The Supreme Court, on Thursday, ended the 171-day legal tussle to nullify the election of President Bola Tinubu with the rejection of the election appeals filed by the People’s Democratic Party standard bearer, Alhaji Atiku Abubakar and Peter Obi of the Labour Party.
Atiku and Obi’s appeals commenced on May 8 and were concluded on Thursday, October 26, with the Supreme Court effectively ending their dreams of overturning Tinubu’s election victory.
In the lead judgment delivered by the Chairman of the seven-man panel, Justice Inyang Okoro, the apex court refused to consider the academic records of the President obtained from the Chicago State University, which Atiku sought to tender as fresh evidence to prove his allegation of certificate forgery against the ex-Lagos State governor.
The other justices on the panel-Uwani Aji, Mohammed Garba, Ibrahim Saulawa, Adamu Jauro, Abubakar Tijjani, and Emmanuel Agim, agreed with the lead judgment dismissing Atiku and Obi’s appeals.
An elated Tinubu welcomed the Supreme Court verdict and sought the support of Nigerians, promising to exceed expectations in service delivery in the remaining years of his administration.
The President lauded the judiciary for withstanding “the fusillade of pressure and attempts at intimidation by some political actors.”
In a statement he signed, Tinubu said, “The victory of today has further energised and strengthened my commitment to continue to serve all Nigerians of all political persuasions, tribes, and faiths with honour and total respect for the diverse opinions and uniting values of our citizens.
More so, the apex court noted that the forgery issue, which Atiku sought to establish through the proposed fresh evidence, was not pleaded in any paragraph of his appeal.
“It is crystal clear that the additional evidence did not fit into issues for determination in this appeal. Therefore, this application is refused and accordingly dismissed,” the Supreme Court held.
Citing sections 14(2a) and 132 of the Electoral Act, Okoro said a petitioner is not allowed to amend his petition after the stipulated 21 days, let alone provide fresh evidence.
He said, “A petitioner shall not be allowed to amend his petition after 21 days allowed by section 132. The appellants have not applied to the court to amend their petition flect the fact of forgery, and Exhibit C and D sought to be admitted.
“Facts and documents not pleaded in the petition have no place in deciding the dispute between the parties. I wonder how they want to use the evidence in this appeal.
“Also, let me refer you to the comment by Atiku’s lawyer. It is shocking to have Atiku’s lawyer argue in print that there is no statutory time limit of 180 days for the lower court to decide a presidential election petition. It could have passed for friendly jokes but not for a serious matter like this.”
He declared, “After election petitions have suffered as a result of the provision which allowed election petitions to be heard even until the respondent has completed his tenure, the National Assembly dealt with this mischief by limiting the time which election petition shall be determined.
“It is unfair to suggest we go back to the dark days. There is nothing in section 285(6) of the Constitution to suggest that the court of appeal can hear a presidential petition without time limitation.
“Since the lower court cannot entertain such an application, it follows that this Supreme Court also has no jurisdiction to allow the deposition to be used in this appeal. It has to be noted that the 180 days imposed to hear election petitions is immutable and cannot be extended.’’
“It is a settled law that the time fixed by the constitution for the doing of anything cannot be extended, it is immutable, and it is fixed like the rock of Gibraltar and it cannot be moved, expanded and elongated, or stretched beyond what it states,’’ he stated with finality.
Rejecting Atiku’s prayer for his application on the CSU deposition to be granted, the jurist noted, “The leave cannot be granted. We do not have the vires to admit this deposition. We cannot invoke section 22 of the Supreme Court Act since the lower court has lost its jurisdiction.
“There is no paragraph in the petition to accommodate a case of forgery. If the deposition should be admitted, it would float on the appeal. The appellant failed to convince this court why it waited till after the tribunal delivered its judgment in the petition and lost the 180 days donated to it by the constitution before bringing the deposition.
“It has to be noted that appeals are a continuation of the hearing of the matter in the lower court. With due respect to the appellant counsels, they were tardy and not diligent enough. The deposition does not fit into the determination of this appeal. It is hereby refused and dismissed.”
Furthermore, the court held that Atiku did not prove that the Independent National Electoral Commission did not substantially comply with the provisions of the Electoral Act, in the conduct of the election.
“The witnesses who were the appellant state collection agents and national collation agents were not present in all the polling units which results they have disputed. The testimonies of these agents other than the one they witnessed are nothing but hearsay. The finding of the lower court in discountenancing Atiku’s witnesses cannot be faulted.”
The court also reasoned that Atiku and the PDP did not prove that they suffered any miscarriage of justice as a result of the dismissal of their petition by the PEPC.
It described as misconceived and misplaced Atiku’s contention that Tinubu ought not to have been declared the winner of the presidential election, having failed to secure 25 per cent of votes in the Federal Capital Territory, Abuja.
The apex court affirmed the position of the PEPC that the FCT does not have a status that is more special than that of the 36 states of the federation.
Okoro ruled, “I do not see anything wrong with the decision of the Presidential Election Petition Court when it interpreted the constitution regarding the issue of 25 per cent in FCT. Are you saying if someone scores 25 per cent of votes in 30 states but not in Abuja, he should not be president? Is that how you interpret the law? That is not the law.
“A narrow and selfish approach should be avoided when interpreting the constitution. It should be done in the interest of the generality and not for the benefit of the few. Interpretation of law must not be such that it will reduce law-making to absurdity.
“Let me drive this matter home. Are you saying that if a candidate scores majority votes across the country but fails to win the election in the Federal Capital Territory, can’t the candidate be declared president? I see no merit in this issue and resolved it against the appellants.”
“Litigants are advised to trust the court. It is becoming these days that while a matter is in court, litigants engage in press briefings analysing the case. Based on this, some of their followers send threatening messages to the judges and justices. Matters in court are said to be sub judice, they should refrain from media trials. I need not say more on this. A word is enough for the wise,’’ he warned.
The court said Atiku’s petition had no merit and consequently resolved all the issues that he raised in his petition against him.
“On the whole, having resolved all the issues against the appellants, it is my view that there is no merit in this appeal and it is hereby dismissed. The judgment of the lower court delivered on September 6 is hereby affirmed. I shall make no order as to cost,” Okoro concluded his verdict which was transmitted on live television.
Passing his verdict on the matter, Saulawa described Atiku’s application as vexatious.
“The application by Atiku is frivolous and vexatious and deserves to be dismissed. I find no merit in the appeal. I affirm the decision of the lower court,” he stated.
Abubakar on his part said, “I find the application without merit and it deserves to be dismissed. I find no merit in the substantive appeal and it is hereby dismissed. Parties in the appeal shall bear their respective cost.”
Similarly, Jauro and Aji agreed with the lead judgment that Atiku’s appeal and application lacked merit.
The PDP National Publicity Secretary, Debo Ologunagba, said the party was alarmed, disappointed, and gravely concerned by the reasoning of the apex court.
The opposition party said, “It is indeed a sad commentary for our democracy that the Supreme Court failed to uphold the provisions of the law. Instead, it trashed the expectation of the majority of Nigerians who looked up to it as a temple of impartiality to deliver substantial justice in the matter having regard to the laws and facts of the case.’’
“Nigerians earnestly expected the Supreme Court to uphold and defend the clear provisions of the 1999 Constitution in terms of qualification and minimum requirement for a winner to be declared in a Presidential election in Nigeria, especially with regards to the required statutory 25 per cent of votes in the FCT as well as issues of violation of electoral rules and guidelines, brazen manipulations and alterations of election results by the APC, Ologunagba added.
The spokesman for the Labour Party Presidential Campaign Council, Yunusa Tanko, lamented that the Supreme Court turned a deaf ear to the several pleas made by the party.
Reacting to the judgment, Tanko, stated, “As far as we are concerned, we have brought out our cases beyond reasonable doubt, but the court chose to look at the other side and turn a deaf ear to our plea. And they have taken their decision.
“As democrats, we will not do anything otherwise but rather resort to the masses’ court — the public and people of the Federal Republic of Nigeria. They can analyse this judgment vis-a-vis what they are facing at the moment and what’s the credibility of the leadership already enthroned.”
“To put all these under control, the aspects of the law regarding policing in Nigeria should be looked into.
“At the moment, the extant law centralises the Nigeria Police. The doctrine of necessity should be invoked to allow states and local government areas to establish police services. The police at that level should be vested with all the powers that a police outfit should have in terms of equipment, emoluments, training and so on.’’
Speaking with The PUNCH, the Vice Chairman Of The Board at Highcap Securities Ltd, David Adonri, expected the capital market to play a vital role in mobilising long-term economic capital.
He said, “Distractions are gone now, so he has the presence of mind to focus on his assignment, and he has told his cabinet members that their jobs are secure.”
A Delta State development and environmental justice advocate, Comrade Mulade Sheriff, in a statement on Thursday advised the President to run an all-inclusive government.
On their part, communication firms said there was a need for the government to declare telecoms infrastructure as critical national infrastructure.
The Chairman, Association of Licensed Telecoms Operators of Nigeria, Gbenga Adebayo, called for, “Drive collaborative partnership with key stakeholders such as ONSA to secure executive and legislative action on the declaration of telecoms infrastructure as critical national infrastructure.”
Yerima in an exclusive interview with The PUNCH on Thursday commended the courage of the Supreme Court justices.
He said “We commend the courage of the Supreme Court to speak the minds of Nigeria, which they have demonstrated without bias without looking at ethnicity or religion as a yardstick to why they will not do justice.
The Arewa Youth leader declared that justice is not to President Tinubu but to the country.
Speaking on what the President should prioritize, Yerima noted “I am happy the President himself had admitted that we’re going to face the challenge and they are quite aware of these enormous challenges in the country.
He continued “The President should look inward, and begin to find a way to alleviate this suffering of the masses in the country, there is no story that things are not easy anymore, and life is quite challenging.
“President Tinubu also needs to urgently tackle insecurity. The issue of insecurity has also marred the country. And those are problems he inherited from the previous government. Anybody who wants to be fair to him would have known that these problems were staged-managed, we knew these problems were coming and we’re going to fall into them on the new administration.”
So, it also lies on us as citizens to support him. This is not a moment of agitation. This is not the moment to fight anybody, this is the time to build a country that we can all be proud of.”