The Presidential Election Petition Tribunal on Wednesday reserved judgment in the petition filed by candidate of the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP), Atiku Abubakar challenging the victory of President Muhammadu Buhari in the February 23 presidential election. The chairman of the five man tribunal, Justice Mohammed Garba, reserved judgment to a date that would be communicated to parties shortly after both parties adopted their final written addresses as their argument for and against the petition.
Atiku and the PDP had on March 18 filed their petition against the outcome of the presidential poll, alleging rigging, electoral malpractices amongst others and urged the tribunal to nullify the victory of Buhari at the poll. Equally, the petitioners are asking the tribunal to nullify Buhari’s participation in the February 23 presidential election on grounds that he did not possess the necessary academic qualifications for the office of President and that President Buhari submitted false information to the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) to aid his qualification for the said election.
The tribunal had at the last sitting adjourned to Wednesday August 21 for the parties to adopt their final written addresses. In arguing his final written addresses President Buhari insisted that there was no law to his knowledge that requires a candidate seeking election into the office of President of Nigeria to present any certificate qualifying him to contest the election. Buhari through his lead counsel, Chief Wole Olanipekun, urged the tribunal to dismiss the petition on grounds that it lacked merit; it is bona fide and lacking in substance.
According to Olanipekun, the argument of the petitioners that Buhari was not qualified was not tenable as there is no law that requires Buhari to tender any certificate in order to contest for the office of the president. He said, “The law of the land, constitution and case law do not expect any certificate to be tendered or attached.” He insisted that by the provisions of section 318 of the constitution, Buhari was well qualified to have contested the Feb 23 presidential polls, adding that witnesses and documents tendered all proved that he was educated up to a secondary school level. He submitted that the case of the petitioners was liable to be dismissed because it was not properly diagnosed and was ill advised. Olanipekun accordingly urged the tribunal to dismiss the petition with cost against the petitioners.
However, in their own final arguments, Atiku and PDP told the tribunal that issue of qualification raised by the petitioners was so vital and should not be trivialized by the respondents. They told the tribunal that Buhari deceived Nigerians with false academic documents to seek reelection. They claimed Buhari lied under oath in his form CF001 submitted to the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) to secure clearance for the election, wherein he claimed to possess three certificates, comprising Primary School leaving certificate, WAEC certificate and Officers Cadet certificate.
Atiku said it was shocking and surprising that, “no provisional certificate, no certified true copy of the certificates, no photocopy of certificates and in fact no electronic version of any of the certificates was presented by Buhari throughout the hearing to dispute the claim of the petitioners.
“More worrisome is the fact that Buhari’s own witness Major General Paul Tafa (Rtd), who joined the Nigerian Army with him in 1962 told the tribunal that they were not asked to submit their certificates to the Nigerian Army Board as claimed by Buhari in his form CF001. At any rate, the Secretary of the Nigerian Army Board, Olatunde Olaleye, had in a statement clarified that Buhari had no single certificate in his personal file with the Nigerian Army.”
The electoral umpire in his own final argument insisted that the February 23 presidential poll was conducted in total compliance with the Nigerian constitution and Electoral Act and urged the tribunal to dismiss the petition. Similarly, the APC in his own submission said the petition lacked quality evidence that could warrant the nullification of the election as pleaded by the petitioners and urged the tribunal to dismiss the petition.
But Atiku insisted that Buhari “was not qualified to have stood for the election, in addition to malpractices that prompted his declaration as winner of the election.” Buhari polled 15, 191, 847 votes while Atiku polled 11, 262, 978 votes. But Atiku said the result was manipulated. Atiku said the data obtained from INEC’s server showed he polled a total of 18,356,732 votes to defeat Buhari whom he claims polled 16,741,430 votes.
INEC, however, told the tribunal that it had no server where the election results were transmitted during the February 23 presidential election, a claim Atiku faulted. Consequently, he urged the tribunal to uphold his petition and nullify Buhari’s participation in the election “on the grounds that Buhari gave false information on oath to deceive Nigerians and to secure unlawful qualification for the election.”