By Wandoo Sombo/Edith Nwapi
The Presidential Election Petition Court has confirmed Wednesday as a date for judgment in the three petitions challenging the outcome of the 2023 presidential election.
Chief Registrar of the Court of Appeal, Mr Umar Bangari confirmed the date to judiciary correspondents on Monday.
According to Bangari, everything has been put in place to ensure that the judgment in the three petitions pending before the court is delivered hitch-free.
They are the petitions filed by the Presidential candidate of the Peoples Democratic Party, (PDP), Abubakar Atiku, The Labour Party and its Presidential candidate, Mr Peter Obi and that of the Allied Peoples Movement, (APM).
Bangari alluded to the fact that adequate security had been put in place and that only the invited members of political parties and the general public would be allowed into the courtroom.
This he said was to avoid congestion and security breaches. He also said that media houses that wished to televise the judgment would be allowed to do so but at no cost to the court.
On June 23, Abubakar closed his case after calling 27 out of the 100 witnesses and tendered electoral documents.
The chairman of the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC), Professor Mahmood Yakubu had on 31 March declared and returned Asiwaju Bola Ahmed Tinubu of as the winner of the February 25 presidential election.
But five political parties and their candidates in the election filed petitions before the Presidential Election Petition Court (PEPC) sitting at the Court of Appeal in Abuja, challenging Bola Tinubu’s declaration as the winner of the election.
They had in their various petitions, alleged that Tinubu was not qualified to contest the election and that INEC conducted the election in gross violation of the Constitution, the Electoral Act and INEC’s guidelines for the conduct of the election.
The five political parties that filed petitions against Tinubu’s victory at the poll are the Action Alliance (AA), Action Peoples Party (APP), Labour Party (LP), Allied Peoples Movement (APM) and the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP).
However, AA and APP later withdrew their petitions. The court presided over by Justice Tsammani began hearing of the petition with the pre-hearing on May 8, 2023. Other members of the panel are Justices Stephen Adah, who is the presiding Justice of the Asaba Division of the Court of Appeal, Misitura Bolaji- Yusuf, Boloukuoromo Moses Ugo and Abba Mohammed.
Atiku and his party on June 23, closed their case while Obi and Labour Party closed their case the next day.
Obi called 13 witnesses.
The legal team of President Tinubu, Vice President Kashim Shettima also closed defence in the petition filed by Obi after calling one witness.
The legal team of Tinubu had proposed to call 39 witnesses, but closed its defence after its witness in chief, the Senate Majority Leader, Michael Bamidele testified.
Led in evidence by Tinubu’s lawyer, Wole Olanipekun, Bamidele told the court that the votes secured by Tinubu in Kano state were not properly recorded and Tinubu had a shortfall of10,929 votes.
The two petitions, marked CA/PEPC/05/2023 and CA/PEPC/03/2023, were brought before the court.
While adopting their final written address, Atiku and the PDP, through their team of lawyers, led by Chief Chris Uche, SAN, urged the court to declare that President Tinubu was not qualified to contest the presidential poll that held on February 25.
They prayed the court to nullify the entire outcome of the presidential election and order a re-run or fresh contest.
Atiku and his party alleged that the Independent National Electoral Commission, INEC, despite receiving over N355billion for the conduct of the election, deliberately by-passed all the technological innovations it introduced for the purpose of the 2023 general elections.
They contended that INEC acted in breach of the amended Electoral Act, when it refused to electronically transmit results of the presidential election.
“On the issue of transmission of election results based on new provisions in the Electoral Act, we are all in agreement, including the INEC, that there is a new regime in election management.
The essence of the innovation was to enhance transparency in the collation of results, which was an area that we usually had problems and not the actual election, and secondly, to enhance the integrity of result declared.
“We agree that INEC had an option and we brought a video evidence by INEC Chairman showing that the electoral body indeed chose an option.
“It is our contention and it is here in evidence that witnesses admitted that results from the National Assembly election were transmitted but that of the presidential election was not.
“My lords, in a situation like this, the burden shifts on INEC to explain. It is not on the Petitioner to explain why there was such technical glitch.
”We urge this court to hold that there was a deliberate non-compliance. The substantiality of the non-compliance lies on the national spread of the non transmission of results. It was national and not limited to certain polling units,” Uche added.
While adopting his own final brief of argument, Obi and the LP, through their lawyer, Mr Livy Uzoukwu, SAN, argued that there was no glitch during the election but an intentional act to sabotage the outcome of the poll.
Uzoukwu, SAN, while calling for the removal of President Tinubu, insisted that “an election where over 18,088 blurred results were uploaded to INEC’s IReV portal, is certainly a flawed election.”
Meanwhile, in the two case, INEC, President Tinubu, Shettima and the All Progressives Congress, APC- through their respective lawyers, prayed the court to dismiss the petitions as grossly lacking in merit.
INEC’s legal team, led by Mr Abubakar Mahmoud, SAN, maintained that the presidential election was not only validly conducted, but was done in substantial compliance with all the relevant laws.
The electoral body argued that the petitioners misconstrued and totally misunderstood the purpose of the technology it introduced for the 2023 general elections.
It told the court that the Bimodal Voter Accreditation System, BVAS, device was introduced for the authentication and verification of voters and for transmission of results from the polling units to the IReV portal.
INEC’s lawyer said there was evidence to show that the commission went to great length to ensure that the technology functioned as designed.
“The applications used on the BVAS device were developed in-house and tested again and again, both for performance and reliability.
“The intention of the 1st Respondent to conduct a world-class election is clear from the evidence that was placed before this court,” he insisted
INEC told the court that it was illogical for the Petitioners to claim that a candidate must secure 25 per cent votes in the FCT to be declared winner of a presidential election.
It argued that such argument would run contrary to the spirit and intendment of the drafters of the 1999 Constitution, as amended, adding that FCT ought to be regarded as the 37th state of the federation that is without a special status during elections.
Similarly, President Tinubu and VP Shettima, while adopting their written address, urged the court to dismiss all the petitions.
Addressing the court through Olanipekun, Tinubu said it would not be in public interest for the court to set aside the decision of the electorates that led to their victory at the poll.
Arguing that the petitioners completely failed to discharge the burden of proof that was required of them by the law, Chief Olanipekun, SAN, further accused both Atiku and Obi of merely dumping documents before the court.
He told the court that his clients won one-third of votes in the FCT, adding that Obi had no locus to challenge the outcome of the election since his name was not found on the register of the LP.
On his part, counsel to the APC, Prince Lateef Fagbemi, SAN, urged the court to hold that Tinubu scored over 25 per cent in about 29 states, adding that “to do otherwise will amount to constitutional absurdity.”
He argued that Obi was “over ambitious” in his petition when he requested for a rerun poll, notwithstanding that he would not be legally qualified to participate.
Fagbemi, SAN, stressed that all the issues the petitioners raised against President Tinubu have all been decided by various courts.
“There is hardly any point agitated by the Petitioners that has not received judicial pronouncement and resolution,” he argued. (NAN)