By Ise-Oluwa Ige
In this report, Saturday Vanguard examines the five lawsuits filed at the Presidential Election Petition Tribunal in Abuja to stop Bola Ahmed Tinubu from Aso Villa, critiques the tribunal’s composition and the level of trust top lawyers have in the panel members and argues that although past legal efforts since the birth of the on-going Fourth Republic on May 29, 1999, to invalidate previous presidential election results declared by INEC had never yielded any positive result, only time will tell if the peculiar case facts in the instant case and the concomitant laws on them, would spring a surprise.
Two presidential candidates of the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) and the Labour Party (LP), Alhaji Atiku Abubakar and Mr Peter Obi respectively, during the week, gave a fresh vow to invalidate, through court process, the electoral victory of Senator Bola Ahmed Tinubu of the All Progressives Congress (APC) in the last February 25, 2023 presidential election and truncate his life ambition to rule Nigeria.
The duo though are working separately in the law court to achieve the objective, they are also individually inviting the Presidential Election Petition Court (PEPC) to declare them winners of the February 25 presidential poll or in the alternative, order a fresh election in which Tinubu and his vice should be barred from participating.
In the results announced on March 1, 2023, Tinubu polled 8,794,726 votes to emerge victorious. Atiku who came second scored 6,984,520 votes, while Obi scored 6,101,533 votes. Rabiu Kwankwaso of the NNPP came fourth with 1,496,687 votes.
But aggrieved by the poll results, five political parties with their presidential candidates approached the registry of the Presidential Election Petition Court to challenge the election outcome.
Under the electoral law, political parties and their candidates have within 21 days of INEC announcing the results to file their petition at the registry of the Appeal Court.
The aggrieved parties who met the deadline include the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) with its presidential candidate, Atiku Abubakar and the Labour Party, with its candidate, Peter Obi.
The rest are the Action Peoples Party, the Allied Peoples Movement (APM) and the Action Alliance.
The President of the Court of Appeal, Justice Monica Dongban-Mensem who is from Plateau state (North Central) had set up a five-member panel of the court to hear all the petitions challenging Tinubu’s victory in the last presidential election.
The Presidential Election Petition Tribunal which began sitting last Monday had the following as members: Justice Haruna Tsammani as chairman with Justice Stephen Jonah Adah, Justice Misitura Bolaji-Yusuf, Justice Boloukuoromo Ugoh, and Justice Abba Mohammed as members.
Election Petition Tribunal Members
Saturday Vanguard reports that the members of the Presidential Election Petition Tribunal were drawn from five geo-political zones of the country with the exclusion of South East.
The Appeal Court President did not give any explanation on how she arrived at the panel composition but it is clear that no political zone had double representation.
The two arch rivals of Tinubu in the last presidential election—Alhaji Atiku Abubakar and Peter Obi, hail from Adamawa in the North East and Anambra in the South East respectively. Tinubu himself hails from Lagos in the South West region of the country.
The Chairman of the Presidential Election Petition Tribunal, Justice Tsammani who is also the Presiding Justice of the Abuja Court of Appeal urged lawyers representing all the petitioners to avoid sensational comments, stressing that the court would not tolerate time-wasting tactics and technicalities.
He said, “As we commence hearing of the petitions, let us avoid making sensational comments. Let us consider the safety and interest of the country, that is paramount.
“We should avoid unnecessary time-wasting applications and objections so that we can look at the substance of the case rather than unnecessary technicalities.
“Let us cooperate with one another so that everyone will be satisfied that justice has been done.”
All the lead counsel to the political parties appearing before the panel not only expressed confidence in the panel but also promised to cooperate with the tribunal.
The affected political parties were the Action Peoples Party (APP) which fielded Solomon Okangbuan as its presidential candidate and the Action Alliance which fielded Major Hamza Al-Mustapha as its presidential candidate for the poll.
But the remaining three others, as at the time of filing this report, have vowed to proceed with their separate cases against the President-Elect, Bola Tinubu.
The petitioners are praying for the tribunal to declare that Tinubu was not duly elected by a majority of the lawful votes cast at the election.
They want an order mandating the INEC to retrieve the certificate of return issued to the APC candidate and issue a fresh one to them.
What is the case of Atiku against Tinubu
Atiku, in his petition, is inviting the tribunal to invalidate Tinubu’s election on ground of non-compliance with the provisions of the Electoral Act, 2022 in conducting the poll.
The petitioner’s case is that for any of the candidates in the February 25 poll to be declared winner, he or she must score 25% of votes cast in the Federal Capital Territory (FCT), arguing that the failure of Tinubu to meet the said constitutional requirement invalidated his election.
Besides, the petitioner had further argued that whereas, Prof. Yakubu had repeatedly assured the public that the February 2023 general election would be the best election ever, with the guaranteed use of the Bi-Modal Voters’ Accreditation System (BVAS) and real-time and direct uploading of the polling unit results to the commission’s electronic collation system and Results Viewing Portal (IReV), the bypass and non-use of the BVAS machines in the transmission of the accreditation data and polling unit results of the election fundamentally and substantially affected the integrity of the results announced by the INEC for both Tinubu and his political party—APC and thoroughly discredited the process of the election.
Atiku is also invoking the margin of lead principle to assert that INEC’s hasty announcement of Tinubu as the winner of the presidential poll is unconstitutional and without due process.
The principle states that when the margin of lead between the winner and the runner-up is less than the total number of voters affected by cancellations in their different polling units, the election is declared inconclusive and a re-run is organised.
Obi’s case against Tinubu
Mr Peter Obi, also in his petition, alleged that Tinubu failed to win the majority of the lawful votes cast in the election, just as he could not secure one-quarter of the lawful votes cast in the Federal Capital Territory (FCT), Abuja.
The petitioner, therefore, contended that Tinubu “was not duly elected by a majority of the lawful votes cast at the time of the election.”
Besides, Obi argued that both Tinubu and his running mate were not qualified to stand the election.
In the petition, he argued that Tinubu “was fined $460,000 for an offence involving dishonesty, namely narcotics trafficking imposed by the United States District Court, Northern District of Illinois, Eastern Division, in case No:93C 44833 between the United States of America and Tinubu while his running mate, Shettima, was the APC’s candidate for Borno Central senatorial district and vice-presidential candidate for the whole of Nigeria in the same election year.
The petitioner also alleged that the election was conducted in substantial non-compliance with the provision of the law.
The LP candidate, therefore, urged the court to either declare him as the president-elect, in the belief that he scored the majority of the lawful votes during the election, or alternatively, nullify the entire election and order a fresh election.
Also, Obi put forward five prayers in court. Three of them are alternative prayers to the two main ones.
In his two main prayers, he urged the court to declare Tinubu and Shettima unqualified to contest the February 25 presidential election.
In the second main prayer, Obi urged the court to invalidate Tinubu’s victory due to his failure to win one-quarter of the lawful votes cast in the FCT.
One of the top lawyers on the legal team of Obi who preferred anonymity told Saturday Vanguard that the petition was neatly drafted to put both the tribunal and INEC in particular in the eye of the storm by coming to defend the integrity of the election it conducted in breach of their own enabling law and guidelines.
“In my humble view, it was a bold and audacious move and tactics, as it puts pressure on the tribunal and makes it difficult for its members to circumvent, as any decision to the contrary would and could deal a serious blow to the moral fibre of the tribunal.
“The response of their lawyers to the two grounds supra: questioning the nomination of the two persons by the party viz-a-viz the position of the law, would determine clearly whether this ground of non-qualification would succeed, particularly with respect to Tinubu, as he is now constrained to bring more facts about the forfeiture proceedings into the public space in defence of his right to contest the election, or risk the tribunal reaching a conclusion that he was ab initio not qualified to contest. Interesting days are ahead.
“For me, the strongest ground in the petition is the second ground which challenges INEC directly and their conduct of the election which alleges a breach of the constitution, the electoral act and the manual/guideline issued by INEC for the conduct of the election.
“This second ground is what I believe Obi referred to as challenging the process. On the whole, I foresee great and brilliant arguments by lawyers on both sides in the days to come.
Although since May 29, 1999 when the country returned to civil rule, there was no election year that aggrieved political parties did not approach the Presidential Election Petition Tribunal for invalidation of the electoral victory of successive winners of the elections, but none has ever succeeded.
In the instant case, two of the five political parties that maintained petitions against the emergence of Senator Bola Tinubu as president-elect, have withdrawn their petitions.
While counsel to the remaining political parties have said that they had a water-tight case against the president-elect and his political party—APC, time will also tell what will become of the electoral victory of APC on the one hand and the remaining petitions by three other political parties on the other hand.