...says Buhari eminently qualified, duly elected as President

The Presidential Election Petitions Tribunal sitting in Abuja, yesterday, held that the presidential candidate of the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP), Alhaji Atiku Abubakar, has no case in his petition he jointly filed alongside his party to challenge the February 23, 2019 election that produced President Muhammadu Buhari.

The tribunal further held that Buhari is not only qualified, but eminently qualified to contest the said election based on his academic qualification.

This was just as the Justice Mohammed Garba-led five-man panel, in a unanimous judgement that lasted for almost nine hours, threw out in its entirety the petition filed by Atiku and the PDP.

The tribunal had hinged its judgement on the ground that the petitioners failed to prove all their allegations beyond reasonable doubt.

Buhari was declared the winner of the election after scoring 15,191,847 votes as against Atiku's 11,262,978 votes.

The tribunal distilled five issues as raised by the petitioners in their final written addresses.

The petitioners prayed the tribunal to decide whether Buhari was qualified to contest the election.

The petitioners also asked the panel to decide whether the alleged false information by the president on his educational qualification amounted to perjury.

They further invited the tribunal to decide whether the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) did not transmit the results of the election electronically via its central server.

The petitioners asked the court to decide whether the respondents did not benefit from widespread rigging, over-voting, violence intimidation perpetrated by their agents and security forces deployed to oversee the conduct of the election.

Lastly, the petitioners had urged the tribunal to hold that the president did not secure majority lawful votes.

Delivering judgement on issue one and two wherein the petitioners alleged that Buhari did not possess relevant academic qualification to contest the election and that he submitted fake academic qualification; the tribunal held that: "In determining this issue, the Constitution and the Electoral Act will be read together. Part of the criteria to be eligible to contest election is possession of the Secondary School Certificate or its equivalent. The provisions further defined what constitute a secondary school certificate of its equivalent.

"Part of the provision includes Primary School Leaving Certificate, service on the public of private sector for about 10 years and same being acceptable to INEC, attending a training for a minimum of one year, ability to read, write and communicate in English to the satisfaction of INEC.

"There is no evidence before the tribunal to show that Buhari lied that he attended primary and secondary school. The evidence of R1 and R2 established that Buhari was educated.

"The argument of the petitioners is faulty that Buhari did not attach his certificate to form CF001. The schools attended were mentioned in form CF001.

"An affidavit sworn to by Buhari in the court suffices.

"The law is settled that a candidate is not mandated to attach certificate before he will be adjudged to contest election. Submission or presentation of certificate is not a criterion. All the candidate needs to do is to fill his qualification on the form. It is not only by submission of certificate that a candidate can prove that he has school certificate.

"This has no place in judicial deliberation.

"Petitioners did not call anyone to testify to the authenticity that Buhari did not submit his certificate with the Army. A party who did not make a document cannot tender same.

"Evidence before the court shows that Buhari attended relevant schools and possesses the relevant certificate. He is not only qualified, he is eminently qualified to contest the election.

"The petitioners have failed to prove that allegation of non-qualification and false information.

"All the petitioners said on this come to no issue.

"I have no doubt in my mind that the petitioners have failed to prove that the second respondent does not possess the qualification to contest the election into the office of the President as stipulated in sections 131, 137, 138 of the Constitution. I am also of the firm view that the petitioners have failed to prove that the second respondent submitted false information, which is fundamental in nature to aid his qualification to contest the election into the Office of the President as prescribed in section 35(1) of the Evidence Act, 2011.

"After a review and critical examination of issues one and two of the petitioners, it is, however, resolved against them."

On issue three, wherein the petitioner alleged that Buhari was not validly elected by lawful votes, the tribunal noted that petitioners need to give evidence of his allegation by presenting documents and leading witnesses to that effect.

The tribunal held that: "It is a settled law that the results, as announced by the returning officer, is valid until it is proved otherwise.

"The petitioners who alleged illegality must prove so, call witnesses and also present documents. The petitioners must not pick their evidence from hearsay. It is not enough for petitioners to tender document, but to lead evidence of same.

"Petitioners should be conscious of their onus to prove their allegation."

On the issue of transmission of results through electronic server, the tribunal held that there is nothing before it to prove that server was deployed for the use of 2019 election.

The panel ruled that: "Evidence showed that result was not transmitted electronically. Evidences of the petitioners' witnesses established that result was not transmitted electronically.

"Evidence of five witnesses called by the petitioners does not have bearing on the claim of the petitioners. It is like a drop in the ocean.

"The petitioners have not proved this case."

The Tribunal held that Atiku did not prove that INEC transmits results via electronic server as alleged in his petition.

"The evidence of 62 witnesses called by the petitioners did not prove the monumental malpractice alleged by them.

"The petitioner failed to prove that Buhari was not validly elected.

"I hereby resolve issue three against the petitioners."

On issues 4 and 5 which bother on allegation of corrupt practices and substantial non-compliance with the electoral law, the tribunal held that the petitioners are expected by law to prove same.

"The position of law is clear on non-compliance with Electoral Act. Eyewitness must be called and allegation proved beyond reasonable doubt.

"Bribery during the election is a criminal act and such must be proved by who asserts. The petitioners failed to call witness who are directly involved in this. The petitioners failed to call security agents who must have arrested any culprit. The petitioner also failed to prove to the tribunal that people were arrested based on this crime.

"In the final analysis, the petitioners have failed to prove all their allegations against the respondents beyond reasonable doubt.

"This petition is dismissed in its entirety.

"Parties are to bear their respective cost," the tribunal held.

Other members of the tribunal, Justices Abdul Aboki, Joseph Ikegh, Peter Ige and Samuel Oseji equally agreed with the lead judgement.

Earlier, the tribunal dismissed INEC's application seeking an order of the tribunal to strike out Atiku and PDP's petition on ground that Vice President Yemi Osinbajo is not joined as a necessary party.

The tribunal held that going by the 1999 Constitution and the Electoral Act, a Vice President is not a necessary party, but an interested one.

The tribunal further held that the Vice President need not be joined in the petition since the candidate of the party and the party itself are joined in the petition.

The tribunal struck out the paragraph alleging that tradermoni which was taxpayers' money was used to bribe electorate to vote for Buhari.

The tribunal held that it does not have jurisdiction on how public fund is spent.

The tribunal also dismissed another application by INEC praying the tribunal to strike out the list of witnesses on the ground that the name of Atiku's lawyer, Livy Uzoukwu (SAN) is not a lawyer known to practice in Nigeria and not enrolled in Supreme Court.

Moreso, the tribunal expunged paragraphs where Atiku alleged security agencies of unlawful interference during election.

The tribunal hinged its ruling on ground that Atiku did not join them as parties in the petition.

The panel further struck out Atiku's star witness, Osita Chidoka's witness statement for raising fresh issues and for being filed seven days after the stipulated time.

The tribunal refused APC's application challenging the competence of Atiku's petition.

In addition, the tribunal struck out APC's application arguing that Atiku is not qualified to contest because he (Atiku) is not a Nigerian.

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