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Presidential Poll: Tinubu, Atiku, Obi Know Fate before Nov 5
Presidential Poll: Tinubu, Atiku, Obi Know Fate before Nov 5

The Supreme Court, yesterday, reserved judgement in two appeals filed against the election of President Bola Tinubu by former Vice President Atiku Abubakar and former Anambra State Governor Peter Obi.

Justice John Okoro, who led six other justices of the seven-man panel, announced that judgement had been reserved, shortly after lawyers representing parties in the appeal identified and adopted their various processes.

“Judgement is reserved to a date that would be communicated to parties,” Okoro held.

The judgement is expected to be delivered any time before November 5, when the appeals would statutorily lapse. By law, the apex court has 60 days, from the day judgement was delivered at the lower court, to hear and determine an election appeal.

Atiku pushed his fresh forgery case against Tinubu, urging the Supreme Court to consider the matter because of its huge constitutional and democratic implications.

But the apex court dismissed the appeal filed by the Allied Peoples Movement (APM), following its withdrawal by the party’s lead counsel, Mr Chukwuma Machukwu-Ume, SAN. Okoro had at the commencement of hearing in the appeal, drawn the attention of the party’s counsel to the fact that the apex court had earlier resolved the issue some months before.

Meanwhile, the ruling All Progressives Congress (APC) described PDP’s legal pursuits against the last presidential poll as delusional, saying the party and its presidential candidate are in for another round of defeat at the Supreme Court.

Both Atiku and Obi are challenging the judgement of the Presidential Election Petition Court, which had on September 6 dismissed their petitions for lacking merit.

The five-member panel had in a unanimous judgement delivered by Justice Haruna Tsammani, held that the petitioners could not substantiate their allegations of irregularities, malpractices, non-compliance with the electoral laws, among others, levelled against the February 25 presidential election.

Atiku raised 35 grounds of appeal wherein he argued that the tribunal erred in arriving at the conclusion that his case was lacking in merit. Obi, on his part, presented 51 grounds to prove that the lower court’s judgement was perverse and should be set aside.

During yesterday’s proceedings at the apex court, Atiku, represented by Chief Chris Uche, SAN, and Obi, through his lead lawyer, Dr Livy Uzoukwu, SAN, urged the court to allow their separate appeals and nullify Tinubu’s election.

The respondents, on the other hand, urged the court to reject the two appeals and uphold the judgement of the presidential election tribunal, which affirmed the declaration of Tinubu as validly elected president.

Earlier, Atiku had while moving his application for leave of the apex court to present fresh evidence of forgery against Tinubu, pleaded with the apex court to look into the matter because of its implication for the country’s constitution and democracy.

Uche informed the court that the fresh evidence was crucial to Atiku’s appeal before the court, adding that the court has inherent jurisdiction to entertain the application and decide on it.

In urging the apex court to grant the application, Uche submitted that the court should not be preoccupied with whether the application was not properly pleaded or whether it was coming late, but look at it on its merit. He further argued that the fresh evidence was germane to good and credible governance in the country, because it was predicated on the issue of eligibility for anyone seeking to vie for the highest office in the country.

The fresh evidence Atiku sought to tender was the academic records of Tinubu, which were handed over to him by the Chicago State University (CSU) on October 2, 2023.

The 32-page document was released to the former vice president on the orders of Judge Nancy Maldonado of the District Court of Illinois, Eastern Division, Illinois, United States of America.

The US court had ordered CSU to release the said documents to Atiku, despite Tinubu’s strident objection, because the court was convinced that it would help Atiku establish his allegation of forgery and lying on oath against Tinubu.

Uche pointed out that the issue of submitting forged document to the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) was a serious constitutional issue that must not be ignored.

“No matter the time it is brought, the court has a duty to look at it,” Uche said, adding that the apex court should sidestep technicality and adopt the principle of substantial justice in this instance.

Responding to the questions on jurisdiction and legality of the documents, raised by Justice Emmanuel Agim, the senior lawyer maintained that the Court of Appeal was not like other election tribunals that were bound by 180 days. He disagreed that the fact that the deposition took place in the office of Atiku’s lawyer robbed it of any legality, since parties, including Tinubu’s lawyer, agreed to the place of deposition and were present and did not raise any objections.

He pointed out that the deposition was carried out on the orders of a United States District Court and as such was valid.

On why CSU did not issue a letter disclaiming the certificate Tinubu presented to INEC, Uche explained that the institution might have considered deposition better than a written letter, adding that the issuance of two conflicting letters on the issue by the institution necessitated the deposition.

The senior lawyer argued that the Supreme Court, as the custodian of the constitution, should admit such evidence and invoke section 137 of the 1999 Constitution to deal with the issue in place of technicalities.

Uche argued, “As a Court of Policy, Nigerians are looking up to this court to look at the fresh evidence and come up with a conclusion that would set the country on the path of credible governance.

“This court must jettison technicalities to do substantial justice to the instant case. The elapse of the 180 days cannot and should not tie the hand of the Supreme Court in doing justice on matters affecting the highest office in the Federal Republic of Nigeria.”

He maintained that Tinubu was not constitutionally qualified to contest the election at the time he did and that the Supreme Court must be courageous enough to disqualify him accordingly.

However, the respondents in adopting their replies urged the court to dismiss the application for lacking in merit.

Lead counsel to INEC, Abubakar Mahmoud, SAN, pointed out that all election tribunals were established by Section 285 of the 1999 Constitution and that the Court of Appeal was not exempted and was bound by the 180 days for the hearing and determination of election petitions.

Similarly, Tinubu’s lead counsel, Chief Wole Olanipekun, SAN, while aligning with the submission of INEC on jurisdiction, pointed out that the deposition Atiku sought to present before the court was not admissible, even in the US. Olanipekun explained that for the deposition to be admissible, the deponent would have to come before the court to adopt it.

Olanipekun, while submitting that INEC ought to have been a party at the deposition, argued that the issue was at large, as the court would not know where to place it within the petition or arguments of the appellants.

Responding, also, APC, through its lead counsel, Chief Akin Olujimi, SAN, urged the apex court to dismiss the application on the grounds that the applicant failed to start at the very court trying the matter.

At the end of adoption of processes, Okoro announced that judgement had been reserved in the two appeals by Atiku and Obi.

Meanwhile, the apex court dismissed the appeal filed by APM, following its withdrawal by the party’s lead counsel, Machukwu-Ume.

At the commencement of hearing in the appeal, Okoro drew the attention of the senior lawyer to the fact that what he was asking of the apex court was to “redo what we have done,” as the apex court had earlier resolved the issue some months ago.

Okoro, who noted that the apex court was not bound to hear every appeal brought before it, stated that the counsel ought to have withdrawn the petition at the tribunal, having been confronted with the apex court’s decision on the matter.

APM, in its petition, had sought the disqualification of Tinubu on the grounds of alleged unlawful and double nomination of his vice presidential candidate.

APM argued that Tinubu was not qualified to contest the February 25 presidential election, having violated the provisions of Section 142 (1) of the Constitution of Federal Republic of Nigeria 1999 (as amended).

The party also prayed for a declaration that the return of Tinubu by the INEC as president-elect was null, void and of no legal effect whatsoever. It maintained that the withdrawal of the 5th respondent (Kabiru Masari), as vice presidential candidate to Tinubu, by the operations of the law, amounted to automatic withdrawal and invalidation of the candidate of APC. It asked for an order nullifying and voiding all votes scored by APC in the presidential election of February 25.

The party also applied for an order directing INEC to return the candidate with the second highest votes at the election as the winner of the presidential election.

However, APC said PDP was deluded in its challenge of the 2023 presidential election results, stressing that the party and its presidential candidate are in for another round of defeat at the Supreme Court.

National Publicity Secretary of APC, Felix Morka, in a statement issued on Monday, said court cases were won on the strength of evidence, not on “capricious tales and fabrications”, allegedly being brought by PDP and Atiku.

Morka stated, “Court cases are won on the strength of cogent, credible, compelling or substantial evidence, not on hollow, implausible, capricious tales and fabrications of the kind that Atiku Abubakar dumped on the court in the guise of a ‘body of evidence’, evidencing nothing.

“The PDP must also be thoroughly deluded to imagine that it can get through the court what it deservedly failed to get through the polls.

“Its claim that the election was ‘manipulated’ against its candidate is both ridiculous and insulting to millions of Nigerians, who voted massively for the All Progressives Congress (APC) and its presidential candidate, now President Bola Ahmed Tinubu.

“The PDP and its candidate’s desperate resort to blackmail, disinformation, misinformation and malicious falsehoods against the president and our great party is intended to prospectively downplay what promises to be a spectacular and ignominious defeat that awaits the PDP and its nemesis of a presidential candidate.”