By Wale Igbintade

With the Presidential Election Petitions Court dismissing the petitions filed by the aggrieved candidates who participated in the February 25 presidential election, to challenge the victory of President Bola Tinubu, Nigerians are now anxious to know the fresh angle the petitioners will introduce in their pleadings as the legal battle shifts to the Supreme Court, Wale Igbintade writes

It did not come to many Nigerians as a surprise that former Vice President and presidential candidate of the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP), Atiku Abubakar and his Labour Party counterpart, Mr. Peter Obi rejected the judgment of the Presidential Election Petitions Court (PEPC) affirming the election of President Bola Tinubu in the 2023 general election.

In his official reaction to the judgment during a press briefing at the national secretariat of the PDP in Abuja on Thursday, Atiku said he had been a fighter all through his political career and would not relent.

On his part, Obi at a press conference in the commercial town of Onitsha, Anambra State, said he had instructed his lawyers to immediately challenge the judgment of the five-member led by Justice Simon Haruna Tsamani.

While Atiku noted that he respects the judgment, he however said he rejected it. He argued that the way the election was conducted has placed the onus on the judiciary to redress the situation.

He said he had instructed his lawyers to activate his constitutional right to proceed to the Supreme Court.

Obi also said though he respects the views and rulings of the court, he disagreed with its reasoning and conclusions in the judgment.

“It is my intention as a presidential candidate and the intention of the Labour Party to challenge this judgment by way of appeal immediately, as allowed by the Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria,” he concluded.

Recall that while delivering the judgment that lasted for more than nine hours on Wednesday, the court led by Justice Tsammani, unanimously upheld the victory of President Tinubu in the presidential poll.

It said the petitions filed by the three political parties challenging Tinubu’s victory were “all devoid of merit”. It consequently, dismissed all the petitions

“This petition accordingly lacks merit. I affirm the return of Bola Ahmed Tinubu as the duly elected President of the Federal Republic of Nigeria. The parties are to bear their cost,” the court held in its final judgment.

The aggrieved political parties and their candidates had insisted that the election was not in compliance with the provisions of the Electoral Act and the 1999 Constitution.

Part of the grounds of the petition against Tinubu included his failure to secure 25 per cent of votes cast in the federal capital territory (FCT). They also challenged the failure of the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) to transmit election results electronically, adding that the commission deliberately failed to upload results to the IReV in order to manipulate the election results in favour of Tinubu during the election.

They stated that Tinubu forfeited $460,000 to the US government after a Chicago court found that the money was the proceeds of heroin trafficking.

The petitioners also made allegations of suppression of results, over-voting and inflation of votes when they said that from the totality of the evidence, the elections are invalid because of corrupt practices.

In a similar development, the APM asked the court to invalidate the votes of the president on the grounds of the double nomination of his deputy, Senator Kashim Shettima. It argued that at the time Shettima became the vice presidential candidate of the APC, he was also a senatorial candidate in Borno State.

The APM had argued that the nomination of Shettima as Tinubu’s running mate was in breach of the Electoral Act which forbids double nomination.

First to be dealt with promptly by the court was APM’s petition which accused Shettima of double nomination. Chairman of the court, Justice Tsammani threw out the petition for being incompetent and lacking in merit. He ruled that the case against Shettima’s qualification to run as APC presidential candidate’s running mate was a pre-election matter which ought to have been filed at the Federal High Court.

He also submitted that the petitioner should have approached the Federal High Court within 14 days after the emergence of Shettima as vice presidential candidate of the All Progressives Congress (APC). Besides, he said the APM was a meddlesome interloper in the affairs of the APC. He said the APM could only challenge Shettima’s nomination if it could show how the nomination affected it.

The panel also ruled that INEC is at liberty to determine its mode of transmitting election results. Justice Tsammani cited the judgment of a federal high court in suit FHC/ABJ/CS/1454/2022 delivered on January 23, 2023. He said the judgment subsists since the LP failed to appeal against it.

The judges also ruled that Obi and Atiku could not establish that INEC deliberately failed to upload results to the IReV in order to manipulate the election results in favour of Tinubu during the election. They added that the petitioners did not prove how they were affected by the failure of INEC to electronically transmit the results.

“The petitioners have failed to prove substantial non-compliance with the provision of the Electoral Act. The petitioners made the allegation of non-compliance a substantial part of their case. By the provisions of Section 135(2) of the Electoral Act, they are required to show how such non-compliance substantially affected them. If they fail to show the same, the petition fails,” the court said.

In its ruling earlier, the tribunal said the FCT is not treated specially in the election as it is not superior to any state. It said the interpretation of the 25 per cent votes cast in the FCT by the LP is “fallacious”.

“With due respect to counsel to the petitioners, their interpretation of the provision of the constitution, as regards the 25 per cent in Abuja, is fallacious if not completely ludicrous,” the court said.

The court held that there is equality of rights, irrespective of which part of the country voters prefer to live in.

The tribunal also ruled that the LP and PDP failed to prove that Tinubu should have been disqualified from contesting the election on account of a forfeiture agreement.

While reading the lead judgment, Tsammani said the evidence (Exhibit P5) tendered by the petitioners showed that it was a civil forfeiture case. He held that the petitioners failed to adduce credible evidence to show that Tinubu was arraigned or took a plea or was sentenced or fined in any criminal suit in the US.

“The proof must be beyond reasonable doubt. The petitioner must produce two sets of results, one genuine, one false.”

For Atiku’s petition accusing Tinubu of dual citizenship, the court struck it out. Justice Stephen Adah, who took over from Justice Tsammani, after a review of the evidence and documents tendered, struck out the evidence of some of Atiku’s witnesses on the grounds that their witness statements on oath were not filed along with his petition. The court also expunged 37 exhibits tendered by the witnesses from the court’s records.

On the issue of Tinubu’s conviction and the issue of his dual citizenship, the court again held like it earlier did that these issues were incompetent and liable to be struck out and the same were indeed struck out.

The court proceeded to strike out several paragraphs in Atiku’s petition. It also rejected and discountenanced exhibits including witnesses’ statements tendered to substantiate his allegations of electoral irregularities and malpractices at the last presidential election.

While President Tinubu and members of his party were rejoicing over the verdict, it was a case of dashed hope for the supporters of PDP and LP.

Though it is Atiku and Obi’s constitutional rights to go to the Supreme Court, many are wondering why they want to embark on another journey that may lead to nowhere.

Based on the antecedents of the apex court, many analysts are wondering what new evidence the appellants would bring to get judgment in their favour.

Justifying why Obi’s petition was dismissed, a public affairs analyst, Philip Okon, “I said that Obi’s petition was defective. If you claimed that you won majority votes, you should state the number of votes you scored that made you the winner and also state the number of votes your opponents scored that made them losers. It is as simple as A,B, C. That was what Hope Uzodimma did. That was what they did in the governorship election dispute.

“You can’t claim that you scored majority votes without telling the court the number of votes you got and the particular polling units you got the votes from. It is not easy to prove that you won an election because what the tribunal is looking out for is any grounds to dismiss your petition.”

Okon, however, said going forward, Nigerians should agitate for constitutional amendment to ensure that election cases are dispensed with before the winners are sworn in.

But have been lampooning the judges of the court for the judgment, saying they really erred in their decisions. Dissecting and analysing the judgment, those who spoke to THISDAY argued that it did not reflect the weight of evidence tendered before the court. They also faulted the judges for behaving as if they are not part and parcel of the society who saw and watched videos of many the infractions that took place or transpired during the election.

As the legal fireworks shift to the apex court, Nigerians are anxious to know the new angle the petitioners would introduce in their pleadings.