#Supreme Court: Judges Who May Hear Atiku’s Appeal

There have been speculations on the list of judges who may sit on the appeal of the Alhaji Atiku Abubakar as the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) and its candidate, Atiku Abubakar, prepare to challenge the dismissal of their petition before the Presidential Election Petitions Tribunal.

The Supreme Court presently has 17 justices, out of which seven must preside over the appeal.

The seven most senior justices in that order are: Chief Justice of Nigeria, Justice Tanko Muhammad and Justices Bode Rhodes-Vivour, Mary Odili, Nwali Sylvester Ngwuta, Olukayode Ariwoola, Musa Datijo Muhammad and Kumai Bayang Akaahs.

However, President Muhammadu Buhari earlier this year directed the National Judicial Council (NJC) to appoint additional six justices.

Some other justices of the apex court include: Justices Amina Augie, Amiru Sanusi, Adamu Galinje, Inyang Okoro, Cletus Nweze, and Uwani Abba-Aji among others.

The Supreme Court, as the nation’s highest adjudicatory body, is built on the foundation of seniority, order and decorum. As such, election petitions, especially the presidential election petitions, are areas where experience and courage are most required on the judicial bench. The PDP and Atiku have been working on their appeal challenging the decision of the five-member tribunal presided by Justice Mohammed Garba.

The panel ruled that PDP and Atiku failed to prove, beyond reasonable doubt, allegations of corruption and non-compliance with the Electoral Act against Buhari and the APC. Lawyers to PDP and Atiku including Levy Uzoukwu (SAN) and Mike Ozekhome (SAN) had preparatory to filing the appeal claimed the judgment was full of errors and inventions of submissions not made by the parties.

Mike Ozekhome (SAN) said several things were wrong with the judgement of the tribunal such as: poor evaluation of evidence, non-evaluation of evidence, misplacement of exactly what the case of the petitioners is, and the fact of provisions of the Electoral Act being misinterpreted and misapplied.

“At the Supreme Court there will be seven very, very good heads that will hear the appeal from here. There is no question about that; we will appeal the judgment,” he said. But one of the lawyers to Buhari, Sam Ologunorisa (SAN), said the appeal by the PDP and Atiku was expected but added that it would help to enrich the country’s law. “As lawyers, our opinions on issues of law and evaluation of facts arising therefrom are bound to differ.

The presidential election petition and the issues so distilled will generate this type of reaction as the stakes are high,” he said. “In all, our legal jurisprudence is bound to be richer and I hope the political class will learn one or two lessons and initiate appropriate reforms to deepen our democracy,” he said.

Meanwhile, Newsflash247 had earlier reported that Chief Mike Ozekhome, SAN, a senior lawyer in the legal team of Atiku and PDP, disclosed that the appeal was predicated on 66 grounds, for which they believed justices of the tribunal erred in their verdict on Atiku and PDP’s petition against the election of President Muhammadu Buhari.

The five-member panel led by Justice Mohammed Garba had in its judgment delivered on Sept. 11, dismissed the petition filed by Atiku and PDP for being incompetent and lacking in merit.

The panel in dismissing the petition held that Atiku and PDP were unable to substantiate their allegations that the election was rigged in favour of Buhari and the APC.

They further held that the petitioners did not produce relevant witnesses to convince them that Buhari did not possess necessary educational qualification for the office of the President of the Federal Republic of Nigeria.

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Alhough Ozekhome did not list any of the 66 grounds on which the appeal was predicated.

The appeal is centered on issues bordering around the qualification of Buhari in the election and the controversial Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC’s) server amongst others.

Among the grounds listed included claims that the judgement of the tribunal was not based on the issues canvassed by the petitioners, especially in relation to the respondent’s academic qualifications.

“Take, for instance, one of the respondent’s witnesses, rtd Maj.-Gen. Paul Tarfa, called by President Muhammadu Buhari’s lawyers said that they did not give their qualifications to the Military Board. Tarfa’s testimony is against the claim by Buhari that the Nigeria military is in possession of his certificates.

“Secondly, Buhari said that he was recruited into the military in 1961 and Tarfa said in 1962, so what is the correct date of his recruitment into the army. Somebody is not telling the truth.

“The issue in question is who entered the different grades for him from both the Cambridge and the West African School Certificate results.

This is the first time that the court will say that the documents are admitted in the interest of justice. So, who entered the different grades for him and if he did it, why?

Another ground of appeal is that the President’s Chief of Staff, Abba Kyari, brought the Cambridge documents dated July 18 and testified on July 20.

The point here is that it was not pleaded, when the respondent replied to the petition of Atiku and PDP. The position of the appellants is that in law, you don’t speak on documents not pleaded.

The appellants are also claiming that the WAEC documents contradicted the Cambridge documents, describing it as a case of forgery and inconsistency in documents.

“On the INEC server, the judgement of the PEPT said the INEC server was hacked and we then asked, which of the servers was hacked?

“The tribunal judgment was based on the Electoral Act section 52 (1) (B), but this aspect of the law has since been deleted in 2015. It is no longer in existence. This was the case in Wike Vs Peterside.

”If the judgment said INEC server was recklessly hacked, then, there is a server and, therefore, a criminal offence. Yet, INEC did not claim so or that its documents were stolen.

”How come the judge reached this scandalous decision?

The appellants are there praying the apex court to hold that the tribunal erred in its decision and consequently set the tribunal’s judgment aside and go ahead to grant all the reliefs sought.

Atiku and his party, PDP had dragged the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) before the tribunal for declaring Buhari as winner of the Feb. 23 presidential election.

Mentioned as respondents are the electoral umpire include President Buhari and his party, the All Progressives Congress (APC).

In the petition filed on March 18, the petitioners amongst other things alleged that INEC in connivance with agencies of the ruling government manipulated the outcome of the poll in favour of Buhari.

They further alleged that Buhari at the time of contesting the poll was not qualified having not possessed requisite academic qualification and as such all votes credited to him in the election be regarded as wasted votes.

Atiku and PDP in the petition therefore urged the tribunal to nullify the emergence of Buhari on grounds of alleged Irregularities, rigging, substantial non compliance with the electoral provisions amongst others.

Among the grounds the petitioners were seeking the nullification of Buhari’s election was that the president lied on oath in his form CF001 submitted to INEC for his clearance for the election.

The president had claimed that he possessed three certificates namely, Primary School Certificate, West African School Certificate (WASC) and Officers Cadet Certificate but unlike others did not attach copies of any of the certificates to support his claim.

They therefore prayed the tribunal to declare them winner of the February 23 presidential election.

But the tribunal in its judgment on September 11, 2019 dismissed the petition for being incompetent and lacking in merit.

The tribunal resolved all issues raised by the petitioners in favour of Buhari, adding that the president did not lie but indeed possessed the mandatory qualification and even much more to contest for the presidential election.

While arguing that the failure of Buhari in not attaching the said certifcates in his form CF 001 did not amount to not having the certifcates, Justice Garba held that there is no law that requires the attachment of certifcates to the form CF001 submitted to INEC to aid his clearance for the February 23 presidential poll.

“It is established that a candidate is not required under the Electoral Act to attach his certificate to his Form CF001 before a candidate is adjudged to have the requisite qualification to contest the election.”

The tribunal in his conclusion on the issue said both oral and documentary evidence before it proved that Buhari has more than secondary school certificate required to contest the election.

“Second respondent has more than secondary school certificate having attended various courses. He is not only qualified, he is eminently qualified”, the tribunal said.

Dissatisfied, the petitioners had approached the apex court to reverse the judgment of the tribunal.

They are, therefore, asking the Supreme Court to set aside the judgement of the tribunal and grant the prayers sought by them.

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