The Nigerian Court of Appeal ruled Tuesday that President Umaru Yar’Adua was validly elected at the last year’s presidential poll, throwing out petitions by two key opposition candidates that the election was massively rigged and that one of them was excluded from the exercise.
In a three-and-a-half judgement read by Justice John Fabiyi, who took over as Chairman of the Court after Justice James Ogebe recused himself, he ruled that the presidential candidate of the opposition All Nigeria Peoples Party (ANPP), Muhammadu Buhari, failed to substantiate allegations of irregularities during the elections and that the allegation of irregularities affected only four of the country’s 36 states.
”All the issues raised by the petitioners have not been substantiated. Accordingly, Alhaji Umaru Musa Yar’Adua and (Vice President) Goodluck Jonathan remain the duly elected President and Vice President (of Nigeria) respectively,” Fabiyi ruled.
Justice Fabiyi, who was supported by the other four members of the panel, also ruled that former Vice President Atiku Abubakar was not excluded from the presidential election as he had contended during the six-month trial by the Court, which stood as the Presidential Election Petition Tribunal.
He said the former Vice President also did not prove that voters were confused over the logo of his party as alleged; that the shifting of vote from 8 am to 10 am local time affected the election and that criminal allegation of vote snatching and intimidation of voters by unidentified security agents was not proved.
The judgement threw the packed courtroom into jubilation, with government ministers, ruling party officials and the President’s legal representatives engaging in back-patting.
The ruling represented a major victory for President Yar’Adua, whose administration has been hobbled by the allegations that the 21 April election was massively rigged by the Indepedent National Electoral Commission (INEC) in favour of Yar’Adua.
Yar’Adua’s lawyers hailed the panel for carrying out its duties ”without fear or favour”, but the opposition lawyers said they disagreed with the judment. ”We will exploit all our remaining options,” said Ricky Tarfa, lead counsel for Abubakar, in an indication that his client will appeal to the Supreme Court.
The session was witnessed by Buhari as well as Abubakar’s running mate, Senator Ben Obi, state governors while hundreds of security agents, many in anti-riot gear, were deployed at the venue to provide security.
The ruling was broadcast live on national radio and television.