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Nigeria

Presidential Election Tribunal: Parties set for final addresses. Here are the issues

Petitioners and respondents at the ongoing hearing of the petition filed by the Peoples Democratic Party at the presidential election petition tribunal are expected to make their final addresses on Tuesday.

The tribunal presided by Justice Garba Mohammed adjourned to that date after the respondents, the Independent National Electoral Commission, President Muhammadu Buhari and the All Progressives Congress closed their cases.

While the petitioners, the PDP, presented 62 witnesses, INEC said it was not embarking on a journey of inviting witnesses because, according to the commission, the witnesses brought by the PDP did not counter the earlier submissions made by INEC.

Like INEC, the third respondent, the All Progressives Congress did not bring any witnesses to the tribunal before closing its case.

The second respondent, President Muhammadu Buhari presented seven witnesses who all focused on proving his education qualification.

Background

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The PDP in its petition had accused the various respondents of liability in a series of alleged electoral fraud that resulted in President Buhari’s victory.

INEC had declared Mr Buhari winner of the February 23 general elections after announcing that he polled 15,191,847 to defeat his closest challenger of the PDP, Atiku Abubakar who secured 11, 262,978 votes according to the commission.

But the PDP and Mr Abubakar insist that the party had scored 18,356,732 votes to defeat Mr Buhari, whom they said received 16,741,430 votes.

While the PDP in its petition accused INEC of transmitting results to a central server, INEC said it never used a server.

Ahead of hearing the matter, the PDP had submitted documents of at least 12 witnesses working with INEC who said on oath they were mandated to compile election results using the card reader machines and electronic servers.

The witnesses comprised seven presiding officers and five assistant presiding officers.

They were six each from Borno and Yobe, and swore they were recruited and trained by the commission ahead of the election.

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During the trial, PDP also showed video clips of INEC resident electoral commissioner in Akwa-Ibom State, Mike Igini.

In the video, Mr Igini explained that the results would be collated at the various polling units into the form EC8A after which the collated results would then be transferred to the card reader and “transmitted to the central server.”

“The results declared at the polling units will then be sent directly to the INEC central server,” Mr Igini said in the video clip.

In a reaction to comments made by Mr Igini at the hearing, President Buhari’s lawyer, Alex Izinyon, brought another video where the INEC Chairman, Mahmood Yakubu, said due to poor information network and possible cyber insecurity, election results would not be transmitted through a server.

“Recall that we have had discussions with the NCC, telecommunication, we have blind spots, how do we transmit results in blind spots,” Mr Yakubu said in the video.

Alleged manipulation

Another point made by several witnesses for the PDP at the tribunal was the allegation that the APC manipulated election results in connivance with security operatives and INEC during the compilation of results in February.

A witness, Yau Yusuf, who told the court that he worked at Dass local government area of Bauchi State, said APC agents took advantage of the security situation after members of the Joint Task Force were called to man election centres following a bomb blast.

“The original result was torn by an APC agent in front of an electoral officer,” Mr Yusuf said.

Mr Yusuf added that copies of the torn sheets were taken away by police officers who promised to investigate the matter. His testimony was meant to strengthen the PDP’s claim that Mr Abubakar’s alleged original votes were interchanged to help ensure Mr Buhari’s victory.

Mr Yusuf’s point was corroborated by several other witnesses, including a former ally of President Buhari, Buba Galadima, and constitutional lawyer Ben Nwabueze when they appeared at the tribunal.

The PDP also submitted thousands of result sheets intended to support its arguments that the results were manipulated during the February 23 general elections.

Educational requirements

Another issue raised by the PDP in its petition is that President Buhari did not meet the minimum requirements for emerging as a candidate for the election, based on education grounds.

In various statements made within and outside the tribunal, the PDP dared Mr Buhari to render his educational certificate at the tribunal.

Grounds for contest

According to section 138. (1) of Nigeria’s electoral act: an election may be questioned on any of the following grounds:

(a) that a person whose election is questioned was, at the time of the election, not qualified to contest the election;

(b) that the election was invalid by reason of corrupt practices or non-compliance with the provisions of this Act;

(c) that the respondent was not duly elected by majority of lawful votes cast at the election; or that the petitioner or its candidate was validly nominated but was unlawfully excluded from the election.

(e) That the person whose election is questioned had submitted to the Commission affidavit containing false information of a fundamental nature in aid of his qualification for the election.

Defense from Respondents

As stated earlier, INEC and the APC said they had studied the evidences alluded by the PDP and found it unnecessary to present any defence in the matter.

Buhari’s counter-arguments

The seven witnesses presented by Mr Buhari in his defense are; a retired general of the Nigerian Army, Paul Tarfa; Mr Buhari’s chief of staff, Abba Kyari; a Deputy Registrar of the West African Examinations Council (WAEC), Osidehinde Adewunmi; his classmate, Suleiman Maiadua among others.

They all focused on proving his educational qualifications during their defence.

Mr Buhari’s second defence witness, Mr Maiadua, told the tribunal that he was the president’s classmate at the Provincial Secondary School, Katsina, now Government College, Katsina.

The 77-year-old claimed they both finished from the school in 1961.

Mr Maiadua was shown a picture of those who were said to be the president’s classmates and teachers while graduating as a Class 6 pupil in 1961. He identified himself, Mr Buhari, and a former President of the Court of Appeal, retired Justice Umar Abdullahi, as appearing in the picture.

The picture was part of the APC’s evidence to prove that Mr Buhari met the educational qualifications for participating in the elections.

Presenting the said certificate, which was admitted as evidence, the third witness, Mr Kyari, told the tribunal that Mr Buahri had five credits including in English in the examination.

Mr Kyari said he had known the president for nearly 40 years.

The 67-year-old also said he signed for and collected the Cambridge documents for his principal.

He also confirmed to the tribunal that the curriculum vitae signed by Mr Buhari did not have any certificate listed, apart from the list of institutions he attended.

He admitted that the Diploma in Strategic Study which he claimed Mr Buhari possessed was not listed in the president’s CV.

Testifying as Mr Buhari’s fourth witness, Mr Adewunmi, said the President obtained a Cambridge University West African examination certificate with five credits, contrary to claims by the opposition.

According to Mr Adewunmi, who said he has worked with (WAEC) for over 30 years, Mr Buhari wrote the 1961 WAEC exams in eight subjects and emerged successful in five.

Mr Adewunmi said the subjects passed by Mr Buhari are; Oral English, C 5; History, A3; Geography, C6; Hausa, C5; and Health Science, C6.

He also said, while speaking during his examination by the APC lawyer, Lateef Fagbemi, that Mr Buhari wrote the exams with 17 others and had an aggregate of 32.

“Whoever has this (the R21 exhibit) has a secondary education.”

He added that the president was listed as number 2 in the list of those “who had taken the examination that year.”

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