By Ifeanyi Izeze
On the petition by the PDP presidential candidate Atiku Abubakar against the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) on one hand and the APC presidential candidate, General Mohammadu Buhari, on the other, the Presidential Election Petition Tribunal (PEPT) will on Wednesday, deliver its verdict. Andin a country that prides itself on the advancement of its peculiar democracy, that judgement will “either renew hope in Nigerians for Nigeria or embolden electoral impunity and misdemeanour.”
The brilliant analysis of the issues to be decided by the PEPT captioned, “Reviewing the Intelligence of Atiku’s Legal Counsel” by the Tourplanet84 team, was a remarkable reminder to Nigerians that things can still be done well if only those saddled with responsibilities can muster the political will power to be honest and do things right.
It was obvious that counsels of Buhari’s and INEC’S legal came to the Tribunal with a lazy strategy. Their plans were to avoid cross examination, to explore technicalities, to prevent server inspection and to discredit Atiku’s evidences. Tragically, this turned out to be a very costly mistake as the petitioner’s counsels were able to spring surprises that discomfited the entire force of the respondents’ counsels.
First, when the counsel to Atiku and the PDP decided to merge the issues of non-qualification and false information by Buhari and argue them together, it did not occur to the Buhari/APC’s counsel that it was an ambush to weaken or rather completely disorganize them.
Also the issues of electoral corruption plus non-compliance were merged as well and the counsel to the respondents (Buhari and INEC) fell headlong into this trap by making the mistake of addressing one of the merged issues and abandoning the other, which is equally as important.
The votes of APC were inflated by 5.98 million at the various stages of collation. Also the votes of the PDP were inflated as well by APC riggers just to cause confusion and give an impression that both parties rigged the election. The petitioners consequently argued that a readjustment of the result will show that PDP won the election with a margin of over 200,000 votes.
Interestingly, both Buhari’s and INEC’s counsels did not lead any evidence to disproof the server result adduced by the petitioners’ counsel. This was a big plus for Atiku and the PDP because where a party fails to lead evidence in his pleading, the pleading is deemed to be abandoned.
As observed at the Tribunal, the noise and controversy generated by the server also created sufficient distraction to the respondents’ team, especially INEC. While the Atiku Team was busy proving other grounds of their petition, the respondents were struggling on how to deny the existence of the server.
As part of their lazy strategy, rather than disprove the contents of the server, they took the bait of denying the existence of a server, only for them to admit it later at the close of the case. This threw their credibility into the gutter.
Also, the INEC and Buhari’s counsels assertion that e-collation and transmission of election results were prohibited by the Electoral Act was rebuffed by the petitioners. The respondents were reminded that section 52(2) of the 2015 electoral act as amended had removed the restriction on electronic voting.
While the respondents argued that Buhari’s qualification issue was a pre-election matter thus statute barred, petitioners’ counsel rejected this position.
Atitu’s lawyers argued that failure to fulfil the conditions relating to qualification as stipulated in section 131(d) of the constitution is a valid ground for questioning an election. The case of Dingyadi & Anor versus INEC (2010) was cited wherein the Supreme Court held that non-qualification is a ground for questioning an election in an election petition.
A total of 6,512 polling units results were cancelled and INEC failed to hold a rerun election in those areas, thus excluding 5.6 million voters. That means the election was by all definition of the word “inconclusive.”
Atiku’s counsels also brought in the issue of wrong computation of votes in 11 focal states. The votes of APC were inflated by 5.98 million at the various stages of collation. Also the votes of the PDP were inflated as well by INEC and APC riggers just to cause confusion and give an impression that both parties rigged the election. The petitioner’s counsel consequently argued and established that a readjustment of the result will show that PDP won the election with a margin of over 200,000 votes.
Atiku’s legal counsel cleverly brought in this conclusion at the eleventh hour through a statistician who analysed all the result sheets and compared them with what INEC announced. The respondents did not respond to this allegation because it was an ambush and they were helpless.
Another brilliant move by the petitioner’s counsel was to throw in an alternative prayer to declare the elections as inconclusive and order a rerun. They established that the actual total number of void/rejected votes was higher than the difference between Atiku and Buhari, thus, INEC ought to have declared the elections as inconclusive. The respondents had no answer to this. This was like a Plan B, so that even if the respondents’ team found any technicality to rely on, the case would be salvaged.
Whether anybody wants to hear this or not, there is no level of intimidation nor propaganda overdrive that can deny the obvious. As glaringly proven at the Tribunal, the PDP presidential candidate Atiku Abubakar clearly won the election but INEC for whatever reasons that are definitely not in the interest of the nation and advancement of the integrity of our electoral processes wants to deny him his stolen mandate.
So the ball is in the court of the judges to do the right thing as Nigerians have done their bit by casting their votes for their preferred candidates during the presidential election. I pray that the judges will not be cowed, intimidated or allow themselves to be compromised in a way to bring about miscarriage of justice as they prepare to deliver their verdict. God bless Nigeria!!
(IFEANYI IZEZE writes from Abuja:[email protected]; 234-8-33043009)