By Eric Elezuo
So disappointed was Alhaji Atiku Abubakar’s lawyer, Livy Uzoukwu shortly after the the Chief Justice of Nigeria, Tanko Mohammed-led Supreme Court panel pronounced its three sentence-judgement that he surmised thus “…unless something drastic is done to electoral jurisprudence in this country, there would be a problem because it is now becoming obvious that petitioners would always find it difficult to prosecute their cases.
In his judgment which lasted in a twinkle of an eye, Justice Mohammed declared 1. “We have examined all the briefs and the exhibits for over two weeks and we agree that there is no merit in this appeal. 2. The appeal is dismissed. 3. Reasons to be given on a date to be announced.”
With the above, the Supreme Court dismissed the appeal filed by the Peoples Democratic Party and its presidential candidate, Alhaji Atiku Abubakar, challenging the victory of President Muhammadu Buhari and the All Progressives Congress in the February 23, 2019 presidential election. And thereby put paid, or rather ruined the presidential hopes of the man popularly known as Atiku.
The Chief Justice of Nigeria, Justice Tanko Muhammad, who led six other members of the apex court’s panel, delivered the three-sentence judgment which put paid to the legal dispute over the poll.
The most unusual twist to the judgment lies in the fact that the CJN while delivering the judgment said the reasons for the decision of the court would be disclosed on a date to be communicated to the parties involved in the case.
He disclosed that members of the panel had read all the documents and exhibits filed in the case for two weeks and found the appeal to be lacking in merit.
The judgment, which was unanimously consented to by the other six members of the panel, came less than an hour after the court took arguments on the appeal.
Other members of the panel who agreed with the lead judgment delivered by the CJN were Justices Bode Rhodes-Vivour, Kayode Ariwoola, John Okoro, Amiru Sanusi, Ejembi Eko and Uwani Aba-Aji.
The pioneer chairman of the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission, Nuhu Ribadu, was among the top members of the APC who attended the Wednesday’s proceedings along with Oshiomhole.
Atiku and his party, the PDP had jointly filed their appeal before the apex court to challenge the September 11, 2019 judgment of the Justice Mohammed Garba-led Presidential Election Petitions Tribunal.
The tribunal’s judgment which Atiku and his party were dissatisfied with, had dismissed their petition challenging the outcome of the February 23, 2019 poll.
Subsequently, the petitioners, on September 23, 2019, 12 days after their petition has been dismissed, filed 66 grounds of appeal before the Supreme Court to challenge the judgment of the tribunal.
They prayed the Supreme Court to nullify Buhari’s victory and either order that Atiku be declared as the valid winner of the poll or order the Independent National Electoral Commission to conduct a fresh presidential election.
The supreme Court panel had claimed that it had been working on the appeal in the last two weeks though it has come under severe criticism as it said that members of the panel will not be made known until the very day of the judgment. A cross section of stakeholders have therefore wondered who was or were reading through the petition in the last two weeks.
But a judiciary source told The Boss that “the fact the CJN said it will not make known the members of the public to the public does not mean they do not know themselves. It is possible that they have been underground, away from public eye in the time under review. So the CJN may not have lied. All he said was that members will not be revealed to the public, not that they were not appointed yet.”
Countering, a PDP member said that “there was no need to fool Nigerians they way the Supreme Court did. They have no reason to play on the intelligence of about 200 million people. If you say the public the members will not be revealed; it means that the members are not known to anybody. They are assumed to be functioning by the time they are known, and made to swear oath of allegiance, and not otherwise. Consequently, whatever they allegedly known should be considered null and void.”
But everyone understood that this is the Supreme Court; the highest law organ in the land, and whatever its decision is final, legally bidding and cannot be contested.
“So whatever it has decided will live with all parties in the dispute, and there is no repentance. It doesn’t matter if the Justices erred in law, or were manipulated; the judgment is final, and Atiku and the PDP can only live to fight another day. This time, on a very clean sheet,” noted a legal practitioner, Mr. Raymond Nkannebe.
While the ruling All Progressives Congress (APC) rolls out the drums to celebrate the Buhari victory, the PDP and Atiku further stretch the strain of losses though can take credit for their faith in democracy and the rule of law. They against all odds placed their fate on the judicial process through, how infallible it is notwithstanding. This is one effort that has been commended by a greater portion of the Nigerian populace, the opposition inclusive.
In his reaction, a more relaxed Atiku said although the Nigerian judiciary had been sabotaged by a dictatorial cabal, his spirit was not broken by the judgment.
Atiku has nursed the desire to be Nigeria’s president for close to 30 decades. His ambition has caused to change parties at the slightest opportunity, fall out with individuals whose interest clashes with his as well as join forces with the unlikeliest of persons. In all, he remains where he is, savouring the highest of the Vice President, which he has been privileged to serve in.
Many believe that the 2019 election was the closest Atiku has got to becoming the President of Nigeria, but forces which his camp itemised as irregularities, electoral malpractices, intimidation, none declaration of server stored electoral results and more ruined the chances. The camp did not also forget the role a ‘compromised judiciary’ played.
By 2023 when another electoral process will take centre stage, Atiku would have been 76 years. It is highly that he will not be willing to participate again. But who says?