President Muhammadu Buhari Tuesday commenced the process of defending both his re-election and the allegation that he lacked basic educational qualifications.
Buhari, whose victory in the February 23 presidential election is being challenged by the opposition Peoples Democratic Party, PDP, and its candidate, Atiku Abubakar, produced three witnesses that testified for him before the Presidential Election Petition Tribunal sitting in Abuja.
He equally tendered 26 exhibits that were admitted in evidence by the five-member panel tribunal, headed by Justice Mohammed Garba.
To open his defence, President Buhari first tendered his West African Examination School Certificate, WAEC, in evidence.
He tendered the certificate, alongside a group photograph he took with his classmates at Provisional Secondary School Katsina State, in 1961, through his team of lawyers, led by Chief Wole Olanipekun, SAN.
Buhari is praying the tribunal to dismiss the petition which had, among other things, alleged that he didn’t possess the requisite educational qualifications to occupy the presidential seat.
Olanipekun, SAN, had immediately the case was called up and all the parties had announced their appearances, notified the tribunal of the intention of his client to tender two schedules of documents from the Bar.
The first set of documents which he said was already served on all the parties, contained 16 Certified True Copies of some Newspaper publications, as well as, a document titled APC Roadmap To A New Nigeria.
Shortly after the first set of documents were admitted in evidence and marked as Exhibits R1-18, Olanipekun tendered Buhari’s school certificate which was part of the second batch of documents.
Specifically, he tendered eight documents in the second batch, comprising Cambridge Assessment International Certified Statement of West African School Certificate for President Buhari who Olanipekun said passed the exam in second grade in 1961 and collection receipt for the result, CTC of confidential result sheet of University of Cambridge West African School Certificate, 1961, for Provincial Secondary School Katsina which showed Buhari with names of his classmates.
Also presented before the tribunal were a group Photograph of Form 6 students of his set in school, as well as the printout of an online news publication of January 22, 2015, with respect to Buhari and his set in school.
Olanipekun also tendered certificate of compliance for the documents as prescribed in section 24 of Evidence Act, a letter of commendation from a Commandant of the US Army to General Alanni Akinrinade dated June 13, 1980, concerning President Buhari and the curriculum vitae that was personally signed by President Buhari.
Atiku’s lawyer, Dr. Livy Uzoukwu, SAN, challenged admissibility of the documents.
Whereas he described the first set of documents as “very strange”, Uzoukwu, SAN, said he would subsequently adduce reasons Buhari’s certificate, which he said was neither pleaded nor listed as part of exhibits to be tendered by the 2nd respondent, should not be accorded any probative value by the tribunal.
After the exhibits were admitted in evidence, Buhari called his first witness, a retired Major-General, Paul Tarfa, who told the tribunal that they were enlisted in the Nigerian Army same day on April 16, 1962.
The RW-1 said the medium of communication at the time they joined the Army was English language.
Asked by INEC’s lawyer, Yunus Usman, SAN: “Will it be correct to say that you and General Buhari passed your exams in the Army in flying colours?”.
The witness said: “Absolutely my lord”.
Asked to mention some of their course mates in the Army, the witness gave their names as Brigadier General Ola Oni, Brigadier-General Duro Ajayi, Col. J. C. Ojukwu, late Brigadier Abdullahi Shellem and late Major-General Shehu Yar’adua.
Asked by INEC’s lawyer if they were ever requested to hand their certificates to the Nigerian Army, Major General Tarfa said: “There was no such thing my lord”.
He said he had known President Buhari for over 57 years, adding that promotion in the Army was always based on merit.
The second witness, Suleiman Isah Maiadua, a retired civil servant, told the tribunal that he was Buhari’s classmate at the Provisional Secondary School in Katsina.
He identified himself and Buhari who he said sat close to the school principal, in the class photograph that was admitted in evidence by the tribunal.
The RW-2 gave the name of their school principal as Mr. Mila, saying they took the picture in their class six.
Under further cross-examination, the witness told the tribunal that he wrote WAEC with Buhari in 1961, the same period the picture was taken.
He said a former President of the Court of Appeal, Justice Umaru Abdullahi, was one of their classmates, saying he was also in the class photograph.
Asked by Atiku’s lawyer if he knew when President Buhari was recruited into the Nigerian Army, the witness said: “Yes I know, it was in 1961”.
The 77-year-old witness who said he was never in the Army, said he was aware that class photograph does not translate to a certificate but said he was aware that Buhari had two certificates.
After he was discharged, the Chief of Staff to President Buhari, Abba Kyari, mounted the witness box.
He identified the letter dated June 19, 1980, from US Army Commandant, describing President Buhari as “most distinguished fellow”.
Kyari said he could confirm that President Buhari obtained five credits, including English language, from Cambridge.
“I have been the Chief of Staff to Buhari since August 27, 2015. Since then, all his addresses to the nation have always been in English language.
“All my official communications with him have been in English because that is the official language in Nigeria”.
He told the tribunal that he was the one that collected and signed President Buhari’s certificate from Cambridge on July 18, this year.
He also identified Buhari who he said he had known for about 40 years, in the group photograph.
While being cross-examined by counsel to the All Progressives Congress, APC, Kyari said he was aware that Jedda, where Atiku hails from in Adamawa State, was once a part of Northern Cameroon.
“I am aware that Atiku himself said that he was born at Jedda in 1941. I am also aware that a plebiscite was conducted in 1961 between Nigeria and Northern Cameroon.”
He told the tribunal that while Northern Cameroon decided to become a part of Nigeria, Southern Cameroon joined the mother country.
Kyari further told the tribunal that owing to the policy of assimilation that was in force in the region which he said was controlled by France at the time, “everyone born in Jedda at that time became a Cameroonian citizen by birth.
“Accordingly, anyone born in Jedda, whose parents are from there, automatically became a Cameroonian by birth,” he added.
While being cross-examined by counsel to the petitioners, Kyari who was the RW-3, said he was aware that Atiku served as Vice President of Nigeria for eight years and also contested against Buhari in 2014.
He said he neither knew Atiku’s father nor grandfather.
Asked if President Buhari listed any certificate in the Form CF001 he submitted to INEC for the presidential election, the witness answered in the negative.
He admitted that no certificate was also attached to the CV Buhari sent to INEC.
“You are from Borno State. I also believe you are not a Cameroonian”?, Atiku’s lawyer queried.
Kyari said: “I am from Borno but never a Cameroonian”.
Asked if he came to court with any of Buhari’s certificate, the witness said no.
Asked if he was surprised that as at July 18 when he collected Buhari’s WAEC from Cambridge, the petition was pending and he had already deposed his witness statement before the tribunal, Kyari said: “No, I am not surprised at all”.
The tribunal adjourned further proceedings till Wednesday to enable President Buhari call more witnesses.
Meanwhile, the Supreme Court yesterday fixed August 20 to hear an appeal the Peoples Democratic Party, PDP, and its candidate, Atiku Abubakar, lodged to quash a proceeding the Presidential Election Petition Tribunal held on June 11.
A five-man panel of Justices of the apex court, led by Justice Mary Odili, adjourned the appeal, marked SC/379/2019, to allow the Independent National Electoral Commission, INEC, President Muhammadu Buhari, and the All Progressives Congress, APC, react to a request by the appellants to be allowed to file supplementary record from the tribunal.
Counsel to the appellants, Chief Paul Erokoro, SAN, had after the case was called up for hearing, told the Supreme Court panel that his clients filed an application for permission to properly bring before the court supplementary record that was transmitted out of time from the tribunal.
INEC’s lawyer, Yunus Usman, SAN, counsel to President Buhari, Chief Wole Olanipekun, SAN, and that of the APC, Chief Lateef Fagbemi, SAN, said they were just served with copies of the application and requested for time to file their responses.
Consequently, Justice Odili adjourned the matter, alongside all pending applications with respect to proceedings of the tribunal.
The appellants are praying the apex court to review the proceeding of the tribunal that pertained to an application the APC filed to strike out certain paragraphs of their petition, as well as their list of witnesses and evidence.
The Justice Mohammed Garba-led five-member tribunal had on July 3, declined to set-aside the proceeding which Atiku and PDP, who are challenging the declaration of President Buhari as winner of the February 23 presidential election, insisted occasioned grave miscarriage of justice against them.
It will be recalled that the tribunal had on June 11, struck out a motion the APC filed on May 14 for paragraphs of the petition to be struck out, after it was withdrawn by its lawyer, Fagbemi, SAN.
However, shortly after the motion was struck out, Fagbemi drew attention of the tribunal to a similar application the party also filed on May 15.
He urged the tribunal to grant the application, contending that the petitioners failed to file any counter-affidavit to oppose it.
Reacting, counsel to the petitioners, Dr. Uzoukwu, SAN, said he had actually filed a counter-affidavit in opposition to the first motion that was orally withdrawn by the APC.
Uzoukwu argued that since the APC filed two similar motions on the same subject matter, he rather filed a preliminary objection for the tribunal to dismiss them for constituting an abuse of court process, instead of filing a second counter-affidavit.
In an application they brought after the tribunal reserved ruling on APC’s second motion, the petitioners challenged the entire proceeding, insisting that it was wrong to allow the 3rd Respondent to withdraw a motion it filed in abuse of the judicial process.
They contended that the tribunal ought to have heard their preliminary objection and dismiss the two motions by the APC.
Alleging that they would be denied fair hearing, the petitioners prayed the tribunal to allow them to react to APC’s second motion that they did not file counter-affidavit to.
PDP and Atiku also prayed the tribunal for an order extending the time within which they could file a counter affidavit to APC’s motion.
All the Respondents, however, challenged the application which they maintained was incompetent.
In a unanimous decision, the tribunal agreed with the respondents and dismissed the application as lacking in merit, stressing that the petitioners made a choice not to file counter-affidavit to oppose APC’s motion that was duly served on them on May 16.