On 20th March, 2023, the Presidential Candidate of the Labour Party, Mr. Peter Obi alongside his party filed a petition before the Presidential Election Petition Tribunal sitting in Abuja challenging the election of President-elect Asiwaju Bola Ahmed Tinubu in the February 25th, 2023 Presidential Election that held across Nigeria.
Understandably, his supporters were elated by the 40-page petition and many indeed rekindled their hope that Obi will ‘retrieve his stolen mandate’ through the courts. After going through the petition, I can confidently affirm that the petition filed by Livy Uzoukwu is the most watery Presidential Election Petition in Nigeria’s Democratic history. The petition was premised on three (3) grounds. In this first part I will dissect Ground 1 of the Petition.
Now let’s establish this crucial statement of fact before we proceed, the Petitioner in paragraph 7-8 stated that it had agents in all the polling units and collation centers across the country who signed and collected duplicate copies of the forms EC8A, EC8B, EC8C, EC8D and EC8E as the case may be.
*GROUND 1 OF THE PETITION: The 2nd respondent was at the time of election not qualified to contest.*
In trying to support this ground 1, the petitioners said that the 3rd Respondent (Vice President-elect Kashim Shettima) was at the time he was nominated as running mate to the 2nd Respondent (President-elect Asiwaju Bola Ahmed Tinubu) still the Senatorial Candidate of the APC for Borno Central and therefore it amounts to *double nomination*, which according to them, disqualifies the 2nd and 3rd respondents from participating in the election.
The petitioners are relying on Section 35 of the Electoral Act 2022, which states that _”where a candidate knowingly allows himself to be nominated by more than one political party or in more than one Constituency, his nomination shall be void”_. They therefore contend that for the Presidential election, the entire federation shall be regarded as one Constituency.
However, I want to submit that the running mate of a candidate does not emerge from a primary and therefore the Electoral Act did not classify the appointment of a running mate by a candidate of a political party as a full nomination exercise involving delegates. In that section 35 of the Electoral Act, it is clearly stated ‘nomination by more than one political party’ before adding ‘more than one Constituency’. It is therefore clearly referring to the main candidate that emerges through a primary and not a running mate that is selected by the candidate in the case of the Office of the President and Governor.
The petitioners therefore have no case on this because VP-Elect Kashim Shettima *did not participate in two primaries* as Aspirant for him to have been nominated as candidate twice for two separate positions. In fact, the process of selection of a running mate for a Presidential or Governorship candidate, though a crucial exercise, was never mentioned in the Electoral Act!
The only place the Vice Presidential Candidate nomination is mentioned is in Section 142(1) of the Constitution where it is stated that _”…a candidate for an election to the office of the President shall not be deemed to be validly nominated unless he nominates another candidate as his associate from the same party for his running for the office of the President, who is to occupy the office of the Vice President and that candidate shall be deemed to have been duly elected to the office of Vice President if the candidate for an election to the office of President who nominated him as such associate is duly elected as President in accordance with the Provisions aforesaid”_.
Meanwhile, I need to add here that it is INEC that internally set a deadline for submission of the list of candidates by political parties to the Commission and the APC at no point in time submit the name of VP-Elect Kashim Shettima as both Vice Presidential Candidate and Senatorial Candidate for Borno Central. As a matter of fact, APC conducted a fresh primary to get a new Senatorial candidate for Borno Central monitored by INEC and submitted the name of the winner accordingly.
The second leg of *ground 1 of the Petition* is even more ridiculous. In paragraph 28 of the Petition, the petitioners pleaded that the 2nd Respondent, President-elect Bola Tinubu was not qualified to contest for the election because of the fine of $460,000 handed by the US District Court, Northern District of Illinois to him on October 4, 1993. The petitioner reproduced part of the order made by Judge John Nordberg. In paragraph 5 of the order it was clearly stated that *”parties further agree that $460,000 from the defendant’s account held by Heritage Bank in the name of Bola Tinubu shall be forfeited by the United States and disposed of according to law. The funds remaining in the account shall be released to K. O. Tinubu”*.
Obviously, the team of learned counsels for the petitioners want to be clever by half here. Now, let us go to Section 137(1) of the Constitution that provided explicitly the grounds for disqualification of a Presidential Candidate. Out of the 10 paragraphs in Section 137(1), paragraphs (d) and (e) talk on disqualification due to conviction and the likes. Let me state the two paragraphs below:
*_(d) he is under a sentence of death imposed by any competent court of law or tribunal in Nigeria or a sentence of imprisonment or fine for any offence involving dishonesty or fraud (by whatever name called) or for any other offence, imposed on him by any court or tribunal or substituted by a competent authority for any other sentence imposed on him by such a court or tribunal; or_*
*_(e) within a period of less than ten years before the date of the election to the office of President he has been convicted and sentenced for an offence involving dishonesty or he has been found guilty of the contravention of the Code of Conduct;_*
From the order the petitioners reproduced, there was nothing that indicated Tinubu was tried and convicted of any crime in 1993. As a matter of fact, a forfeiture (in this case, civil forfeiture) does not necessarily mean conviction and in this particular case, it was actually a SETTLEMENT that resulted in the forfeiture of $460,000, which is just a part of the initial amount in the account frozen by the Court. The court ordered that the remain $1 million be released to the defendant. If the defendant was tried and convicted of any narcotics crime, he will be in jail with his assets totally confiscated and not the Court ordering the government of Illinois to release $1 million to the defendant. It is that simple!
In fact, let us assume without conceding to the fact that the 2nd Respondent was indeed tried and convicted or fined for any offence involving dishonesty or fraud by the US Court in 1993, it is still not a ground for his disqualification because paragraph (d) of Section 137(1) was clear that such sentence of imprisonment or fine shall be by a competent court of law or tribunal in Nigeria. Secondly, even if it is extended to any court in the world, it is still not enough to disqualify such a person, paragraph (e) of the same Section 137(1) clearly provided that such conviction or fine will only be enough to disqualify the person from contesting *if it happened WITHIN a period of less than 10 years before the date of the election to the office of President*.
From the petitioners’ filing, it is obvious that the forfeiture settlement (which they erroneously term an indictment or conviction) happened in October, 1993, which is 29 years ago! So, even if we are to agree that he was convicted (even though he was not), the law gave him a clean bill of health to contest for any election since October 1993, more than 19 years ago. In 2003, Obasanjo wanted to capitalise on this before the general elections when he sought for every possible means to disqualify Bola Ahmed Tinubu from the governorship election in Lagos State. Tafa Balogun was the IGP then and they had to write to the American Embassy on February 3, requesting for information on any criminal arrest or prosecution involving Bola Ahmed Tinubu in the FBI records. The American Embassy replied Tafa Balogun on February 4 after searching the FBI National Crime Information Center (NCIC) database that there was none!
The petitioners are therefore on a wild goose chase as far as ground 1 of their petition is concerned. Although I am not trying to pre-empt the Tribunal but the Tribunal judges will not disqualify the 2nd Respondent because there is simply no legitimate ground for his disqualification as provided for both in the Constitution and the Electoral Act 2022. In the part 2 of this series I will dissect Ground 2 of the Petition submitted by Labour Party Presidential Candidate, Mr. Peter Obi.