The over eight-hour land-mark judgement of Wednesday, 11th September 2019, at the Presidential Election Petition Tribunal, Abuja, by a five-member panel of eminent, articulate and proven jurists of the Nigerian Bench, headed by his lordship, Justice Mohammed Lawal Garba, which gave a resounding victory to President Muhammadu Buhari, has sent a very strong judicial signal to appellants, that electoral disputes/litigations could never be settled in the courts of public opinions, social media or pages of newspapers but in Constitutional Courts of competent jurisdiction, legally constituted for such duties!
But before that judgement which dismissed all prayers of the petition “in its entirety”, the major litigant, Atiku Abubakar, Peoples Democratic Party (PDP), candidate, in his characteristic desperation, wrote to the President of the Appeal Court on 5th September, 2019, on the need not to allow his petition to be caught up by constitutional timeline since the Tribunal had on 21st August, 2019, reserved judgement after the petitioners and respondents – INEC, President Buhari, and his Party, the All Progressives Congress (APC), adopted their final written addresses!
However, when the deed was done, head of the opposition PDP legal team had no choice than to eat the “humble pie”, acknowledged the professionalism, thoroughness, legal prowess and outstanding conclusions of the cohesive team of the legal luminaries, who were united to dismiss in entirety, all of the three prayers sought by the appellants to nullify the victory of the winner of the Presidential Elections of 23rd February, 2019, President Muhammadu Buhari, and declare the runner-up, Alhaji Atiku Abubakar, as winner in his stead!
RUMBLINGS BY PETITIONERS BEFORE THE D-DAY!
Weeks before the D-Day, PDP in frenzied desperation to sway public opinion in favour of Atiku Abubakar, the social, print and electronic media was orchestrated with all manner of postulations that negative reports by international observer groups, which alleged electoral malpractices, vote buyings, ballot boxes snatchings, security agents interventions at polling stations etc, should sway judgement in favour of the candidate who lost woefully!
Their three-pronged appeal was predicated on the following planks:
That the election was marred by irregularities;
That Atiku received more votes than Buhari and:
That the president did not have a secondary school certificate, a basic requirement to contest the election. PDP said it would appeal against the ruling at the Supreme Court!
President Buhari, according to the results released by INEC, garnered 61% of the votes as against the 41% of Atiku Abubakar at the 23rd February, 2019, election but that the 35.6% turn-out of the electorate was lower by 8.6%. compared with the 44% in 2015, and Atiku rejected the results hours after Buhari was declared winner with a promise that he would challenge the results at the Appeal Tribunal while his Party described it as a “direct assault on the integrity of our nation’s justice system”!
*Contrary to PDP’s stand, Rivers State Governor, Nyesome Wike, congratulated President Buhari for his second victory over Atiku through a live broadcast because, he would not pay the nocturnal visits to Aso Villa like other opposition governors and party stalwarts – though he neither liked the President nor his policies!
SUMMARY OF THE LAND-MARK JUDGMENT THAT WOULD STAND THE TEST OF TIME!
The Jury was very painstaking in reading out the judgement through the lead Judge who initially decided pre-trial applications which favoured Atiku and his lead counsel before advancing into the main prayers of the appellants. The lead counsel’s name which were abbreviated in some documents were accepted as genuine while ATIKU WAS DECLARED AS A BONA FIDE NIGERIAN AND NOT A CAMEROONIAN AS ALLEGED BY THE RESPONDENTS!
With analytical precision, one after the other, all arguments raised by the petitioners: from the crime of perjury in a sworn affidavit; to the existence of an INEC website/server; alleged electronic transfer of results through Card Readers to INEC’s central server; vote-buying; criminal intervention by security agents (especially soldiers and policemen), to support electoral rigging by the APC; malpractices through ballot boxes snuffing/snatching at the polling booths with the connivance of policemen, etc, etc, were all succinctly treated without giving any room for ambiguity or controversy!
The lead Judge, Justice Garba, who took over from President of the Court of Appeal, Abuja, Justice Zainab Adamu Bulkachuwa, who was initially rejected by the PDP, for probable vested interests, adduced and quoted copiously from a plethora of decided cases ranging from the lower courts through to the Apex court in a manner of a jurist who knows his onions and conversant with extant laws in the terrain of legal jurisprudence! The English definitions of some contentious words were not left to doubt as the learned judge employed the Webster/Oxford and other dictionaries to lend credence to the judgement!
And the “coffin” of the judgement pronouncements which did not favour Atiku Abubakar, was finally nailed by two other distinguished judges of the panel, who further buttressed the conclusions of the lead judge on the prayers in respect of Perjury and Vote-Buying, which were unsubstantiated by neither evidences nor witnesses by the petitioners, according to the law!
ALL FIVE JUDGES DISMISSED THE APPEAL IN ITS ENTIRETY, STRESSED THAT THE ONUS OF PROOF RESTED SQUARELY ON THE APPELLANTS WHO FAILED TO PROVE THEIR ALLEGATIONS BEYOND REASONABLE DOUBTS!
ATIKU’S LEGAL TUSSLES BEFORE 2019!
The PDP Presidential Candidate at the 2019, General Elections, former Vice President, Alhaji Atiku Abubakar, (1999-2007), suffered public disgrace/humiliation in the hands of his principal, Chief Aremu Obasanjo who accused him of alleged crimes of official corruption, aggrandizement and abuse of office during their second term, all in a bid to scuttle the ambition of the former from succeeding him in office and he (Obasanjo), succeeded!
Obasanjo instituted official panel of investigation and found Atiku guilty of impropriety in the handling of sales of Federal Government’s critical assets, of which he was chairman; in his alleged involvement in a $500,000 bribery scandal involving a US Congressman, William J. Jefferson; and in the manipulation of the Petroleum Trust Development Fund, (PTDF), accounts, in other to castigate, reduce him to odium and unfit to further hold any public office – especially, his obsessive ambition to become the president of the Federal Republic of Nigeria!
Alhaji Atiku Abubakar, denied all allegations and got redress in over seven case which he instituted against Obasanjo and the Federal Government between 2006-2007, and was cleared by the Supreme Court as suited and qualified to contest the 2007 Presidential Election as the Action Congress of Nigeria (ACN), candidate, but lost to late President Umaru Yar ‘Ardua!
Political observers strongly expected, Alhaji Atiku to institute legal actions of libel, slander, defamation of character, etc, against his boss years after they both lost the immunity shield, but that never happened; instead, Atiku sent emissaries to placate Obasanjo and subsequently travelled to personally beg for pardon and obtain assurances to shore up his dented political clout.
ATIKU HAS FUNDAMENTAL RIGHT OF APPEAL TO SUPREME COURT!
But in this trending matter, Alhaji Abubakar has the fundamental right to go the whole hog in the belief that he still had a good chance of upturning the verdict of the Appellant Court at the Apex Court!
Atiku, whose penchant for litigation had become obstinate is poised to proceed to the Supreme Court, which would finally arbitrate on the judgement of the Appeal Court and lay the case to permanent rest within the constitutional 90 days window allotted to the excercise from September 11, 2011!
Incidentally, the Abuja Presidential Appeal Tribunal judgement coincided with the18th anniversary of September 9/11 catastrophic terrorists bombings of the New York Twin Trade Center Towers, and other strategic government structures which humbled America, the most powerful global nation, which had won several battles ( civil wars, world wars), in its 233 years of independence! HE WHO THAT THINKS HE STANDS SHOULD BE CAUTIOUS, LEST HE FALLS! HERE LIES THE LITMUS TEST FOR ATIKU WHO STRONGLY BELIEVES HE WOULD NEVER LOSE ANY LITIGATION AT THE SUPREME COURT!
Atiku Abubakar’s determination to further launch his appeal at the Apex Court for a final and logical conclusion should not be constrained that the outcome may further strengthen not only our DEMOCRACY, but also establish the much-desired foundation for STRONG INSTITUTIONS and become a REFERENCE POINT for future LEGAL JURISPRUDENCE!
“Whatever has a beginning MUST SURELY have an end!