Judgement Day: Tension as Presidential Election Tribunal delivers verdict

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The long-awaited judgement day is here. There is tension, anxiety across Nigeria.

It had been reported that hours after the Presidency issued a statement, on Sunday, September 3, to disclose that President Bola Tinubu will be travelling to New Delhi, India, for the G-20 Summit, the Presidential Election Petition Tribunal, PEPT, finally announced that it had set a date to deliver judgement in petitions filed against the outcome of the 2023 presidential election.

Interestingly, the PEPT said the judgement delivery would be televised live.

Tinubu will not be in the country when the tribunal decides whether to affirm his victory, or nullify it, as requested by Atiku Abubakar of the Peoples Democratic Party, PDP, Peter Obi of the Labour Party, LP, and the Allied Peoples Movement, APM, who filed separate petitions to challenge the result declared by the Independent National Electoral Commission, INEC, after the February 25 presidential poll.

It could be a coincidence that the tribunal fixed the judgement on a date the President would be away from the country but Nigerians are waiting with bated breath for the Justice Haruna Tsammani-led panel to deliver its verdict.

The 2023 presidential election was one of the most keenly contested, and fiercely disputed since Nigeria returned to democratic rule in 1999 and the anxieties that surrounded the polls has heightened as the tribunal gets set to announce its decision today, Wednesday.

Already there is tension across the country.

On Monday, September 4, the same day the tribunal announced the date for its judgement, the Department of State Services, DSS, disclosed in a statement that it had uncovered plans by some elements in parts of the country to stage violent protests in order to discredit the Federal Government.

Although the DSS did not link the alleged plot to the tribunal’s judgement, the language of the statement was similar to an earlier one released by the agency to alert Nigerians of plans by some politicians to form an interim government after the 2023 general elections, just before former President Muhammadu Buhari handed over to Tinubu on May 29.

“Intelligence reports have indicated that the plotters include certain politicians who are desperately mobilising unsuspecting student leaders, ethnic-based associations, youth, and disgruntled groups for the planned action.

“The Service has identified the ring leaders of the plot as well as sustained monitoring around them in order to deter them from plunging the country into anarchy,” the DSS said in the statement released on Monday, September 4.

Meanwhile, just before he left for India, Tinubu chaired a meeting of the National Security Council at the State House, Abuja. ⁣⁣

Details of what transpired at the meeting were not made public. But many Nigerians are insinuating that the meeting might not be unconnected with tensions surrounding the tribunal’s judgement.

President not worried about tribunal judgement – Presidency

However, with tensions rising as the clock counts down to the judgement, Tinubu’s spokesperson declared that the President is not worried about the decision of the tribunal.

Special Adviser to the President on Media and Publicity, Ajuri Ngelale, made the claim when he appeared on Channels Television’s Politics Today on Monday evening.

“He’s not worried simply because he knows he won the election,” Ngelale said.

But, in a veiled reference to the controversial ‘All Eyes on the Judiciary’ billboards erected by some Nigerians ahead of the tribunal’s verdict, the presidential spokesperson added, “The President sees no need to threaten judicial officers. He sees no need to raise speculations against the integrity of judicial officers; he believes in the sanctity and integrity of the Nigerian judicial system, he believes the great men and women on the panel will make their decisions based only on the facts before them.”

According to Ngelale, “He (Tinubu) will continue to ensure that no matter what the outcome of the judgement is, he does his part and ensure that our institutions continue to be respected, not just by him, but all actors.”

However, the Labour Party immediately countered the Presidency’s assertion that Tinubu won the election.

When contacted by DAILY POST on Tuesday, September 5, spokesperson of the Labour Party, Obiora Ifoh expressed confidence that the judgement will go the way of the party and its presidential candidate, Obi.

“We are positive that the judgement will favour the Labour Party and our presidential candidate, Peter Obi. We are also positive that the will of the people will prevail.

“Most Nigerians have waited this long and their wishes will be granted. The mandate freely expressed on February 25 will be returned to the rightful winner of the election,” Ifoh said in a message he sent to DAILY POST on Whatsapp.

PDP spokesperson, Debo Ologunagba, could not be reached for comments on Tuesday. Calls to his phone were not answered. He also did not reply to an SMS sent to him by DAILY POST.

Arguments, prayers before the tribunal

The tribunal had since August 1 reserved judgement after parties in the suit adopted their final written addresses.

According to the result declared by INEC, Tinubu of the APC polled 8,794,726 votes to win the presidential election. Atiku, of the PDP, finished second with 6,984,520 votes, while Obi, of the LP, came third with 6,101,533.

Tinubu won in 12 states, just like Atiku. But Obi won 11 states plus the Federal Capital Territory (FCT).

Tinubu’s eligibility to be President after failing to get up to 25 per cent of the votes cast in the FCT is one of the key issues to be determined by the tribunal in arriving at its verdict.

Atiku, Obi and the APM are asking the tribunal to nullify the result of the 2023 presidential election.

Atiku, through his lead counsel, Chris Uche, a Senior Advocate of Nigeria (SAN), had asked the tribunal to declare that Tinubu was not qualified to contest the February 25 presidential election due to a United States court ruling that ordered him to forfeit $460,000 for drug and money laundering-related offences.

The PDP candidate, in the petition marked CA/PEPC/05/2023, also asked the tribunal to nullify the election and order a fresh poll.

According to Atiku and the PDP, the INEC contravened provisions of the amended Electoral Act by failing to electronically transmit the results of the election, even after receiving over N355 billion for the conduct of the poll.

Obi, in asking the tribunal to nullify Tinubu’s victory in his petition marked CA/PEPC/03/2023, hinged his claims on Tinubu’s alleged drug trafficking offence in the US, as well as his inability to win 25 per cent of votes cast in the FCT.

According to Obi’s legal team, led by Livy Uzoukwu, SAN, Tinubu, due to the forfeiture of $460,000 in the US and his failure to receive 25 per cent of the votes cast in the FCT, should not have been declared President.

Obi’s lawyers also argued that the votes cast for Tinubu should be voided because his running mate, Kashim Shettima, was simultaneously nominated as APC candidate for Borno Central Senatorial District and the party’s vice presidential flagbearer, in violation of provisions of the Electoral Act.

The LP candidate equally faulted INEC’s claim that technical glitches were responsible for the inability to upload results on the INEC Result Viewing, IReV, portal.

Rather, according to Obi’s lawyers, INEC’s failure to upload the results was an act of sabotage designed to influence the outcome of the election.

Obi is asking the tribunal to cancel the election and order INEC to conduct a fresh one, or, in the alternative, declare him the President-elect, and order the electoral commission to issue him a certificate of return.

The APM, in its petition, contended that Tinubu’s candidacy was invalidated by the withdrawal of Ibrahim Masari, who was initially nominated as the vice presidential candidate of the APC, going by the provisions of sections 131(c) and 142 of the 1999 Constitution, as amended.

According to the APM, there was a gap of about three weeks between the period that Masari expressed intention to withdraw, the actual withdrawal of his nomination, and the time Tinubu replaced him with Shettima

Arguing that Tinubu’s candidature had elapsed at the time he nominated Shettima as Masari’s replacement, the APM urged the tribunal to declare that Shettima was not qualified to contest as the vice presidential candidate of the APC as of February 25 when the election was conducted by INEC, having violated the provisions of Section 35 of the Electoral Act, 2022.

The party urged the tribunal to nullify and void all the votes scored by Tinubu in the presidential election and also set aside the Certificate of Return that was issued to him by INEC.

Tinubu and APC’s lawyers, as well as those of the Independent National Electoral Commission, are asking the tribunal to dismiss the petitions filed against the outcome of the presidential poll.

APC counsel, Lateef Fagbemi, SAN, now Attorney-General of the Federation and Minister of Justice, had while adopting his final written addresses argued that Tinubu’s forfeiture of $460,000 in the US was a civil matter and should not warrant disqualification from the election.

Picking holes in another critical argument against his client’s election, Tinubu’s counsel, Wole Olanipekun, SAN, had argued that the FCT counts as 37th state for electoral purposes and as such, the President’s failure to get 25 per cent of votes in the territory should not invalidate his election.

Olanipekun urged the tribunal to dismiss the petitions for lacking in merit.

INEC counsel, Abubakar Mahmoud, SAN, faulted the petitioners’ claims that the Commission’s failure to upload results on the INEC IReV portal affected the outcome of the election.

Insisting that the election was conducted in substantial compliance with the provisions of the Electoral Act, as amended, the INEC counsel told the tribunal 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 the presidential poll.

All eyes on the judiciary

Billboards with the inscription ‘All Eyes on the Judiciary’ sprung up in different parts of the country after the presidential election tribunal reserved judgement on August 1.

The billboards were eventually dismantled in controversial circumstances after the Advertising Regulatory Council of Nigeria (ARCON) ordered their removal on August 15.

ARCON said it considered the billboards as “blackmail against the Nigerian Judiciary, the Presidential Election Petition Tribunal, and particularly the Honourable Justices of the Tribunal who are expected to discharge their judicial functions without fear or favour”.

However, all eyes will indeed be on the Nigerian judiciary when the tribunal delivers its verdict today, Wednesday.

Some Nigerians, who spoke to DAILY POST on Tuesday, September 5, shared their expectations on the judgement.

President, Civil Rights Realisation and Advancement Network, CRRAN, Olu Omotayo, said the tribunal’s verdict should not be based on technicalities.

Omotayo said the judgement should be based on justice, fairness and equity.

He said, “Nigerians are divided along political lines. Peoples’ expectations are largely based on their political affiliations.

“Supporters of the APC, PDP and LP are all clamouring that the judgement must be in their favour. But this is like a game of football, not all of them will carry the day. Somebody will come out victorious.

“But the judgement should be based on sound reasoning. Whatever decision they arrive at should be based on sound principles of law, not on technicalities. That is what every Nigerian should be expecting.

“Justice is not a one-way traffic. Justice must be done based on what the law says. The only advice for the judges of the tribunal is that their judgement should be based on justice, fairness and equity and on sound principles of law.”

Also speaking with DAILY POST, Secretary General of the Conference Of Nigeria Political Parties, CNPP, Willy Ezugwu, noted that the eyes of the whole world is on the tribunal.

“The world is watching, not only Nigerians. Everybody is watching the judiciary. We are watching to see what the tribunal will come up with, with all the evidence on the ground,” Ezugwu said.

He also advised against building the judgement on technicalities.

“They don’t have to arrive at the judgement on technicalities. Every person knows – no one can say they are not judges and for that reason, they are not able to decide. That is why Nigerians are crying, they are shouting, they are pronouncing that all eyes are on the judges,” he stated.

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