LAGOS — The Labour Party, the Peoples Democratic Party, the Allied Peoples Movement, and their candidates filed cases with the Presidential Election Petition Court, PEPC, challenging the election of President Bola Tinubu. In a historic ruling yesterday, PEPC dismissed the applications.
The five-man panel, led by Justice Haruna Tsammani, dismissed the petition of Mr Peter Obi of LP seeking to nullify Tinubu’s election.
It also dismissed APM’s petition seeking to disqualify the president over the invalid nomination of his running mate, Senate Kashim Shettima.
Obi’s petition dismissed
The PEPC, dismissed the allegation of the Labour Party, LP, and its candidate, Mr. Peter Obi, that the 2023 presidential election was rigged in favour of President Bola Tinubu.
The court, in its preliminary ruling that was delivered by Justice Abba Mohammed, held that Obi and the LP did not by way of credible evidence, establish their allegation that the February 25 election was characterized by manifest corrupt practices.
It held that though the petitioners alleged that the election was marred by irregularities, they, however, failed to give specific details of where the alleged infractions took place.
The court noted that whereas Obi and the LP insisted that the election was rigged in 18, 088 polling units across the federation, they were unable to state the locations of the said polling units.
It further held that Obi’s allegation that fictitious results were recorded for President Tinubu and the APC, by the Independent National Electoral Commission, INEC, was not proved.
More so, it held that the petitioners were unable to state the figures they claimed were reduced from election results they garnered in different states of the federation, especially in Ondo, Oyo, Rivers, Yobe, Borno, Tabara, Osun and Lagos state.
It held that the Petitioners equally failed to state the polling units where over-voting occurred or the exact figures of unlawful votes that were credited to Tinubu by the INEC.
It stressed that though Obi and LP said they would rely on spreadsheets as well as forensic reports and expert analysis of their expert witnesses, they failed to attach the documents to the petition or serve the same on the Respondents as required by the law.
The court held that though the petition contained serious allegations that bordered on violence, non-voting, suppression of votes, fictitious entry of election results and corrupt practices, the petitioners failed to give particulars of specific polling units where the incidents took place.
It held that several portions of the petition that contained the allegations, were “vague, imprecise, nebulous and bereft of particular materials.”
Therefore, the court struck out paragraphs 9, 60, 61, 66, 67, 68, 69, 70, 71, 72, 73, 76, 77, 78, 83 and 89 of the petition.
Obi validly nominated as LP candidate
Nevertheless, the court dismissed the contention of the Respondents that Obi was not validly nominated by the LP to contest the presidential election.
It noted that the Respondents had argued that Obi left the Peoples Democratic Party, PDP, on May 24, 2022 and joined the LP on May 27, 2022.
The Respondents argued that as at May 30, 2022, Obi was not a valid member of the LP and could not have duly participated in its presidential primary election.
They insisted that his name could not have been contained in the membership register of the LP, which ought to be submitted to INEC, 30 days before the primary election was held.
However, the court, in its ruling, held that the issue of membership is an internal affair of a political party, which is not justiciable.
It held that only the LP has the prerogative of determining who is its member, adding that the Respondents were bereft of the legal standing to query Obi’s membership of the LP.
Likewise, the court held that contrary to contention by Tinubu and the APC, the Petitioners, were not under any obligation to join Alhaji Atiku Abubakar who came second in the election or his party, the PDP, in the case.
It held that both Atiku and PDP are not statutory Respondents or necessary parties to the petition.
No evidence Tinubu was convicted in the US over drug trafficking
The PEPC also dismissed the allegation that President Tinubu was convicted in the United States of America, USA, on a drug trafficking-related charge.
The court, in its lead judgment in the joint petition filed by the LP Obi held that evidence before it established that the $460, 000 fine that was imposed on Tinubu in the US, was a civil matter.
It held that such a fine did not translate to a criminal conviction that was capable of warranting Tinubu’s disqualification from contesting the presidential election that was held on February 25.
Justice Haruna Tsammani, who led the five-member panel, held that a careful perusal of exhibits that were adduced before the court showed that the case that led to the fine that was awarded against President Tinubu, “was in the civil docket” of the court in the US.
He held that contrary to the contention of the Petitioners, the case was a civil forfeiture proceeding against funds that were in the bank and not an action that was against Tinubu as a person.
He described such civil forfeiture proceedings as a unique remedy that is targeted at a property and not the owner.
No criminal record against Tinubu in the US More so, the court held that Obi and the LP failed to show that Tinubu was indicted, arraigned, tried or convicted for any criminal offence in the USA.
The court further noted that following a letter the Inspector General of Police wrote in 2003, the American Embassy, confirmed that there was no criminal record against Tinubu in its centralized information center.
It held that both the letter from the IGP and the response from the US Embassy were public documents that are admissible in evidence.
The court maintained that the Petitioners did not produce any evidence to establish that Tinubu was tried and convicted for an offence involving dishonesty.
Besides, the court held that a period of 10 years had elapsed since the said fine was imposed against Tinubu, saying it, therefore, could not be a valid ground to seek his disqualification.
It accordingly dismissed that leg of the petition the LP and Obi filed to nullify President Tinubu’s election.
The Petitioners had among other things, challenged Tinubu’s eligibility to contest the presidential election, alleging that he was previously indicted and fined the sum of $460,000.00 by the United States District Court, Northern District of Illinois, Eastern Division, in Case No: 93C 4483, for an offence involving dishonesty and drug trafficking.
They contended that such indictment constituted a ground for disqualification under section 137 (1) (d) of the 1999 Constitution, as amended.
INEC can’t be forced transmit election results electronically
On the issue of INEC failing to transmit the presidential election results electronically real time on its result viewing portal, the tribunal said that the INEC was not mandated to send election results electronically.
Tsammani said: “There is no provision for the electronic transmission of election results in the Electoral Act 2022.”
On the mode of transmission of election results, the tribunal said INEC is at liberty to define the mode it intends to use.
“By the provision of Section 52 and Section 65 of the Electoral Act, INEC is at liberty to prescribe the manner in which results can be transmitted. INEC cannot be compelled to electronically transmit results,” the court held.
On 25% votes, Abuja not special than other states
The PEPT also held that scoring 25 percent of votes in the Federal Capital Territory, FCT, Abuja was not compulsory for one to be declared winner because FCT has no special status over the other 36 states of the federation.
Peter Obi wan about 59 percent of the votes cast in the FCT, President Tinubu got 19 per cent and Atiku Abubakar scored 15 per cent.
Speaking on the requirement claims by the LP and Obi, the panel said that FCT residents have no special privileges as the petitioners claimed.
According to the PEPC, Section 134 (1) and (2) of the 1999 Constitution of Nigeria (as amended) stipulates that a presidential candidate must attain or score a majority of votes cast in a presidential election, where two or more candidates are involved, and at least 25% in two-thirds of the 36 States and FCT to meet the constitutional requirement to be declared as duly elected as President of Nigeria.
The tribunal said the petitioners’ interpretation of Section 134(2)(b) of the 1999 constitution is “completely fallacious, if not outright ridiculous.”
APM’s petition against Tinubu incompetent
The panel in its first ruling dismissed as incompetent, the case the Allied Peoples Movement, APM, filed to nullify President Tinubu’s election.
The court held that the issues the APM raised in its petition contained pre-election matters that could only be determined by the Federal High Court.
Chairman of the panel, Justice Haruna Tsammani, who read the ruling, upheld preliminary objections that all the Respondents raised to challenge the competence of the petition.
Justice Haruna noted that since the petition centered on the qualification or otherwise of President Tinubu to contest the presidential election that was held on February 25, the APM ought to have gone to court within 14 days after Tinubu was nominated by the APC.
He held that since the cause of action bordered on a pre-election matter, the APM, lacked the locus standi to challenge Tinubu’s nomination.
More so, Justice Tsammani held that the Supreme Court had earlier decided that a political party does not have the right to challenge a nomination that was made by another political party.
He held that section 131 and 237 of the 1999 Constitution, as amended, made provisions for the qualification or disqualification of candidates in an election.
The court noted that the main grouse of the APM was on the alleged invalid nomination of Tinubu’s running mate, Kashim Shettima.
“It is clear that the claim of qualification is non-qualification of the 3rd Respondent (Tinubu) centered on the alleged invalid nomination of the 4th Respondent (Shettima). It is a pre-election matter,” Justice Tsammani held.
He further held that section 84(3) of the Electoral Act, 2022, stipulated that political parties should not impose qualification criteria on a candidate, except as provided for in the constitution.
According to the court, sections 65, 66, 106, 107, 131, 137, 185 and 187 of the 1999 Constitution, as amended, settled the issue of qualification and nomination of a candidate for an election.
It held that where an election had already been conducted and the result declared, the qualification of a candidate could no longer be challenged on the basis of sections 131 and 137 of the Constitution.
The court held that since the APM failed to challenge President Tinubu’s nomination within the constitutionally allowed period, its case, therefore, had become statute-barred.
It held that where the constitution has qualified a candidate for an election, no other law can disqualify such a candidate except the constitution itself.
The court held that the issue of double nomination as canvassed by the APM, was not a legally cognizable ground for disqualification.
Besides, the court held that it found no reason why Mr. Ibrahim Masari was cited as the 5th Respondent in the petition since he would not in any way be affected by the outcome of the case.
Consequently, it struck out his name from the petition.
The APM had in its petition marked: CA/PEPC/04/2023, argued that the withdrawal of Mr. Masari who was initially nominated as the Vice-Presidential candidate of the APC, invalidated Tinubu’s candidacy in view of Section 131(c) and 142 of the 1999 Constitution, as amended.
The party argued that there was a gap of about three weeks between the period that Masari, who was listed as the 5th Respondent in the petition, expressed intention to withdraw, the actual withdrawal of his purported nomination, and the time Tinubu purportedly replaced him with Senator Kashim Shettima.
It further argued that Tinubu’s candidature had elapsed at the time he nominated Shettima as Masari’s replacement.
According to the petitioner, at the time Tinubu announced Shettima as the Vice Presidential candidate, “he was no longer in a position, constitutionally, to nominate a running mate since he had ceased to be a presidential candidate of the 2nd Respondent having regards to the provisions of section 142 of the 1999 Constitution”.
The APM contended that Masari’s initial nomination activated the joint ticket principle enshrined in the Constitution, stressing that his subsequent withdrawal invalidated the said joint ticket.
LP rejects judgment, mulls next step
Meanwhile, the LP has rejected the judgment of the PEPC upholding the declaration of Tinubu as the winner of the February 25, 2023 election.
National Publicity Secretary of the party, Obiora Ifoh, made the party’s position known in Abuja, shortly after the court announced its decision.
Ifoh said: “The Labour Party watched with dismay and trepidation the dismissal of petitions by the five-man panel of the Presidential Election Petition Court led by Justice Haruna Tsammani today (yesterday) and we reject the outcome of the judgment in its entirety because justice was not served and it did not reflect the law and the desire of the people.
“Nigerians were witnesses to the electoral robbery that took place on February 25, 2023, which was globally condemned but the Tribunal in its wisdom refused to accept the obvious.
“What is at stake is democracy and we will not relent until the people’s will prevail.
We salute the doggedness of our team of lawyers who fearlessly exposed the wrath in our system.
“We can only weep for democracy in Nigeria but we refuse to give up on Nigeria.
“Details of the party’s position will be presented after consultation with our lawyers after the Certified True Copy of the judgment has been received.
“We urge all lovers of democracy to remain focused and hopeful because a new Nigeria is possible.”
Tribunal verdict, a welcome devt — Tinubu
Reacting to the verdict, President Bola Tinubu, yesterday, described it as a welcome development.
Tinubu also assured Nigerians of his renewed and energized focus on delivering his vision of a unified, peaceful and prosperous nation.
In a statement by Special Adviser on Media and Publicity, Mr Ajuri Ngelale said the verdict will propel him to serve Nigerians.
The statement reads: “President Tinubu welcomes the judgment of the Tribubal with an intense sense of solemn responsibility and preparedness to serve all Nigerians, irrespective of all diverse political persuasions, faiths, and tribal identities.
“The President recognizes the diligence, undaunted thoroughness, and professionalism of the five-member bench, led by Justice Haruna Tsammani in interpreting the law.
The President affirms that his commitment to the rule of law, and the unhindered discharge of duties by the Tribunal, as witnessed in the panel’s exclusive respect for the merits of the petitions brought forward, further reflects the continuing maturation of Nigeria’s legal system, and the advancement of Africa’s largest democracy at a time when our democratic system of government is under test in other parts of the continent.
“The President believes the Presidential Candidates and Political Parties that have lawfully exercised their rights by participating in the 2023 general elections and the judicial process, which followed, have affirmed Nigeria’s democratic credentials.
“The President urges his valiant challengers to inspire their supporters in the trust that the spirit of patriotism will now and forever be elevated above partisan considerations, manifesting into support for our Government to improve the livelihood of all Nigerians.
“Once more, President Tinubu thanks Nigerians for the mandate given to him to serve our country while promising to meet and exceed their expectations, by the grace of God Almighty, and through very diligent hard work with the team that has been put in place for that sole purpose.”
It’s victory for democracy—Sanwo-Olu
GOVERNOR Babajide Sanwo-Olu of Lagos State, yesterday, congratulated President Bola Tinubu for the victory at the Presidential Election Petition Court, and described it as “another well-deserved victory.”
In a statement by his Chief Press Secretary, Mr Gboyega Akosile, said the All Progressives Congress, APC, worked very hard for the victory enjoyed at the February 25th presidential election.
“The Presidential Election Petition Court’s decision, which was in favour of the President is comforting and also an affirmation of the will of over eight million Nigerians who filed out to cast their ballots for the APC and President Tinubu as their choice.
“What we are witnessing today is the beauty of democracy and the rule of law. We had an election in February this year where over eight million Nigerians voted to elect Asiwaju Bola Tinubu as the President of the Federal Republic of Nigeria.”
Time for sober reflection—ADEGBORUWA, SAN
Also reacting yesterday, activist and lawyer, Mr. Ebun-Olu Adegboruwa, SAN, yesterday, said: “The verdict of the Presidential Election Petition Court was not totally unexpected, given the stark realities facing us as a nation and the state of the law.
“The principles of presumption of regularity of elections and that of substantial conformity make it extremely difficult to prosecute elections successfully.
“In this particular case, the burden placed upon the petitioners in order to upturn the election was practically insurmountable. To make matters worse, INEC practically fought the petitioners to a standstill, as if it was an interested party in the whole process.
“I honestly don’t think anyone expected a different verdict from what was delivered in Abuja today, particularly the lawyers. The tension was completely unnecessary. This is why we emphasize always that the focus of anyone hoping to birth a true change in our electoral history should be on the electoral umpire.
“Without first unbundling INEC to make it more independent, non-partisan and effective, anyone declared “winner” will most often coast to victory in the election tribunal.
“Today’s verdict should be a reason for sober reflection by all, especially for the parties in court, their lawyers and all lovers of democracy. The petitions could have been decided purely on points of law and within a few days of the election.
“There can be no real victory in the resolution of the legal issues by the court when the fabric of our democratic engagements seems to have been hijacked and compromised. Part of the lesson in this process is for us to go back and review the electoral process and the litigations following it. INEC as it is presently constituted cannot birth any credible election in Nigeria.”