It’s the D-day!
For millions of Nigerians and international observers, the wait for the judgments of the Presidential Election Petitions Court is over with the cockcrow of Wednesday (today).
With bated breath, many will stay glued to their digital devices for the televised live proceedings from the Tribunal venue at the Court of Appeal in Abuja, the nation’s political capital.
The curiosity mixed with anxiety is palpable from Port Harcourt in Southern Nigeria to Potiskum in the faraway Northern region and from Yola to Oyo as Nigerians turn their eyes to the judiciary for its verdict on the February 25, 2023 keenly contested presidential election.
How It Started
The Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) put the total valid votes cast in the election as a little above 24 million.
The electoral umpire said the candidate of the All Progressives Congress (APC) and former Lagos State Governor, Bola Tinubu, scored the highest number of votes — 8,794,726, almost two million votes more than his closest rival — former Vice President Atiku Abubakar of the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP), who polled 6,984,520 votes.
The flag bearer of the Labour Party (LP), Peter Obi, who, in less than a year, galvanised young voters in a manner some have described as unprecedented finished the race with 6,101,533.
Tinubu and Atiku won 12 of Nigeria’s 36 states each, Obi clinched 11 states and the Federal Capital Territory (FCT) while former Kano State Governor and candidate of the New Nigeria Peoples Party (NNPP), Rabiu Kwankwaso, finished fourth, claiming victory in his state — Kano with 1,496,687 votes. The four candidates also secured significant numbers in several other states.
INEC subsequently declared Tinubu as the winner of the poll on March 1, 2023, a victory vehemently rejected by Atiku and Obi as well as their millions of supporters.
‘Go To Court’
Replying his political opponents in his acceptance speech when he was declared as the President-Elect, Tinubu asked them to go to court.
“I know some candidates will be hard put to accept the election results. It is your right to seek legal recourse. What is neither right nor defensible is for anybody to resort to violence. Any challenge to the electoral outcome should be made in a court of law, and not in the streets,” Tinubu had said.
Atiku and Obi as well as their respective parties cited some “anomalies” in the election including the “failure” of the commission’s Results Viewing Portal (IReV) to upload election results electronically as stipulated by Section 60 of the Electoral Act 2022.
Atiku’s PDP and Obi’s LP as well as three other dissatisfied political parties — Action Peoples Party (APP), Allied Peoples Movement (APM) and the Action Alliance (AA) thereafter filed separate petitions at the Presidential Election Petitions Court, seeking the annulment of Tinubu’s victory.
However, the APP and AA withdrew their petitions shortly as the Tribunal commenced hearing on May 8, 2023.
Amid the Tribunal hearing, Tinubu and his deputy, Kashim Shettima, were sworn in as President and Vice President respectively in Abuja on May 29, 2023 after the eight-year double tenure of ex-President Muhammadu Buhari.
At the Tribunal, the petitioners argued that Tinubu and Shettima were ineligible to contest the presidential election.
The petitioners contended that Tinubu failed to secure 25 percent of votes cast in the FCT. They also alleged that Tinubu was indicted for drug trafficking in the United States, and that his academic certificates submitted to INEC were forged, amongst others, claims that Tinubu’s lawyers condemned as false.
Also, Tinubu’s team of lawyers told the Tribunal to reject and throw out the submissions of the petitioners, arguing that the APC candidate won the poll and INEC was constitutionally correct to declare him as President-Elect.
After months of adoption of written addresses and presentation of witnesses and evidences, a five-man panel led by Justice Haruna Tsammani on August 1, 2023, reserved judgment in the matter.
About a month after, the Registrar of the Court of Appeal, Umar Bangari, on September 4, 2023, said the Tribunal will deliver its judgments on the cases before it challenging the victory of Tinubu.
The court also said the proceedings will be open to live broadcast by interested television stations.
In sequel memo signed by Oluwaleye David, on behalf of the Chief Registrar of the court, staff members of the court were asked to stay at home to create a peaceful atmosphere during the Tribunal session.
Police Talk Tough
Gauging the mood of the country ahead of the Tribunal’s judgment, the Nigeria Police Force said that policemen across the country are “fully prepared” to maintain law and order.
In a statement on Tuesday by Force Public Relations Officer (FPRO), Muyiwa Adejobi, the police warned politicians and mischief makers against misinformation and unguided utterances capable of inciting violence.
The police said deployment across the length and breadth of Nigeria have been strengthened to forestall law and order in the country.
“The Police wish to reiterate the commitment to ensuring the safety of lives and property before, during, and after the judgment,” Adejobi said.
‘Dissatisfied Parties Free To Approach S’Court’
Meanwhile, Senior Advocate of Nigeria (SAN), Femi Falana, has said that the unprecedented blackmail and intimidation facing the judiciary over the expected ruling of the Tribunal was unnecessary.
He said parties dissatisfied with the Tribunal eventual judgment still has the opportunity for an appeal at the Supreme Court.
“I am worried that people give the impression that everything ends with the judgement of the Court of Appeal, the Presidential Election Petition Tribunal. Any party that loses on Wednesday still has the opportunity to appeal to the Supreme Court. So, what is the basis for the cheap blackmail that is going on?” the senior lawyer queried on Channels Television’s Politics Today programme on Monday.
‘Tinubu Not Worried’
The Tribunal’s judgment will be delivered while the President is away in New Delhi, India, for the G-20 Leaders’ Summit.
While Obi and Atiku’s camps have been mum since the Tribunal’s announced that judgment will be delivered today (Wednesday), the Presidency said that Tinubu is not worried about the outcome of the court.
“He (Tinubu) is not worried simply because he knows he won the election,” said presidential spokesman, Ajuri Ngelale, on Channels Television’s Politics Today programme on Monday.
According to Ngelale, the President sees no need to threaten judicial officers, saying that the judiciary is in the best position to make independent decision based on the merits of the case before it.