President Bola Tinubu and his party, the All Progressive Congress (APC), on Wednesday, closed their defence in Atiku Abubakar’s petition challenging the outcome of the 25 February presidential election.
It takes the case before the Presidential Election Petition Court in Abuja to the stage of exchange of final written addresses among parties, and a date will be fixed for the closing arguments.
The Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) had declared Mr Tinubu the winner of the election, but the outcome is being contested by two of the leading opposition candidates – Atiku of the Peoples Democratic Party and Labour Party’s Peter Obi.
The pair came second and third, respectively, in the presidential poll.
They alleged in their separate petitions submitted to the court that the election was marred by widespread malpractices and non-compliance with statutory provisions levelled against the electoral commission, INEC.
They also accused Mr Tinubu of falsification of academic records, drugs trafficking and identity scandal.
Both candidates had finished presenting their cases, calling witnesses and tendering tons of documents supporting their cases.
After a three-week run of the petitioners’ case that ended on 23 June, INEC had earlier closed its own defence in both cases on Monday and Tuesday, leaving Mr Tinubu and his party, the APC, to take their turn.
Mr Tinubu’s legal team, headed by Wole Olanipekun, began its bid to counter both petitioners’ cases on Tuesday.
Opening defence of Mr Tinubu’s victory during proceedings in Atiku’s case, Mr Olanipekun, a Senior Advocate of Nigeria (SAN), tendered several documents on Tuesday to debunk claims of academic records forgery and criminal conviction being levelled against the president.
Mr Olanipekun tendered certified true copies of Mr Tinubu’s academic records from Chicago State University in the US and correspondences between the Nigerian Police Force and the US Embassy in Nigeria.
In reply to the police’s enquiry, the US Consular General in Lagos cleared Mr Tinubu of any criminal conviction or arrest in the US. The letter was dated 4 February 2003.
At the resumed proceedings in Atiku’s case on Wednesday, Mr Olanipekun called the only witness in the case, Opeyemi Bamidele.
Mr Bamidele, a Nigerian senator, was called to the New York Bar in January 1999.
In his testimony before the five-member panel of the court chaired by Haruna Tsammani, Mr Bamidele said Mr Tinubu’s victory could not be nullified over his forfeiture of $460, 000 to the US government through a court order.
Under cross-examination by APC’s lawyer, Lateef Fagbemi, a SAN, Mr Bamidele, who represents Ekiti Central Senatorial District at National Assembly, said Mr Tinubu was neither arraigned nor indicted for any crime by a US court.
“As far as criminal indictment is concerned, Senator Bola Tinubu has a clean bill of health because he was never indicted or convicted by any American court,” Mr Bamidele said.
The witness clarified that civil forfeiture cannot be considered as criminal trial or conviction.
Testifying on the issue of the president’s alleged dual nationality, Mr Bamidele said he had known Mr Tinubu for over three decades, saying he is a Nigerian citizen by birth.
While being cross-examined by Atiku’s lawyer, Eyitayo Jegede, Mr Bamidele said Mr Tinubu did not need to score 25 per cent of votes cast in the Federal Capital Territory to be declared winner of the 25 February presidential.
He said the FCT has no special status other than Nigeria’s capital city.
Mr Bamidele admitted that Mr Tinubu scored 19.4 per cent in total votes cast in the FCT during the February election.
He added that Mr Tinubu didn’t need to win majority votes in Abuja and Lagos.
APC adopts Mr Tinubu’s evidence
When it was APC’s time to open its defence, Mr Fagbemi said his client chose to adopt Mr Tinubu’s evidence in the case as their defence.
“Having taken a sober reflection of the entire case, we have enough evidence, and we are not calling any witnesses.
“We do not intend to whip dead horses; we announce the closure of the case of the 3rd respondent (APC),” Mr Fagbemi said, referring to Atiku’s petition as dead.
Afterwards, the court ordered parties in the suit to file and exchange their final written addresses.
The court ordered Mr Tinubu and the APC to file their written addresses within 10, while Atiku has seven days to do the same.
Mr Tsammani, who heads the five-member panel, said a date for the hearing of closing arguments would be communicated to parties.
The court adjourned Mr Obi’s case for similar reasons after Mr Tinubu and the APC closed their defence.
Before the commencement of full trial in Atiku and Mr Obi’s suits, Mr Tinubu had indicated his intention to call 39 witnesses to aid his case.
Similarly, the APC had said it would present 25 witnesses to debunk allegations of fraud against its candidate, Mr Tinubu.
But they both fell far short of the anticipated number of witnesses they had boasted of presenting before the court.
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