Presidential election: Court reserves judgement on Atiku, Obi’s petitions

•Petitioners pray for re-run poll, insist Tinubu not eligible to contest
•Don’t set-aside the decision of electorate, Tinubu, APC tell court

•As INEC insists on validity of presidential poll results

The Presidential Election Petition Court, PEPC, sitting in Abuja, yesterday reserved its judgement on petitions seeking to remove President Bola Tinubu from office.

The Justice Haruna Tsammani-led five-member panel of the court, okayed the cases for judgement, after all the parties adopted their final briefs of argument.

The two petitions, marked CA/PEPC/05/2023 and CA/PEPC/03/2023, were brought before the court by former Vice President and candidate of the Peoples Democratic Party, PDP, Alhaji Atiku Abubakar, as well as the candidate of the Labour Party, LP, Mr. Peter Obi, respectively.

While adopting their final written address, Atiku and the PDP, through their team of lawyers, led by Chief Chris Uche, SAN, urged the court to declare that President Tinubu was not qualified to contest the presidential poll that held on February 25.

They prayed the court to nullify the entire outcome of the presidential election and order a re-run or fresh contest.

Atiku and his party alleged that the Independent National Electoral Commission, INEC, despite receiving over N355billion for the conduct of the election, deliberately by-passed all the technological innovations it introduced for the purpose of the 2023 general elections.

They contended that INEC acted in breach of the amended Electoral Act, when it refused to electronically transmit results of the presidential election.

“On the issue of transmission of election results based on new provisions in the Electoral Act, we are all in agreement, including the INEC, that there is a new regime in election management.

“The essence of the innovation was to enhance transparency in the collation of results, which was an area that we usually had problems and not the actual election, and secondly, to enhance the integrity of result declared.

“We agree that INEC had an option and we brought a video evidence by INEC Chairman showing that the electoral body indeed chose an option.

“It is our contention and it is here in evidence that witnesses admitted that results from the National Assembly election were transmitted but that of the presidential election was not.

“My lords, in a situation like this, the burden shifts on INEC to explain. It is not on the Petitioner to explain why there was such technical glitch.

“We urge this court to hold that there was a deliberate non-compliance. The substantiality of the non-compliance lies on the national spread of the non transmission of results. It was national and not limited to certain polling units,” Uche, SAN, added.

While adopting his own final brief of argument, Obi and the LP, through their lawyer, Mr. Livy Uzoukwu, SAN, argued that there was no glitch during the election but an intentional act to sabotage the outcome of the poll.

Uzoukwu, SAN, while calling for the removal of President Tinubu, insisted that “an election where over 18,088 blurred results were uploaded to INEC’s IReV portal, is certainly a flawed election.”

Meanwhile, all the Respondents in the two cases- INEC, President Tinubu, Vice President Kashim Shettima and the All Progressives Congress, APC- through their respective lawyers, prayed the court to dismiss the petitions as grossly lacking in merit.

INEC’s legal team, led by Mr. Abubakar Mahmoud, SAN, maintained that the presidential election was not only validly conducted, but was done in substantial compliance with all the relevant laws.

The electoral body argued that the petitioners misconstrued and totally misunderstood the purpose of the technology it introduced for the 2023 general elections.

It told the court that the Bimodal Voter Accreditation System, BVAS, device was introduced for the authentication and verification of voters and for transmission of results from the polling units to the IReV portal.

INEC’s lawyer said there was evidence to show that the commission went to great length to ensure that the technology functioned as designed.

“The applications used on the BVAS device were developed in-house and tested again and again, both for performance and reliability.

“The intention of the 1st Respondent to conduct a world-class election is clear from the evidence that was placed before this court,” he insisted

He argued that no evidence was presented to establish the allegation that INEC made use of an electronic collation system in any election that was conducted in the country, adding that such a system did not exist.

Mahmoud, SAN, told the court that INEC made use of a “manual collation system,” admitting however that the Commission experienced a technical glitch that lasted over four hours on the day the presidential poll held.

He said it was not true that the glitch was contrived to create an avenue for results of the election to be manipulated.

“The petitioners have failed to establish that there was human interference that led to the said glitch and they have also been unable to prove how the failure to upload results in real time, affected the outcome of the election.”

On the issue of Tinubu’s alleged failure to secure 25 per cent votes in the FCT, INEC’s lawyer accused the petitioners of inviting the court to “adopt an interpretation that will result in absurdity.”

INEC told the court 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 a presidential election.

It argued that such argument would run contrary to the spirit and intendment of the drafters of the 1999 Constitution, as amended, adding that FCT ought to be regarded as the 37th state of the federation that is without a special status during elections.

Similarly, President Tinubu and VP Shettima, while adopting their written address, urged the court to dismiss all the petitions.

Addressing the court through their team of lawyers led by Chief Wole Olanipekun, SAN, the duo, said it would not be in public interest for the court to set aside the decision of the electorates that led to their victory at the poll.

Arguing that the petitioners completely failed to discharge the burden of proof that was required of them by the law, Chief Olanipekun, SAN, further accused both Atiku and Obi of merely dumping documents before the court.

He told the court that his clients won one-third of votes in the FCT, adding that Obi had no locus to challenge the outcome of the election since his name was not found on the register of the LP.

On his part, counsel to the APC, Prince Lateef Fagbemi, SAN, urged the court to hold that Tinubu scored over 25 per cent in about 29 states, adding that “to do otherwise will amount to constitutional absurdity.”

He argued that Obi was “over ambitious” in his petition when he requested for a rerun poll, notwithstanding that he would not be legally qualified to participate.

Fagbemi, SAN, stressed that all the issues the petitioners raised against President Tinubu have all been decided by various courts.

“There is hardly any point agitated by the Petitioners that has not received judicial pronouncement and resolution,” he argued.

On the issue of the forfeiture order by the court in the USA, Fagbemi, SAN, argued that it was not an indictment that was capable of disqualifying Tinubu from contesting the presidential election.

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