On August 21, 2019, proceedings in the petition filed by the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) and its candidate, Atiku Abubakar, against President Mohammadu Buhari’s victory in the February 23, 2019 presidential election will enter its final stage with the adoption of final addresses by all the parties involved in the legal dispute. The exercise will then pave the way for the Justice Mohammadu Garba-led five-man member presidential election petition tribunal to fix a date for judgment on the petition.
Road to the Tribunal
Riding on the horse of a disputed election, the petitioners marched to the Court of Appeal on March 18, 2019, and with that, commenced their legal challenge of the conduct and outcome of the polls. The fulcrum of their case is that the election that returned President Buhari for a second term in office was riddled with widespread rigging, malpractices and non-compliance with the electoral laws.
Significantly, the petitioners anchored their petition on the grounds on that “the 2nd respondent (Buhari) was not duly elected by majority of lawful votes cast at the election; the election of the 2nd respondent is invalid by reason of corrupt practices and that the election of the 2nd respondent is invalid by reason of non-compliance with the provisions of the Electoral Act, 2010 (as amended).”
They particularly focused on results from 11 states, namely: Borno, Yobe, Bauchi, Gombe, Jigawa, Kaduna, Kano, Katsina, Kebbi, Niger and Zamfara, where they claimed INEC and its agents “wrongly and deliberately entered wrong results.” They also claimed that they won the election based on the results they obtained from a central server into which INEC allegedly transmitted and stored the election results.
The petitioners contended that “from the data in the 1st respondent’s server, as between the 1st petitioner (Atiku) and the 2nd respondent (Buhari), the true, actual and correct results upon a state to state computation” reflects that the PDP/Atiku scored 18,356,732, while APC/Buhari scored 16,741,430.
They also challenged the election on grounds of qualifications, claiming that the “2nd respondent was, at the time of the election, not qualified to contest the said election; the 2nd respondent submitted to the 1st respondent (INEC) an affidavit containing false information of a fundamental nature in aid of his qualification for the said election.”
Accordingly, they urged the tribunal to declare them winners of the February 23 presidential election. In the alternative, they want the court to nullify the election results and order a fresh election that will be conducted in line with the provisions of the Electoral Act 2010.
To prove its case, the PDP National Legal Adviser, Emmanuel Enoidem, told journalists after the filing process that they have a pool of 20 Senior Advocates of Nigeria (SAN) who are tested in election petition matters, and other senior lawyers who are also working with them, to pursue their case to a logical conclusion. “So we are very ready for the petition. The petition is well packaged. The depositions are well put together,” he boasted.
In addition, he spoke of more than 400 witnesses willing to testify with regard to the petition. “Nigerians are at home with what happened on February 23 in this country in relation to the sham they called election,” he said. “Of course, we are going to re-present the facts to Nigerians, as the facts are already in public domain. We are not going to manufacture facts.”
INEC, Buhari, APC challenge petition
Urging the tribunal to dismiss the petition, the three respondents to the petition, the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC), President Buhari and the All Progressives Congress (APC) filed separate responses to counter the claims of the petitioners.
The electoral body, in its response filed by its legal team headed by Yunus Usman (SAN), hailed the conduct and outcome of the disputed polls as having been conducted in strict compliance with the Electoral Act. It further denied the existence of a central server for the purpose of downloading the results of the election, as alleged by the petitioners.
President Buhari, on his part, denied supplying INEC false information about his academic qualification, while insisting that he was more qualified than Atiku to contest for election. He listed his educational qualifications in his resume as: “Elementary School, Daura and Maid’adua (1948-1952), Middle School, Katsina (1953-1956), Katsina Provincial Secondary School, now Government College, Katsina (1956-1961).” He maintained that he had not “at any time, provided any false information in Form CF001 submitted to the lst respondent, either in 2014 or 2018. The affidavit of compliance to the 2019 Form CF001 was correct in every material particular.”
According to his deposition filed by his lead counsel, Wole Olanikpekun (SAN), Buhari averred that “he is far more qualified, both constitutionally and educationally, to contest and occupy the office of President of the Federal Republic of Nigeria than the 1st petitioner (Atiku); and that in terms of educational qualifications, trainings and courses attended, both within and outside Nigeria, he is head and shoulders above the 1st petitioner in terms of acquisition of knowledge, certificates, laurels, medals, and experience.
“Respondent states further that it is the 1st petitioner who is not qualified to contest the office of President of the Federal Republic of Nigeria.” He challenged the educational credentials and certificates of the 1st petitioner. “1st petitioner is hereby given notice to produce and tender his educational certificates, indicating the schools attended by him, with dates.” In its submission too, the APC challenged Atiku’s qualification to contest the election. This position was predicated on the grounds that he (Atiku) was not a Nigerian by birth and was not qualified to contest the election by virtue of Section 131(a) of the Constitution.
In its response filed by Lateef Fagbemi (SAN), its lead counsel, the party contended that Atiku “had no right to be voted for and returned in the election to the office of President of the Federal Republic of Nigeria held on Saturday 23 February, 2019, having regard to the clear provision of Section 131(a) of the Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria (CFRN) 1999 as amended, which unequivocally stipulates inter alia, that for a person to be qualified for election to the office of President, he must be a citizen of Nigeria by birth.
“The 1st petitioner is not a citizen of Nigeria by birth and ought not to have even been allowed, in the first place, to contest the election. From available records, the 1st petitioner was born on the 25th November, 1946 in Jada, Adamawa, in Northern Cameroon, and is, therefore, a citizen of Cameroon. His father was Garba Atiku Abdulkadir, who died in December, 1957. Prior to 1919, Cameroon was being administered by Germany. But following the defeat of Germany in World War I, which ended in 1918, Cameroon became a League of Nations mandate territory which was split into French Cameroons and British Cameroons in 1919. British Cameroons was administered by the British from neighbouring Nigeria.
“In 1961, a plebiscite was held in British Cameroons to determine whether the people preferred to stay in Cameroon or align with Nigeria. While Northern Cameroon preferred a union with Nigeria, Southern Cameroon chose alignment with the mother country. The transition took place on June 1, 1961. It was as a result of that plebiscite that Northern Cameroon, which included Adamawa, became a part of Nigeria, and by derivation, the 1st petitioner became a citizen of Nigeria, but not by birth.
“The 1st petitioner, therefore, contrary to the assertion in Paragraph 1 of their petition, had no right to be voted for as a candidate in the election to the office of President of the Federal Republic of Nigeria held on 23rd February, 2019 across Nigeria,” it said.
The party then urged the tribunal to hold that by reason of Atiku not being qualified to contest the election, all the votes purportedly cast for the petitioners at the 23 February, 2019 election and as subsequently declared by INEC on the 27th of February 2019, were wasted votes.
Proper trial begins
After sorting out preliminary issues, proper trial kick-started on July 4, 2019 when the petitioners opened their case. It was the first time for Prof. Ben Nwabueze (SAN) to make his appearance at the tribunal for the petitioners. The constitutional lawyer who was wheeled into the courtroom urged the court to ensure justice and dwell less on technicality.
In a prepared speech which was delivered to the tribunal, Nwabueze said: “The February/March 2019 general elections have come and gone, but the generality of Nigerians seem agreed that something was wrong with them, particularly the February presidential election. They suspect that the latter was manipulated or, in more familiar language, rigged. What is not known is how or by whom the rigging was done. An Election Tribunal/Court is now saddled with the task, an intractable task, of finding out the truth about what happened.”
After his short stay in court, Nwabueze left behind Dr. Livy Uzoukwu (SAN) to carry on with the proceedings. He led the petitioners’ witnesses assembled from different states to discredit the outcome of the presidential election. One of the prominent witnesses was President Buhari’s ally, Alhaji Buba Galadima who mounted the witness box where he queried Buhari’s educational qualification. But he was quick to explain under cross-examination, his relationship with the President and why he fell out with him.
For instance, while being cross-examined by Olanipekun, Galadima said he supported the President’s presidential ambition in 2003, 2007 2011 and 2015 because he was convinced that he (Buhari) was qualified to lead the country. He said: “On the four occasions that I supported him, I was convinced he was qualified to be the president of the country. I know he was military head of state between 1983 and 1985.”
He said he did not fall out with Buhari because he was not made a minister, but owing to the President’s failure to abide by their promises to provide quality and fair leadership. “I fought past governments,” he said. “We made promises to Nigerians to provide good governance, inclusiveness, provision of amenities, but he (Buhari) failed to fulfil these promises. That is why I fell out with him.”
Day of video evidence
The proceedings of July 15, was dominated by video show courtesy of the petitioners who tendered 48 Video Compact Discs (DVDs) through the Media Adviser of Atiku, Segun Showunmi. Chief Chris Uche (SAN) who lead the proceedings appealed that some of the videos be played amidst objections from counsel to the respondents. After overruling the objections, three of the video clips were played in the open court. The first video was a recording of a television programme – “Sunday Politics” – which featured an interview with an INEC official, Mike Igini (who served as INEC’s Resident Electoral Commissioner (REC) in Akwa Ibom State. In it, he gave details of INEC’s preparation for the last general elections, emphasising the planned use of card reader for accreditation and electronic transmission of election results through a central server.
In the second video was on an official of the Army, who claimed not to have neither original, photocopy or statement of the West Africa Examinations Council (WAEC) in President Buhari’s personal file. The third video showed INEC’s chairman at a meeting with some members of the Computer Registration Council of Nigeria (CRCN) during which he, among others, spoke about INEC’s plan to deploy technology, particularly a new platform for electronic collation and transmission of results.
Under cross-examination by Usman, Showunmi admitted being aware of other interviews granted by the INEC chairman, particularly those of February 6 and 8, where he spoke about the impossibility of transmitting results electronically. When asked if he could produce his letter of appointment as Atiku’s media aide, the witness said he was not with the letter, but that it could be in his house in Lagos.
He said he knew Igini, and agreed with the INEC lawyer that, in the video marked Exhibit P74, Prof. Yakubu only hoped that “election results may be transmitted electronically, not that it will be transmitted electronically.” The witness also agreed with Usman that the interviews contained in the videos showing Igini and Yakubu, were all done before the election.
Under cross-examination by Izinyon, Showunmi said he was aware of INEC chairman’s interview of February 6, 2019 where he said electronic transmission would not be possible. Izinyon brought out a CD, which he wanted to play for the witness to confirm if that was the interview the witness admitted being aware of. But Uche quickly interjected by objecting to playing the video through his witness. Upon the intervention of the court’s Presiding Justice’ Justice Garba, Uche said the respondent should bring their gadgets to play their video.
He said: “My Lord, these are our equipment,” pointing to the flat-screen television set and CD player mounted in front of the courtroom. “We brought them to play our CDs. They should bring their own. In digital world, there is what they call virus that may affect our gadgets if the CD is played on it.”
The development forced Izinyon to seek for an adjournment until the next day to enable him bring his own equipment. On the following day, July 16, Izinyon made good his promise to provide his equipment, with which the DVD, containing a recording of the INEC chair’s interview of February 6, 2019, which he granted an interview to a private television station, was played. In the video, Yakubu explained that INEC jettisoned the plan to transmit election results electronically owing to two other challenges besides the legal constraint. The INEC Chair said before the elections, INEC officials met with telecommunication experts in the country, drawn from the Nigerian Communications Commission (NCC) and the telecoms service providers, during which two main challenges were identified. The first, he noted, was the inadequacy of telecommunication infrastructure across the country. The second, Yakubu said, was that of cyber insecurity challenges, which he added, had marred such experiments (electronic transmission of election results) in some other countries.
Yakubu said: “On the issue of transmission of results electronically, I recall that we had some discussions with the Nigerian Communications Commission (NCC). And through the NCC, we had meetings with the telecoms service providers. “And we have identified blind spots in Nigeria (areas without telecommunication coverage). Besides the issue of blind spot, we also have discussions with the Nigerian Communications Satellite (NIGCOMSAT). We have not concluded our discussion with the Nigerian Communications Satellite in that respect.
“There are two issues. The first one was communication. With respect to the blind spots, how do you communicate? Secondly, the percentage of the country that is covered by 2G, let alone 3G or 4G network, and there are no 5/ in Nigeria is very small.” He said, in view of the inadequacy in the available telecommunication infrastructure in the country, the commission concluded that it was impossible to adopt the electronic method of election transmission, because the plan was not only to send figures, but in addition to (send) pictures of forms containing details of the election results. Yakubu added that his commission concluded that way “because sending figures is different from sending images. So, we have challenge in the area of communication.”
According to the INEC chairman, the second problem was that of security, particularly in relation to cyber security. He cited examples of countries like Kenya and others which tried electronic transmission of results but experienced security challenges. After the video was played with the equipment brought by Izinyon, Showunmi, who resumed his testimony the following day, said he could not identify the INEC Chairman and his interviewer in the video played by the respondents.
The previous day, he had no challenges identifying Yakubu, Igini and the official of the television station who anchored the interviews, when the DVD were played. But on July 16, when the DVD brought by Izinyon was played, the witness (Showunmi) stunned all when he had difficulty identifying the same people. “Well, the first person looked like the INEC Chairman. It is not too clear…” the witness said, a development that sparked laughter from the audience.
Thereafter Izinyon proceeded to tender the single DVD along with a certificate of compliance, which were both admitted by the court, despite objection by the petitioners’ lawyer. Justice Garba advised Uche to include the reason for his objection in his final written address, as agreed by parties at the pre-hearing session.
Enter INEC Server controversy
Although the petitioners insisted on the existence of an INEC server, many of the witnesses they called were able to provide necessary information about the identity of the said server, its location and address. For instance, on July 8, 2019, three of the petitioners’ witnesses—Peter Obi, Adejuyitan Olalekan and Adedokun Adeoye all claimed to have transmitted results to INEC server at the conclusion of the last presidential election, as claimed by the petitioners.
Obi said he acted as Registration Area Technician (RATECH)/E Collation Officer, appointed by INEC and trained by INEC. He told the tribunal that he was in charge of supervising election in a ward and that his superiors were the Local Government Technician (LG TECH) and the State Technician (State TECH). Under cross-examination by Fagbemi, he said he could not remember the polling units where he worked during the election, and did not use smart card reader on the day of election.
In his evidence before the tribunal, Olalekan, an INEC Presiding Officer during the election, introduced himself as a lecturer at the African Thinkers Community of Inquiry College of Education (ATCOI COE). He said he transmitted results to the INEC server, using a code provided by INEC. “The server is connected to the smart card reader,” he said. “I don’t not know the name and number of the server. The INEC server’s name is attached to the INEC server.” He said the election went well in his polling unit and that no incident of card reader malfunction was recorded.
On his part, Adeoye told the tribunal that he acted as an Assistant Presiding Officer (APO) during the election and that he transmitted results to INEC server. He could not recall the scores recorded by political parties in his polling unit. He also could not recall the number of political parties that contested the election. The witness who claimed to have transmitted results to INEC server, using card reader, said he did not provide particulars of the card reader, server code and the location of the said server in his written statement. He also said he could not recall them.
Another set of key witnesses called by the petitioners on July 19—Osita Chidoka and David Ayu Nyango Njoga—failed to substantiate their claim on the existence of a server. The two said they got information that INEC transmitted results of the last presidential election electronically to a server. Njoga was introduced by Uche as the petitioners’ expert witness. The witness proceeded to describe himself as an Information and Communications Technology (ICT) expert from Kenya.
He noted that he was engaged by the petitioners to analyse results of the election as obtained from INEC server and stored in a website: www.factsdon’tlieng.com. When asked whether it is INEC who owns the website, the witness said no, but that the data it contained were from INEC’s server. Njoga, who said he had never worked in INEC, claimed that the website: “www. facts don’tlieng.com” was owned by an INEC official who provided the election result figures. When asked to name the said INEC official, the witness said: “My Lord, the INEC official is anonymous and I do not know him.”
Under cross-examination by the leader of President Buhari’s legal team, Chief Wole Olanipekun (SAN), Njoga said the website was created on March 12, 2019. When reminded that the presidential election held on February 23 and the results released before March 12, the witness kept mute.
Under cross-examination by Fagbemi, Njoga stated that it was possible to access electronic server and alter date stored in it without the authority of the owner. Njoga, whose report of analysis was tendered before the court, said, with scientific knowledge, one can access any server without authorisation and alter the data stored in it. When asked to interpret some encrypted information in the report he submitted, the witness said he would require the authority of the INEC Chairman, who he claimed owned the server. When asked if he obtained INEC Chairman’s authorisation before he did his first analysis, he said no, but that he used his scientific knowledge and skill. Fagbemi then asked if anyone could also use the scientific knowledge referred to by the witness in hacking into any server and manipulate the date, to which the witness said, yes.
Chidoka, an Aviation Minister under Goodluck Jonathan administration, who was introduced as the petitioners’ star witness, said he served as the PDP National Collation Officer during the last presidential election. He said he was at the PDP national situation room between February 22 and 24, 2019, during which time he interacted with senior INEC officials, including its Chairman, Prof Mahmood Yakubu, and his party’s agents nationwide.
The man who confirmed that election results were collated nationwide manually, said he learnt the result of the election was “transmitted by INEC electronically to the INEC server.” While being cross-examined by Usman, Chidoka was unable to substantiate his claim, as contained in his written statement, to the effect that election results were transmitted to “the 1st respondent’s (INEC’s) server by the1st respondent’s officials. When asked if he witnessed the transmission, Chidoka said he was not present when the alleged electronic transmission was done.
Asked whether he has ever seen the said server or knows its location, the witness said: “I have not seen the server, but before the election and during collation, the INEC Chairman talked about the existence of server.”
Chidoka added that Yakubu spoke greatly about INEC’s readiness in relation to deployment of technologies for the conduct of the election, but said such deployment was subject to existing challenge of lack of legal backing for such deployment.
When asked to provide the address of the said server, Chidoka said the one he referred to was the same address provided by the anonymous whistle-blower. The witness said he witnessed the manual collation of election results at the national level and was told by his party’s agents that collation was also manual at the state, ward and polling unit levels.
The man who claimed, in his written statement, that he knew as a fact that Atiku was born a Nigerian in 1945, said under cross-examination that he did not witness Atiku’s birth but only learnt about the information because he (Chidoka) was born in 1971. Under cross-examination by lawyer to President Mohammadu Buhari, Dr. Alex Izinyon (SAN), he admitted that he did not witness all he claimed happened during the election. The witness said he was at the PDP’s situation room throughout the election period, but received reports from his party’s agents across the country. He said the information contained in his four written statements were all from the reports given to him by his party’s agents across the country. When asked to produce copies of the results sheets in relation to where the alleged malpractices occurred, the witness said he had none. He also claimed not to have signed any result sheet in protest. Under cross-examination by lawyer to the APC, Yakubu Maikyau (SAN), Chidoka insisted that INEC Chairman spoke about his agency’s plan to deploy technologies for the election. He said he learnt that huge funds were budgeted for technology during the election and that INEC Chairman assured that the technology was available, but that they were constrained in deploying them because the law did not permit that.
Although the petitioners had planned to call about 400 witnesses, they could only call 62 while they tendered over 4000 documents within the 10 days allotted to them to conduct their case.
INEC, Buhari, APC close case
On Monday, July 29, 2019, the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) announced that it would not call any witness to defend the petition filed by the PDP and Atiku Abubakar when it was its turn to open its defence. Rather, counsel for the commission, Yunus Usman (SAN) told the tribunal that his client will rely on the evidence it obtained from the petitioners’ witnesses under cross- examination. When called upon to open its defence within the six days period allotted to it, Usman said there was no need calling witnesses to help the petitioners case.
The lead counsel for the electoral body said it would not be necessary for the commission to call witnesses because the evidence extracted from the petitioners’ witnesses during cross-examination was in support of the commission’s case. He said, “We have painstakingly reviewed the evidence of petitioners’ witnesses. We have also painstakingly studied the petitioners’ evidence under cross-examination, which supports our defence and our denial in consonance with our pleadings. My lords, we do not see the need to waste your lordship’s precious time by repeating what their witnesses have repeated under cross-examination. In that circumstance, we will not call any witness to help them prove their case. We therefore, rely on the evidence of their witness under cross-examination.” President Buhari took his turn on Tuesday, July 30, when he opened his defence with three key witnesses, including his Chief of Staff, Abba Kyari. Kyari mounted the witness box and admitted that no certificate was listed on the President’s curriculum vitae and that none was among the documents obtained from Cambridge University earlier tendered as exhibits.
Before his evidence, however, Buhari had, through his lead counsel, Chief Wole Olanipekun (SAN), tendered 29 documents via the president’s first witness, Major General Paul Tarfa (retd), including certified true copies of certificates and results of Cambridge examinations which Buhari took in 1961.
The documents include President Buhari West African Examination School Certificate, WAEC, which was tendered alongside a group photograph he took with his classmates at Provisional Secondary School Katsina State, in 1961, through his team of lawyers led by Olanipekun.
Specifically, the second batch of eight documents comprised Cambridge Assessment International Certified Statement Of Results, West African School Certificate for President Buhari who Olanipekun said passed the exam in second grade in 1961. Others were the collection receipt for the result, CTC of confidential result sheet of University of Cambridge West African School Certificate, 1961, photograph at Provincial Secondary School, Katsina, which showed Buhari with his classmates, group photographs of Form 6 students of his set in school, as well as printout of online news publication of January 22, 2015, with respect to the set. Olanipekun also tendered Certificate of Compliance for the documents as prescribed in section 24 of Evidence Act, and a letter of commendation from a Commandant of the US Army to General Akin rinade on June 13, 1980, concerning President Buhari.
But Atiku’s lawyer, Dr. Livy Uzoukwu, SAN, challenged admissibility of the documents. While objecting to them, he described the first set of documents as “very strange” adding that he would subsequently adduce reasons why the Buhari’s certificate which he said was never pleaded nor listed by the 2nd Respondent, lacked probative value. The first witness, Major Gen. Tarfa, said he was a mate with the President in the Nigeria Army and that they were all enlisted on April 16, 1962. He said they were enlisted upon passing the examination and that they were taught in all the courses they attended in English.
Under cross-examination by lawyer to the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC), Yunus Usman (SAN), the witness said they were not asked to submit their certificates to the Nigeria Army.
Usman: “You submitted all your school certificates to the Nigerian Army when you were enlisted?”
Witness: “There was nothing of such.”
On their part, the counsel representing INEC, Usman and APC, Lateef Fagbemi (SAN) did not object to the admissibility of the documents. Kyari, who was Buhari’s third defence witness, also admitted obtaining the Cambridge documents personally on July 18, 2019. Answering questions put to him under cross-examination by the petitioners’ counsel, Kyari said he was 67-years-old and that he had known Buhari for nearly 40 years. He also told the tribunal that he signed for and collected the Cambridge documents for the assessment by Cambridge. He confirmed that none of the documents contained a certificate as the Cambridge documents were “assessments.”
He also confirmed that the curriculum vitae signed by Buhari did not have any certificate listed, apart from the list of schools attended by the President. He admitted that the Diploma in Strategic Study which he claimed Buhari possessed was not listed in the President’s CV. Under cross-examination by APC’s lawyer, Lateef Fagbemi (SAN), Kyari, however maintained that Atiku was a Cameroonian by being born in Jadda in 1946, which as at the time was part of Northern Cameroon but now in Adamawa State. He also identified Buhari in a picture of those who were said to be the President’s classmates and teachers while graduating as a Class 6 pupil in 19. Before Kyari there was 77-year-old retired civil servant and President Buhari’s classmate, Suleiman Mai’ Adua, who sauntered into the courtroom clutching a picture frame showing 1961 graduates of Provincial Secondary School, Katsina, with the teachers and principal of the school.
The witness who identified himself and Buhari in the group photograph also told the tribunal that the picture which was taken in 1961, also has former president of the Court of Appeal, Justice Abdullahi Umaru, who he said was their classmate. He told the tribunal, under cross-examination, that Buhari enlisted in the Nigerian Army in 1961. Mai’ Adua who admitted that pictures are not the same thing as certificates said he knows that Buhari has two certificates. After calling seven witnesses, Buhari and his party, the APC, closed their defence. Making the announcement, his counsel, Olanikpekun said his team was satisfied with the seven witnesses they had led.
He added that his client, having considered the totality of evidence before the tribunal, decided that there was no need to further waste the time of the court. “My lords, we have studied the hardware, software and even hardcopy of the petition and evidence presented by the petitioners, vis-à-vis the issues, which in our humble view, are in contention and evidence, that is, the issues that have been ventilated in this court and not outside,” he said. “We have come to the decision that it is time that we restrict the legal duel to the four corners of this Court.
He further averred: “We are very satisfied with the evidence we have led and will be closing the case of the 2nd Respondent within the four walls of this Court, where we were trained to operate. I had indeed assured your lordships two days ago that when we start, there would be no going back.” The APC was next to open its defence. However, on the day the president closed his case, the party announced that it was not calling any witness and accordingly closed its defence. Lead counsel for the APC, Lateef Fagbemi (SAN), told the tribunal that his team also found it unnecessary to call any witness.
He told the tribunal: “In the normal course of events, it is the turn of the 3rd respondent to open its defence. I have ruminated over whether to talk now or later. I am eternally grateful to the petitioners for doing such a great work by providing us with the ammunition for defence. Having considered all the evidence, we believe there is no point in indulging in an over-kill exercise. In the circumstance, we will be closing our case. We, the 3rd respondent, announce that we are satisfied with the cross-examination and evidence proffered. In the circumstance, I, as leader of this team, announce the closure of the case of the 3rd respondent”.
Claims and counter-claims
Speaking after his analylsis of evidence adduced by the President in defence of petition, counsel for the petitioners, Chief Uche (SAN), said the premature closure of defence by the respondents is not for any reason beyond the fact that the key witness produced rather than helping their matter threw spanner in its works.
“The old man that came to testify on Buhari’s certificate said the Army never collected their papers,” he pointed out. “The WAEC/Cambridge man said the certificate the President is holding is not from them. Abba Kyari’s evidence goes to support our case that his principal does not have a certificate. The other witness brought a picture of the graduating set of the president and under cross-examination he was asked: “is there a different between picture and certificate”? He answered yes. The question was asked again: “can a picture stand in the place of certificate?’ He said no. In the eyes of the petitioners, that answer makes for a proof that the president does not have a certificate. “For me, the certificate issue is more than INEC server issue,” Uche said. “At the end of the day, it was discovered that no certificate was attached to Buhari’s INEC form, no qualification in the CV was tendered in court.
“INEC that conducted election did not call any witness to confirm that the election it conducted was credible,” he further averred. “APC did not call any witness to argue that the election it won was credible. Only Buhari called witnesses who did more damage than good to his case. Well, we have done our job as lawyers and we are confident that the tribunal will agree with our petition.” On their part, the respondents held the view that they had made sufficient legal submissions to discountenance the case of the petitioners. Speaking for the respondents, Yunus Usman (SAN) was optimistic that the petitioners failed woefully to prove their case.
“That is the reason why we did not call a single witness because doing so would amount to wasting precious judicial time of the court, based on the evidence of the petitioners’ witnesses under cross-examination. The petitioners’ witnesses helped our case and there was no need calling witnesses. Rather, we rely on the evidence under cross-examination”, he explained.
Both camps confident of victory
Both Buhari and Atiku are no strangers to the court. Buhari has gone to the election petition tribunal three times to challenge the outcome of the election won by former Presidents Olusegun Obasanjo, Goodluck Jonathan and late President Musa Yar’Adua, before eventually emerging as President. On his part, Atiku Abubakar wrestled his former principal, Olusegun Obasanjo in court between 2006 and 2007 and came out victorious at both the Court of Appeal and the Supreme Court. The Federal government under Obasanjo had declared the office of his Vice President ,Atiku Abubakar vacant on account of his defection from the then ruling Peoples Democratic Party to the Action Congress (AC). Consequently, his official privileges were withdrawn. Dissatisfied, Atiku headed to court and came out victorious. The two courts held that the president has no power under the constitution to declare the office of the vice-president vacant.
Meanwhile, the combatants have closed their case at the tribunal with each expressing confidence to emerge victorious. Speaking through his lead counsel, Dr. Livy Uzoukwu (SAN), at the close of their case, Atiku and his party said they believe they have sufficiently and substantially proved the allegations contained in their petition. “I believe we have substantial facts and have proved our entitlement to the main relief. I’m convinced beyond any doubt that Alhaji Atiku Abubakar won the election,” he declared. On his part, lead counsel for President Buhari, Chief Wole Olanikpekun (SAN) claimed that the petitioners failed woefully to prove any case against the president. Buhari added that his witnesses have proved that he won the election as rightly declared by INEC.