President Muhammadu Buhari yesterday told the Presidential Election Petitions Tribunal sitting in Abuja that it cannot stop his swearing-in slated for May 29.
Buhari’s response was sequel to a fresh application filed by the Hope Democratic Party (HDP), which is asking the Tribunal to stop his planned swearing-in of the President on the ground that his election was in breach of Electoral Law.
The party submitted that it will be unfair and unjust to inaugurate Buhari on the ground that the election that produced him is being challenged at the Tribunal.
Though, yet to file his response officially, Buhari, through his counsel, Chief Wole Olanipekun (SAN), told the five-man panel of the Tribunal that what the party is challenging in the petition is a referendum conducted on February 23, adding that in law, what the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) conducted was an election and not a referendum.
His words: “My lords, the application of the petitioners is laughable and incompetent in law.
“The petitioners, by the nature of their request, were seeking a cancellation of a referendum. But unfortunately, INEC did not conduct a referendum but rather an election.
“We will address through reply, all the issues raised by the petitioners.”
Buhari was the Presidential candidate of the All Progressives Congress (APC) and winner of the February 23 Presidential election.
The President polled 15,191,847 votes to defeat his closest rival and the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) candidate, Alhaji Atiku Abubakar who secured 11,262,978 votes.
Olanipekun, alongside INEC’s counsel, Yunus Ustaz Usman (SAN) and that of APC, Lateef Fagbemi (SAN), told the Tribunal that they will need time to respond to the application when the petitioner serve them.
HDP had applied for a court order to stop Buhari from being sworn in for a second term on May 29.
The party and its presidential candidate, Chief Ambrose Owuru, in a fresh motion, asked the Tribunal to restrain the Acting Chief Justice of Nigeria (CJN), Justice Tanko Muhammad, from administering any oath on President Buhari at the expiration of his current term, pending the determination of the petition challenging his re-election.
The petitioners further applied for an order of the tribunal to restrain President Buhari from presenting himself to be sworn in, until “the question as to whether he has been validly elected”, is determined.
The motion was predicated on sections 1(2), 6(6), 139, 239 of the 1999 Constitution (as amended) as well as on sections 26(4) (5), 138(1) (b) of the Electoral Act, 2010 (as amended).
Cited as 1st to 3rd Respondents in the matter were President Buhari, INEC, and the APC.
Specifically, two principal prayers in the motion on notice, dated May 9, read: “An order of this honourable court restraining the 1st respondent herein from presenting himself on May 29, 2019 or any other date for swearing-in or inauguration ceremony or taking the oath of allegiance or office as the President of the Federal Republic of Nigeria, pending the determination of this petition and the question as to whether he has been validly elected as challenged and pending before the court.
“An order of this honourable court restraining the Chief Justice of Nigeria or any other Justice in that stead from swearing-in, administering the oath of allegiance and oath of office or participating in the inauguration ceremony on May 29, 2019 or any other date to swear in the 1st respondent, as the President of the Federal Republic of Nigeria pending the determination of this petition contesting the validity of the substituted and questioned presidential election of February 23, 2019.”
Enumerating grounds upon which they filed the motion, the HPD and its candidate, who secured a total of 1,663 votes in the presidential election, contended that it would be legally inappropriate to allow President Buhari to assume office on the basis of an election that he did not validly win.
The petitioner is praying for: “A restraining order by this court is appropriate to preserve the subject matter of this petition and prevent the 1st Respondent from foisting a fiat accompli and state of hopelessness on the court and render the election petition before the court nugatory.
“The law is settled that once the question of the validity of Election of any person is challenged as to whether he is validly elected or not, the person is not competent to take office or assume the seat of power. See sections 139 and 239 of the 1999 Constitution, Nwobodo Vs. Onoh (1981),1 Sc p.97, and also Collins Obih V Sam Mbakwe (1984) 1SCNLR 192, 202 and 203.
“The Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria prohibits and forbids that Nigeria or any part thereof be governed or taken over by any person or group of persons except in accordance with the provisions of the constitution. See section 1(2) of the 1999 Constitution, as amended.”
The petitioners, through their counsel, Oliver Eya, noted that pleadings have been concluded between parties in the petition they lodged against the presidential election fixed for pre-trial hearing session.
“In spite of the pendency and scheduled hearing of this petition over the invalidity of the questioned substituted Presidential Election and return of the 1st Respondent of February 23, 2019, for reason of non-compliance and violation of the provisions of the Electoral Act 2010, the 1st Respondent is frantically making preparation to be sworn in and inaugurated on the 29th of May 2019, inviting the Chief Justice of Nigeria and the public,” the petitioners added.
In a 21-paragraph affidavit that was deposed to by one Anwal Abdullahi, the petitioners insisted that the February 23 presidential poll was invalid for reason of non-compliance with and violation of the Electoral Act involving the undue postponement of election from February 16 that it was previously slated for.
The petitioners alleged that INEC “self-sabotaged” itself and shifted the election, thereby, “giving way for the people’s controlled affirmative Referendum Election validating the 1st Petitioner’s endorsed 50 million majority votes threat.”
They told the tribunal that President Buhari has continued to make hasty preparations to be sworn in for a second term, regardless of the unresolved question of the invalidity of the election and return at the questioned substituted election of February 23.
Buhari, the APC and the INEC, however, persuaded the five-member tribunal for a short adjournment to enable them respond to all the issues that were raised in the motion.
Before the matter was adjourned till May 22, Olanipekun told the tribunal that he has filed a motion for the HDP’s petition marked CA/ PEPC/001/2019, to be dismissed for being grossly incompetent.
He added that the petitioners focused their case on a referendum they claimed INEC conducted on February 23.
He also stated that as far as his client was concerned, what held on that date was a presidential election and not a referendum.