2023 Poll: Tinubu validly returned as winner, INEC replies Atiku
By Our Correspondent
The Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC), on Tuesday, told the Presidential Election Petition Court (PEPC) that Sen. Bola Tinubu, presidential candidate of the All Progressives Congress (APC), won the February 25 election and was validly returned as winner.
INEC stated this in its reply by its lawyer, Abubakar Mahmoud, SAN, to the petition filed by the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) and its presidential candidate, Atiku Abubakar, before the tribunal.
The News Agency of Nigeria (NAN) reports that Mr Abubakar, the first petitioner, and PDP, the second petitioner, in the petition marked CA/PEPC/05/2023, had listed INEC, Tinubu, and APC as the first, second, and third respondents, respectively.
The petitioners are seeking the nullification of the election victory of Tinubu in the February 25 presidential poll.
Tinubu, who defeated 17 other candidates who took part in the election, scored a total of 8,794,726 votes, the highest of all the candidates.
NAN reports that while former Vice President Atiku Abubakar of the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) came in second with 6,984,520 votes in the poll, Obi came in third with 6,101,533 votes.
However, the petitioners are asking the tribunal to set aside Tinubu’s victory and declare Abubakar the winner of the election.
They want an order mandating INEC retrieve the certificate of return issued to the APC candidate or, in the alternative, conduct a fresh election.
Abubakar and the PDP are contending that Tinubu was not duly elected by a majority of the lawful votes cast during the poll and that INEC violated its own regulations and provisions of the Electoral Act, 2022, in the election conduct.
Responding, INEC said the APC candidate met all the legal requirements to be announced as the winner of the election.
It argued that a candidate must not secure 25 percent of the votes in the Federal Capital Territory (FCT) to be declared the winner because the FCT was not accorded any special status in the constitution, as was erroneously portrayed by some political parties and candidates who lost the election.
On why it returned Tinubu as the winner, INEC said the APC candidate scored 25 percent of the valid votes cast in 29 states of the federation.
“Having scored at least one-quarter of the valid votes cast in 29 states, which is over and above the 2/3 states threshold required by the constitution, in addition to scoring the majority of the lawful votes cast at the election, the 2nd respondent was properly declared the winner and returned as the president-elect of the Federal Republic of Nigeria.”
“The second respondent, having scored 25 percent of the valid votes cast in the 29 states, has satisfied the requirement of the constitution to be declared winner of the presidential election, thus rendering the requirement of having 25 percent of the valid votes cast in the Federal Capital Territory unnecessary,” the commission said.
It also argued that the declaration and return of Tinubu were not wrongful and were made in accordance with the provisions of Section 134 (2) (b) of the Constitution, having scored one quarter (25%) of the valid votes cast in 29 states, which is beyond the constitutional threshold for such a declaration.
“The 1st respondent denies that scoring 25 percent of the votes cast in the Federal Capital Territory is a condition precedent to the declaration and return of a candidate in the presidential election,” it said.
INEC added that, by the margin of error, it did not act hastily, as claimed by Atiku and the PDP, in declaring Tinubu the winner of the election.
It stressed that Tinubu scored “25 percent of the valid votes cast in 29 states of the Federation,” to wit: Ekiti, Kwara, and Osun.
Ondo, Ogun, Oyo, Yobe, Lagos, Gombe, Adamawa, Katsina, Jigawa, Nasarawa, Niger, Benue, Akwa Ibom, Edo, Kogi, Bauchi, the Plateau, Bayelsa, Kaduna, Kebbi, Kano, Zamfara, Sokoto, Taraba, Borno, and the Rivers.
While faulting the petitioners’ claim on the status of the FCT, INEC argued that “the provisions of the constitution apply to the FCT as if it were one of the states of the Federation.”
The commission also argued that the use of the word “and” in Section 134 (2) of the Constitution “indicates nothing more than that in construing two-thirds of the states of the federation in which a candidate is required to score one-quarter of the votes cast in the Federal Capital Territory.”
It argued that, by the provision of the constitution, the FCT “has the status of a state and ought to be recognized as if it were a state of the federation.”
It added that the FCT, beyond being the country’s capital, “has no special constitutional status over and above the other 36 states of the Federation to require a candidate in the presidential election to obtain at least 25 percent of the votes cast in the FCT before being declared the winner of the presidential election.”
“The Federal Capital Territory is regarded as the 37 states of the federation, and as such, a candidate needs to score 25 percent of the valid votes cast in at least two-thirds of the 37 states (to be declared the winner in the presidential election).”
It argued that, as against the request by Atiku and his party, he could not be declared winner by the tribunal because he failed to fulfill the constitutional requirement.
“The 1st petitioner (Atiku) failed to score at least one quarter of the votes cast in at least two-thirds of the 36 states of the federation and the Federal Capital Territory, and as such could not have been declared the winner of the Presidential Election held on the 25th day of February 2023.”
As against the claim by the petitioners, INEC stated that “the election was conducted in substantial compliance with the Electoral Act, 2022, and was not marred by any corrupt practices.”
“That the 2nd respondent (Tinubu) was duly elected by a majority of lawful votes cast in the election and that his declaration and return as winner of the presidential election conducted on the 25th day of February, 2023, is lawful, valid, and in line with the Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria and the Electoral Act, 2022.”
“Having satisfied the requirements of Section 134 (2) (b) of the Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria, 1999, the return of the 2nd respondent as the winner of the presidential election conducted on February 25, 2023, is lawful, valid, and constitutional.”
“The 2nd respondent was, at the time of the election, qualified to contest the election.”
“The petitioners neither scored the majority of the lawful votes cast at the election nor scored less than one-quarter of the lawful votes cast in at least two-thirds of the 36 states of the Federation and the Federal Capital Territory, and therefore the first petitioner (Atiku) is not entitled to be returned as the winner of the presidential election conducted on Feb. 25.”
INEC, therefore, urged the court to dismiss the petition.