Atiku vs Buhari

By Carl Umegboro

The Presidential Election Petition Tribunal for 2019 polls concluded its onerous tasks on Wednesday 13 September 2019 which ended in favour of the ruling party, All Progressives Congress, APC candidate, President Muhammadu Buhari and Prof Yemi Osinbajo that polled 15,191,847 votes; the highest number of votes and met all other criteria stipulated in the enabling laws for emergence of a winner in presidential poll. In the judgment at the Court of Appeal, the court affirmed President Buhari’s victory as a justified win.

Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) candidate, Atiku Abubakar polled 11,262,978 votes to emerge the first runner-up in the poll, but dissatisfied with the results brought actions challenging the return of President Buhari as the winner by the returning officer. Atiku alleged he obtained different figures from the server of the electoral umpire; Independent National Electoral Commission, INEC which purportedly showed he won the election with margins. Unfortunately, INEC disclaimed the purported servers’ data stating that Commission didn’t use the server for the poll and earlier, the Supreme Court dismissed the action entirely for lack of merit. The outcome repeated itself at the tribunal.

Resultantly, whilst Buhari’s supporters hailed the judgments, the oppositions insinuated they were robbed of their mandate by the verdicts, bitterly alleging that judiciary merely delivered the scripts of ‘the-power-that-be’. However, in many developing nations, such insinuations are no shocking news particularly in the camps of the oppositions whenever verdicts favour the ruling party or her government. For example, the same judiciary was massively, overwhelmingly hailed as the last hope of the common man when the court’s gavels, one after another stopped APC from fielding candidates in Rivers, Zamfara, Bauchi, Sokoto and Cross River states recently which made PDP sweep the entire polling units without stress.

Be that as it may, appraising the poll verdicts demands legal reasoning and critical-thinking in determining if justice is actually done as adumbrated by Lord Hewart CJ in the Appeal Court in R v Sussex Justices, ex- parte McCarthy (1924) – “Not only must Justice be done; it must also be seen to be done.” To do this profoundly, the two contentions which bothered on Buhari’s eligibility to contest elections without the School certificate and also the purported poll’s results tracked from the Commission’s server which the court refused to accept are germane. Convincingly, the two are the major causes of actions.

Seriously, the contentions vis-à-vis education qualification ought not to be stretched too far to the Court of Appeal as it is settled ab initio. In fact, it isn’t supposed to go beyond a village square as Part IV of the 1999 Constitution (FRN) as amended which serves as the Interpretation Act crystal clearly dealt with it in a simple language. From it, it is noteworthy that issues bothering on education qualification as far as general elections are concerned are exclusive duties of the Commission as it is statutorily clothed with discretionary powers to even go beyond certificate holders for all elective offices including the office of the President. By implications, a candidate or political party lacks powers to challenge another on the ground of academic qualification as long as it meets the satisfaction of the Commission. This may sound witty but that is the law.

Section 318 (1) (supra) provides, “In this constitution, unless it is otherwise expressly provided or the context otherwise requires – “School Certificate or its equivalent” means (a)a Secondary School Certificate or its equivalent, or Grade II Teacher’s Certificate, the City and Guilds Certificate; or (b)education up to Secondary School Certificate level; or(c) Primary Six School Leaving Certificate or its equivalent and (i)service in the public or private sector in the Federation in any capacity acceptable to the Independent National Electoral Commission for a minimum of ten years.

And (ii) attendance at courses and training in such institutions as may be acceptable to the Independent National Electoral Commission for periods totalling up to a minimum of one year, and(iii) the ability to read, write, understand and communicate in the English language to the satisfaction of the Independent National Electoral Commission, and (d) any other qualification acceptable by the Independent National Electoral Commission.” These provisos show clearly that the Constitution is broadminded and extremely accommodating on the issue.

Apart from the statutory provision above, the court is clothed with powers to reasonably take judicial notice of Buhari’s status in the Nigerian Army as a retired major general in government’s payroll to determine his eligibility vis-à-vis education up to school certificate level. Judicial notice enables a judge to accept a fact without the need of a party to prove it through the evidence on account of notoriety: things of common knowledge.

On the purported results tracked from INEC server which was the basis for the botched action to upturn the election victory in favour of Atiku and PDP, indeed, it sounds absurd in the sense that a serious contention should have been anchored on original results obtained, recorded and signed by all accredited party-agents alongside designated INEC officials at the polling units accordingly. As a matter of fact, the results authenticated by accredited party agents supersede any results found anywhere whether in the server or INEC records.

Thus, any results that are inconsistent with the one duly signed by all the party agents are invariably shams. To leave the results from the polling units and accept whatever data inputted by someone in the server is not a robust action. Instructively, in manual elections, the results from polling units are the primary evidence of scores, unlike online voting that the server is a primary source. Thus, where results in the servers don’t correspond with scores obtained at polling units in a manual election, it shows the server’s data were manipulated. Holistically, the verdicts are profound and distinctively anchored on points of law accordingly instead of emotions and sentiments. Thus, I bow to your Lordships.

Umegboro is a public affairs analyst and Associate, Chartered Institute of Arbitrators (United Kingdom). 08023184542-SMS only

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