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MARATHON JUDGMENT: How Tribunal Dismissed Obi, Atiku’s Petitions, Affirms Tinubu’s Victory.

Tinubu, Atiku, Obi.

The Presidential Election Petitions Court delivered a 12-hour marathon judgment on Wednesday, throwing out the petitions of the Allied Peoples Movement (APM); the petitions of the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) and its flag bearer, Atiku Abubakar; as well as the petitions of Labour Party (LP) and its presidential candidate, Peter Obi; challenging the victory of President Bola Tinubu of the All Progressives Congress (APC) in the February 25, 2023 poll.

The five-man panel led by Justice Haruna Tsammani did not only dismiss the consolidated petitions of the PDP, the APM and the LP, the panel also clearly affirmed the victory of Tinubu, a former governor of Lagos State, in the presidential poll.

Justice Tsammani said, “This petition accordingly lacks merit. I affirm the return of Bola Ahmed Tinubu as the duly elected President of the Federal Republic of Nigeria. The parties are to bear their cost.”

After much anticipation, the Tribunal delivered its judgment at the Court of Appeal in Abuja, a proceeding that was televised live from 9am to minutes past 9pm.

Some of the notable persons present at the proceeding crowded by Senior Advocate of Nigeria (SAN) include Vice-President Kashim Shettima of the APC, Chief of Staff Femi Gbajabiamila; and LP’s Julius Abure, among others.

Significantly, Obi and Atiku whom had observed previous proceedings of the Tribunal, were not in court on Wednesday. Tinubu was also not in court as he is away in India for the G-20 summit.

The Tribunal first delivered its verdict on the petitions of the APM, followed by the LP and the PDP.

Court Strikes Out APM’s Suit
In the case of the APM, the Tribunal dismissed the suit of the party seeking to nullify Tinubu’s election for lacking in merit and being incompetent.

Justice Tsammani, who read the judgment, held that issues the APM raised in its petition contained pre-election matters that could only be determined by the Federal High Court.

The court further upheld the preliminary objections of the respondents who challenged the competence of the suit.

Justice Tsammani noted that since the petition centred on the qualification of Tinubu to contest the presidential election, 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.

Furthermore, the court 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.

The court noted that the main grouse of the APM was on the alleged invalid nomination of Tinubu’s then running mate, Shettima.

He further held that Section 84(3) of the Electoral Act, 2022, stipulates that political parties should not impose qualification criteria on a candidate, except as provided for in the constitution.

It held that where an election has 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.

‘INEC At Liberty To Prescribe Mode Of Results Transmission’
The Tribunal moved to the petitions of the Labour Party and ruled that the LP’s petition of irregularities in the 2023 presidential election was generic.

The court ruled that the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) was at liberty to decide the mode of transmission of election results during the presidential election on February 25, 2023.

The panel said according to Sections 52 and 65 of the Electoral Act 2022, INEC was at liberty to prescribe the manner in which election results were transmitted during the poll.

The Tribunal consequently dismissed the petition of the LP and Obi, which argued that the victory of Tinubu be annulled on the basis on the “failure” of the commission’s Results Viewing Portal (IReV) to upload election results electronically in real time.

The Tribunal also dismissed Obi and LP’s petitions on 25 per cent votes of Tinubu in the Federal Capital Territory (FCT), saying that Abuja is like other states.

The court said the Electoral Act 2022 made no provision for electronic transmission of election results.

The five-man panel, said the only technological device that was mandatory for INEC to use for the election is the Bimodal Voter Accreditation System (BVAS).

Still on the issue of non-compliance with the Electoral Act and INEC Regulations and Guidelines, Justice Tsammani said there is nothing in the regulation to show that the BVAS must electronically transmit polling units’ results.

The Tribunal also held that the commission’s Results Viewing Portal (IReV) is not a collation system and the judgment in the case of Oyetola Vs INEC clearly supports this.

“There is no provision for the electronic transmission of election results in the Electoral Act 2022,” says Justice Tsammani. “It is at best optional.”

‘Obi Failed To Prove INEC Refused To Promptly Upload Results Online’
Furthermore, the Tribunal ruled that the Labour Party and Obi failed to establish that INEC deliberately refused to promptly upload polling unit results to its Results Viewing Portal (IReV) in order to manipulate the results in favour of Tinubu of APC.

“The petitioner made the allegation of non-compliance a substantial part of their case. By the provisions of Section 135(2) of the Electoral Act, they are required to show how such non-compliance substantially affected them. If they fail to show same, the petition fails.”

The petitioner also made allegations of suppression of results, overvoting and inflation of votes when they said that from the totality of the evidence, the elections are invalid by reason of corrupt practices.

‘Obi, LP Failed To Prove Tinubu Was Convicted For Money Laundering’
In addition, the Tribunal ruled that the Labour Party Obi failed to prove that Tinubu was convicted for money laundering in the United States.

The panel ruled that no record of criminal arrest or conviction was established against Tinubu by the petitioners – Obi and the LP.

Tinubu had allegedly forfeited $460,000 in the US over three decades ago and the petitioners alleged that he was involved in drug trafficking and money laundering.

However, the Tribunal ruled that no criminal charge was filed against Tinubu in the US and that the APC candidate did not go through a criminal trial in America.

The Tribunal said the petitioners failed to prove that the allegation at the United States District Court, Northern District of Illinois, Eastern Division where the forfeiture occurred was a criminal case.

Justice Tsammani said the ex-governor of Lagos State was not convicted of any crime or any criminal activity and no sentence of imprisonment or fine was imposed on him.

He said according to Section 137 of the constitution, Tinubu is not disqualified from contesting the presidential poll.

Moving on to the PDP and Atiku, the Tribunal struck out the petitioners’ case alleging that Tinubu owns dual citizenship and so should be disqualified from the poll.

The panel also struck out the evidence of some of Atiku’s witnesses on the grounds that that their witness statements on oath were not filed along with his petition.

The court also expunged 37 exhibits tendered by the witnesses from the court’s records.

On the issue of dumping of documents on the court, he held that this would only go to the weight to be attached to such evidence.

On the issue of Tinubu’s conviction and the issue of his dual citizenship, the Tribunal again held like it earlier did that this issues were incompetent and liable to be struck out and same were indeed struck out.

On the inability of the election officers to transmit, of the 27 witnesses called by the petitioner, 10 were polling unit agents who testified as to how the elections were conducted in their different polling unit.

All 10 of the witnesses testified that the voting went well and was peaceful in their different polling units but they all said they could not upload results electronically to the portal of INEC, so they entered the results manually and took same to the ward and or state collation center.

The witnesses were emphatic that voting went well, party agents signed the results but the only difficulty was in uploading the results electronically.

The Tribunal strongly stressed that litigation is fought on pleadings, parties swim or sink on their pleadings.

On the allegations that agents of the respondents disrupted the elections, the petitioners said video recordings will be tendered as proof but this was not done.

Issue two was on the 25 percent in the Federal Capital Territory (FCT) and the court simply adopted its earlier decision on the issue.

Issue three was on the qualification of the Tinubu because of the alleged indictment but the petitioners did not place believable evidence before the court.

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