From Godwin Tsa, Abuja
Presidential candidate of the Labour Party (LP), Mr. Peter Obi, has told the Supreme Court how the Presidential Election Petition Court (PEPC) relied heavily on technicalities to knock out his petition against the return of President Bola Tinubu as winner of the February 25 election.
In his 51 grounds of appeal lodged with the apex court, the former Anambara State governor equally accused the Haruna Tsammani-led five-member tribunal of taking questionable decisions on issues of law that adversely affected his case and resulted in grievous denial of his fair hearing and miscarriage of justice.
Obi, through his lead counsel, Livy Uzoukwu, further contended in his grounds of appeal that the judgment of the PEPC was against the weight of evidence adduced before the court.
Obi, who came third in the poll, faulted the PEPC panel for wrongly expunging the evidence of his subpoenaed witnesses (Pw3, Pw4, Pw5, Pw6, Pw7 and Pw8).
He argued that the evidence of the subpoenaed witnesses were not required to be filed along with the petition by the combined reading of paragraph 54 of the 1st schedule to the Electoral Act, 2022, and Order 3 Rule 3(2) of the Federal High Court (Civil Procedure) rule 2019.
“The decision of the tribunal expunging the documentary evidence on which the petitioners relied adversely affected their case, and resulted in grievous denial of fair hearing and occasioned a miscarriage of justice,” Uzoukwu said.
Uzoukwu said the tribunal erroneously overlooked the fact that the use of technology in the conduct of the presidential election was pivotal to the integrity/credibility and transparency of the questioned election.
He alleged that the panel wrongly concluded that: “the failure to electronically transmit election results cannot be a ground for challenging the election result under Section 134 (1) (b) of the Evidence Act, 2022.”
In addition, the appellants argued that the PEPC overlooked the express provision in paragraph 2.9.0 at page 36 to 49 of the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) manual for election officials and the real time publishing of polling units level results on IReV portal and transmission of results using the BVAS demonstrates INEC’s commitments to transparency in result management…” and is backed by sections 47 (2), 60 (1, 2, and 5), 64 (4a and 4b) and 64 (5) of the Electoral Act, 2022, which confers INEC with the power to transmit election results electronically.
“The court below overlooked the settled position of the law decided in many cases that INEC regulations, guidelines and the manual of the election officials are subsidiary legislation made pursuant to the Electoral Act, 2022; and therefore, have the force of law and command obedience.”
On the issue of 25 per cent of total votes cast in the Federal Capital Territory (FCT), Obi said§: “The court below erred in law when it held that; in conclusion, I hold, without any equivocation, that in a presidential election, polling one quarter or 25 per cent of the total votes cast in the FCT of Abuja is not a separate pre-condition for a candidate to be deemed as duly elected under Section 134 of the constitution.
“The court below failed to appreciate that for the president to assume office or position of the governor of Abuja, he is also under a mandate to secure 25 per cent of the votes cast in the FCT.”
The appellants further held that the court erred in law when it held that; “the European Union Election Observation Mission Nigeria 2023 final report certified by the registry of the Court of Appeal and not by the European Union Observation Mission, which is the custodian of the original copy of the document.”
He equally argued that the tribunal failed to evaluate the proof of evidence he adduced before it and occasioned a grave miscarriage of justice when it held that he did not specify polling units where irregularities occurred during the election
Obi and the LP further faulted the PEPC for dismissing their case on the premise that they did not specify the figures of votes or scores that were allegedly suppressed or inflated in favour of President Tinubu and the APC.
They equally accused the Tsammani-led panel of erring in law when it relied on Paragraph 4(1) (d) (2) and 54 of the First Schedule to the Electoral Act 2022 to strike out paragraphs of the petition.
While accusing the lower court of breaching his right to fair hearing, Obi insisted that evidence of his witnesses were wrongly dismissed as incompetent.
He told the apex court that the panel unjustly dismissed his allegation that INEC uploaded 18,088 blurred results on its IReV portal.
More so, Obi alleged that the lower court ignored his allegation that certified true copies of documents INEC issued to his legal team comprised of 8,123 blurred results that contained blank A4 papers, pictures and images of unknown persons, purporting same to be the CTC of polling units results of the presidential election.
“The learned justices of the court below erred in law and occasioned a miscarriage of justice when they held and concluded that he failed to establish the allegation of corrupt practices and over-voting,” Obi said.
He said it was wrong for the lower court to rely on the legal principle of estoppel to dismiss his contention that INEC bypassed its own regulations when it refused to electronically transmit results of the election from polling units to the IReV.
The petitioners adduced credible and substantial evidence, both oral and documentary, that proved substantial non-compliance with the Electoral Act 2022 by the respondents in the conduct of the election.
“The court below overlooked that the respondents failed to disprove the evidence of substantial non-compliance adduced by the petitioners,” the appellants said, adding that the panel wrongfully dismissed the issue of double nomination that was raised against Tinubu’s Vice President, Kashim Shettima.
Likewise, Obi insisted that the PEPC overlooked evidence that established that President Tinubu was previously indicted and fined the sum of $460,000 in the USA over his involvement in a drug-related case.
“Imposition of a fine is not limited to a criminal conviction, as the word, in law, includes a civil forfeiture,” Obi further argued in his appeal.