By BASHIR ADEFAKA
Today is a day that over 200 million Nigerians have waited for, a day for the determination of direction of law on the votes they casted on February 25, 2023 in exercisation of their franchise to choose their President but which ended in stalemate as Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) allegedly declared winner against provisions of the law and regulations for the election conducts and results transmission system.
Although the declared inaugurated winner, President Bola Ahmed Tinubu, has functioned for 100 days in office now, the legitimacy of his presidency remained a matter of question as his victory at the poll was challenged in court by opposition political parties namely the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP), its Presidential Candidate, Alhaji Abubakar Atiku; the Labour Party (LP), its Presidential Candidate, Mr. Peter Gregory Obi among others.
Five judges, who will decide Tinubu, Atiku and Obi’s fate today are; Justice Stephen Adah – Court of Appeal (Asaba division), Monsurat Bolaji-Yusuf – Court of Appeal (Asaba Division), Moses Ugo – Kano Division, Justice Abba Mohammed – Ibadan Court of Appeal and Justice Haruna Tsammani – Chief Registrar of the Court of Appeal. The storm in the assignment before them today is in the fact that they have a proceeding where one of the parties involved is already functioning as a very powerful President in Africa. A case leading to all eyes of the world to watch closely.
After a conflicting reportage on Monday September 4 about date picked for the delivery of the final judgments in the cases filed before the Presidential Election Petition Tribunal (PEPT) in Abuja, a circular signed by Chief Registrar of the Court of Appeal Headquarters, Mr. Umar M. Bangari, Esq, which confirmed the authenticated date for the judgments delivery as Wednesday September 6, 2023 with advice to members of the public to watch the proceedings on their home television sets as the court process will be televised.
The journey to authentication or otherwise of Tinubu’s presidency legitimacy begins today, either way, it is journey that will be continuous. If the judgment’s pendulum falls on his side and the court confirms his controversial election as declared by INEC Chairman Professor Mahmood Yakubu, while security agencies particularly the Department of State Services (DSS) and the Nigerian Police Force (NPF) have spoken tough against possible eruption of violence by those who will not be pleased with anything other than removal of Tinubu, the opposition will go to Supreme Court.
But in the interim, for the millions of Nigerians and international observers, the wait for the judgments is over with the crack of dawn of Wednesday (today).
There is anxiety in the atmosphere as many will stay love to stay indoor today and, not only stay at home but more seriously, be glued to their information and communication, electronics, online, digital print (newsstands) media, for the court proceedings that will be aired live from the Tribunal venue at the Court of Appeal in Abuja, the nation’s political capital.
The curiosity mixed with anxiety are palpable from Port Harcourt in Southern Nigeria to Potiskum in 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.
The DEFENDER recalls that the judgments that will be delivered today culminated from the events of Saturday February 25, 2023 during which surprises happened as the man that functions in office today as President and Commander-in-Chief of the Federal Republic of Nigeria lost his long-time political stronghold of Lagos State to an unsuspecting and hitherto unpopular Labour Party (LP), whose flag-bearer was Peter Obi.
Tinubu, further, went to lose out in the Federal Capital Territory (FCT), Abuja, where his ruling party has been seated for the past eight years and from where it governed the entire country. Tinubu, candidate of the All Progressives Congress (APC) in the election, also lost out in the neighbouring and complimentary Nasarawa State with another bashing in favour of the same Labour Party in Plateau State as the surprises wind blew through the electoral airspace during the period.
Controversies started when INEC declared winner of the election overnight against what some watchers of the electoral process including the European Union Observers, a section of the Nigerian Bar and members of the opposition parties described as short of expectation of the law.
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. 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 since 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. The date for the delivery of the long awaited judgment is today, all eyes on the judiciary of Nigeria with many locally and internationally asking, “Will the judiciary save or mar Nigeria with their judgment today or next?”