The People’s Democratic Party (PDP) Presidential candidate in the just concluded 2023 election, Atiku Abubakar has gone ahead to appeal President Bola Tinubu’s victory in a US court while awaiting the decision of the Presidential Elections Petitions Court (PEPC).
Dirisu Yakubu who writes on the views of lawyers and other Nigerians on the case said perhaps the conclusion of the 2023 presidential election would be remembered as one of the most hotly disputed in Nigeria.
It would be recalled that after tallying a total of 8,794,726 votes in the election held on February 25, the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) declared Bola Tinubu the winner of the election.
After receiving 6,984,520 and 6,101,533 votes, respectively, Atiku Abubakar of the PDP and Peter Obi of the Labour Party (LP) settled for second and third place on the leaderboard. While Rabiu Kwankwaso, a former governor of Kano State and the New Nigeria People’s Party’s presidential candidate, finished a distant fourth with 1,496,687 votes.
Both candidate Atiku and Obi expressed their discontent with the way the election was handled by filing complaints against Tinubu’s declaration, citing, among other things, INEC’s inability to conduct the elections substantially in accordance with the Electoral Act of 2022.
Obi based his argument on the fact that Tinubu forfeited a total of $460,000 in the US in a drug-related case and failed to receive 25% of the votes cast in the Federal Capital Territory. Atiku and Obi are both contesting Tinubu’s eligibility to run for the position in the first place.
Atiku took it a step further on July 11 when he submitted a petition asking for more details regarding Tinubu’s academic records at Chicago State University.
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Records of Tinubu’s admittance and acceptance to the university, dates of attendance, and any degrees, honours, or prizes he received as a student at the American university are among the documents Atiku is requesting through his lawyer, Angela Liu.
The former vice president of Nigeria stated in his petition that Tinubu’s subpoena was issued to ascertain the veracity of his claims and test the truth of those claims. He also stated that although Tinubu is the president of Nigeria, he is the subject of numerous petitions questioning his election and the veracity of documents attesting to his attendance at Chicago State University.
However, in response to a new appeal from Atiku, President Tinubu filed a motion to revoke the subpoena before the Circuit Court of Cook County, Illinois, Chicago, USA.
On July 19, the president of Nigeria requested the court to dismiss Atiku’s suit through his attorney, Victor Henderson, claiming that no judge had heard the case and approved Atiku’s subpoena.
In addition, Tinubu claimed that the petition was unlawful because it gave the respondent six days to comply, rather than the 14 days required under Rules 219 and 137 of the Illinois Supreme Court Rules.
Using the subpoena power of the Illinois court, the PDP leader, in his words, “engaged in an improper fishing expedition about a foreign public official.”
With many Nigerians wondering about the necessity or otherwise of going as far as the US in search of justice, a human rights lawyer and Senior Advocate of Nigeria, Mike Ozekhome, has described Atiku’s move as a good development.
“It is a good development. The matter at issue is an international issue. It was the right thing to do,” he said.
Taking a different position is constitutional lawyer Kennedy Khanoba, who argued that unless the US court convicts President Tinubu, not much may come the way of Atiku.
Khanoba, Senior Partner at Khanoba & Khanoba, Abuja, based his reasoning on the idea that even if the university in Chicago were to just accuse Tinubu of making untrue statements, that would not be enough to prevent him from winning the president of his native Nigeria.
He said, “If Tinubu is not convicted in the United States, this petition would amount to a waste of time. If Chicago State University comes up to say that the man did not attend the school and that he provided false information that would not be enough to nullify the election. \
“Only a conviction would be enough because anyone convicted anywhere is prohibited from holding public office for a certain period. Again, we must get one thing clear: The ruling of a US court cannot be binding on Nigeria.”
Speaking further, Khanoba added that the case brought before Muhammadu Buhari, challenging him to make public his academic credentials, is likely to have an impact on the petitions more than Atiku’s decision to seek offshore justice.
He continued, “Let’s assume the university says it does not have records of Bola Tinubu as its student and that never a time was his name mentioned in the history of the institution. The man would return home and impress on the people that the minimum qualification for the Office of the President is the Senior School Certificate Examination or its equivalent.
“Now, this is where many people often get it wrong. The equivalent can be obtained through formal education or experience, and for a man who rose to the position of Treasurer at Mobil International, there is no way the argument would fly that he does not have a school certificate equivalent.”
Like Khanoba, political expert Jackson Ojo told Newsmen that Atiku’s quest for justice overseas would resemble an exercise in futility due to Nigeria’s sovereign status as an independent state.
“I don’t know if the ruling of an American court can be binding on Nigeria. We are a sovereign nation. Being a member of the Economic Community of West African States, the African Union, the United Nations, and many others does not mean that Nigerian laws are subjugated to international laws or that our courts are inferior to theirs.
“If President Tinubu is indicted in the US court, there may be a problem, but whether that will influence the position of the tribunal and the courts here is another thing entirely,” he said.
Ojo claimed there was a chance the former vice president had the best legal counsel before making the exhausting trip to Chicago in an exclusive chat with Newsmen.
A PDP chieftain and Atiku’s loyalist, Mustapha Shehu, in his contribution, urged Nigerians to be patient with the process, arguing that Atiku “is only trying to get evidence through the US court that has higher probated value than the one published by an investigative journalist, David Hundeyin. The evidence that Bola Tinubu was a female would be handy as additional evidence if the case gets to the Supreme Court.”
However, Obi is suing the Presidential Election Petition Court to invalidate INEC’s designation of Tinubu as Nigeria’s president, according to Obiorah Ifoh, the LP’s national publicity secretary, who spoke to our correspondent.
According to him, “Our candidate did not petition any court in the US concerning Tinubu. I think only Atiku did that. But what we are saying is that Mr Peter Obi should be declared the authentic winner of the election after winning a majority of lawful votes.
“Despite the shenanigans perpetrated during the election, Obi still clearly won. We have provided the evidence to support our position, and we know that the learned justices will allow themselves to be guided by the evidence before arriving at a judgment. This is our position, and nothing can change it.”
Auwal Rafsanjani, the executive director of Transparency International in Nigeria, said he did not find it surprising that Atiku chose to look into legal options in the US. This is exactly how he viewed the situation—as a sign that some Nigerians lack faith in the country’s judicial system.
He said, “It is unfortunate that our judiciary seems to be suffering from a serious integrity crisis, and Nigerians are losing confidence in the independence and credibility of our legal system and judges’ commitment to delivering justice and fair judgment. This is a huge integrity question.
“We recall how Nigerian judges cleared James Ibori of corruption charges, but the same charges were presented to the United Kingdom judicial court, and he was found guilty and jailed.
So, it is not surprising to see Atiku approach the United States judicial system to seek a fair verdict on his case against the President, Bola Tinubu.”
According to Rafsanjani, who also heads the Board of Trustees of Amnesty International in Nigeria, “judicial corruption and abuse are big threats to democracy and justice in Nigeria. Many Nigerians have decided to stay away from our courts because of the commercial and corrupt judiciary system that denies the citizens fair trials.”
Also speaking, the Special Assistant on Public Communication to Atiku Abubakar, Mr Phrank Shaibu, simply said, “We are out to prove to the world beyond any reasonable doubt the facts of the matter. What we are saying is that you must be what you claim you are. It is as simple as that.”