), Alhaji Atiku Abubakar, and the Labour Party (LP), Mr. Peter Obi, at the presidential election petition tribunal, disputing with tons of evidence, the victory of President Bola Tinubu in the February 25 presidential election, are about to give judgment on the highly contentious matter of law, that many legal experts believe will set a new precedent in election jurisprudence and adjudication.
Many Nigerians, who believe the elections outcomes did not reflect voting pattern, and are convinced of gross irregularities are praying fervently that the five justices should anchor their judgement on the facts and figures presented before them and not based on technicalities or any other consideration.
It must be noted that the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) on March 1, declared Bola Ahmed Tinubu of the All Progressives Congress (APC) winner of the presidential election held on February 25, and was, thereafter, announced as the president-elect.
INEC Chairman, Prof. Mahmood Yakubu, said Tinubu polled 8,794,726 votes to beat Atiku Abubakar of the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP), who came second with 6,984,520, and Peter Obi of the Labour Party (LP), who placed third with 6,101,533.
According to Yakubu, Tinubu had attained the first constitutional requirement of getting the highest votes among all the candidates. In addition, he garnered over 25 percent of the votes cast in 30 states, which is in excess of 24 states that are constitutionally required.
But many Nigerians have not been comfortable with Tinubu’s declaration and subsequent swearing-in, as president, anchoring their opposition on what they called error committed by INEC. They are of the view that INEC neglected a major constitutional requirement, which required a candidate to score 25 percent of the votes cast in the Federal Capital Territory (FCT), Abuja, to be declared president of Nigeria.
From the INEC records, only the LP candidate, who came third, met that requirement. Tinubu and Atiku did not. But, INEC, did not consider that enough reason not to declare Tinubu as the winner of the election, having scored the highest number of votes cast in the election, and having scored 25 percent in more than 24 states of the federation.
The opposition parties, didn’t buy into INEC’s logic, as that position rankled the LP candidate and his counterpart in the PDP, as they believe that outside of the fact that Tinubu did not score 25 percent of the votes cast in the FCT as required by the constitution, there was widespread cases of gross irregularities, which marred the credibility of the presidential election.
On the basis of this, the duo of Atiku Abubakar of the People Democratic Party(PDP) and Peter Obi of The Labour Party ( LP) faulted Tinubu’s victory. And what followed was a legal action from both candidates at the Presidential Election Petition Tribunal (PEPT).
Without much ado, on March 21, 2023, Obi went to the Presidential Election Petition Tribunal with a petition challenging Tinubu’s victory in the February 25 presidential election.
His main premise was that the election was marred by irregularities, which manifested in many forms from rigging to manipulation of election results, intimidation and suppression of voters, destruction of ballot boxes and papers, and thuggery among others, including claims that Tinubu and his running mate, Kashim Shettima, were not qualified to contest the election in the first place.
A strong pillar of Obi’s challenge is that Tinubu failed to score the majority of the lawful votes cast in the election, and did not garner 25 percent of the votes cast in the FCT, Abuja, which is a constitutional demand for a candidate to be declared president of Nigeria. From Obi’s side was the allegation that the election was conducted in total disregard and wanton non-compliance with the provisions of the law.
Obi also averred that at the time of the presidential election, Tinubu was not qualified to contest the election because he was fined $460,000 for an offence involving narcotics trafficking imposed by the United States District Court, Northern District of Illinois, Eastern Division, in case No:93C 4483 between the United States of America and Bola Tinubu.
Obi also prayed the court to void the declaration of Tinubu on the ground that Tinubu’s running mate, Kashim Shettima, had two nominations for two separate constituencies – as Borno Central senatorial candidate and as vice-presidential candidate in the same election cycle.
Obi’s third prayer is a call for fresh election.
In like manner, the PDP candidate, Atiku, also challenged the presidential election outcome by filing a similar petition on the same March 21.
In his own petition, Atiku prayed the presidential election court to either declare him the winner of the February 25 presidential election or nullify the election and order a rerun.
To give teeth to his case, the former vice president called 27 witnesses and tendered tons of electoral documents.
In closing his own case, the former vice president urged the five justices to nullify the victory of Tinubu since, according to him, he was not duly elected by a majority of lawful votes cast, thus rendering his victory unlawful, wrongful and unconstitutional.
In the alternative, he also asked the court to direct the electoral body to conduct a second election (run-off) between him and Tinubu.
While delivering their respective final addresses, Atiku and Obi insisted that the February 25 presidential election, in which INEC declared Tinubu the winner, was marred by widespread rigging and electoral malpractices, the absence of the BVAS device in the transmission of presidential election results, and significant non-compliance with the provisions of the Electoral Act 2022, as amended, among other things.
The legal fireworks are over, and the lead Counsel in the various petitions, Chief Chris Uche, SAN for Atiku, Dr. Livy Uzoukwu,q SAN (Obi), Abubakar Mahmoud, SAN (INEC), Chief Wole Olanipekun, SAN (Tinubu), and Prince Lateef Fagbemi SAN (APC), as well as Nigerians and the international communities, are patiently awaiting judgment on the three petitions.
The waiting game, which has been ongoing since the conclusion of arguments from all parties at the tribunal, is causing waves of anticipation among Nigerians both at home and abroad as the judgement day draws near
The tension that has enveloped the nation heightened last week when the billboard that was all over Lagos and some parts of the country with the screaming inscription: ” All Eyes on the Judiciary” was removed by a government agency.
This together with other unfavorable developments like fuel subsidy removal, rising prices of basic commodities, inflation, skyrocketing costs of living has created a dynamic scenario, which has oscillated between moments of heightened expectations and periods of deflation, resulting in an atmosphere, where citizens are becoming increasingly restless due to the extended wait.
In some quarters, it is rumoured that behind-the-scenes machinations might be influencing the impending ruling. As a response, a gentle revolution seems to be brewing, aimed at keeping the justices accountable and ensuring an unbiased decision.
Notably, hundreds of T-shirts and bags have been produced and are circulating widely. These items bear a clear message: “Presidential Election Tribunal: All eyes on the judiciary; Judiciary save our democracy.” This movement signifies the populace’s determination for an impartial judicial process.
Last week, reports hinted that a Peter Obi political support group, Peter Obi Grassroots Mobilization, in a tweet two Wednesdays ago, said the Obidients are mobilizing for a peaceful One Million Man March, which will focus on the Judiciary and the upholding of justice during the ongoing presidential election petition tribunal judgment.
Many Nigerians, who spoke with Business Hallmark believe that if the five justices are courageous, based on tons of evidence, the Bola Ahmed Tinubu administration may be sacked and a rerun ordered.
John Dare, a motor mechanic said “I believe the last presidential election was rigged”, saying that a lot of irregularities characterised it.
The fear of many is that the five justices may go the way of technicalities and not on facts and figures on the ground, and in that way justice may not be served .