The Supreme Court on Tuesday dismissed an appeal filed by the Peoples Democratic Party and its presidential candidate, Alhaji Atiku Abubakar.
Atiku and the PDP filed the appeal to enable them to have access to the Independent National Electoral Commission’s sever.
The judgment came on the eve of the presentation of final arguments by parties to their petition which they filed before the tribunal to challenge President Muhammadu Buhari’s victory at the February 23, 2019 election.
The adoption of final addresses is scheduled to take place on Wednesday (today) before the tribunal.
Atiku and the PDP had alleged in their petition that the “authentic” results of the February 23, 2019 election which gave them victory were stored in the said INEC server.
They had urged the tribunal to, on the grounds of the content of the server and the alleged non-qualification of Buhari to contest the election, among others, nullify his victory at the poll.
They prayed the tribunal to declare them the winner of the election or order a fresh polls.
But the tribunal had, in its June 24, 2019 ruling delivered during the pre-hearing session of the petition, dismissed the petitioners’ application for access to the server.
INEC had denied the existence of the server, insisting that it never transmitted the results of the election electronically.
On Tuesday, the Dattijo Muhammad-led five-man panel of the Supreme Court upheld the June 24, 2019 ruling of the tribunal.
Justice Centus Nweze, who read the lead judgment of the apex court, said there was no basis to interfere with the discretion of the tribunal rejecting the petitioners’ request to have an access to the said server.
“An appellate court will not interfere with the exercise of the discretion by a lower court except when it is established that the discretion is arbitrarily or illegally exercised,” Justice Nweze said.
He added that the appellants failed to place enough materials before the apex court to establish a “wrongful exercise of discretion” by the tribunal.
“The appellate court cannot substitute its discretion with that of the lower court,” he added.
He said that the allegation by the appellants that they were denied fair hearing by the June 24, 2019 ruling of the tribunal was unsubstantiated.
The tribunal had held in its ruling that granting the request would amount to pre-judging the substance of the case meant for trial during the substantive hearing of the case.
It held that it would be inappropriate to grant an order for access to the server, when INEC had denied the existence of the server or that it transmitted the election results electronically.
Earlier on Tuesday, the appellants’ lawyer, Mr Eyitayo Jegede (SAN), told the apex court that his clients were still within time as the 180 days meant for the tribunal to hear and determine the case had not lapsed.
But the respondents, INEC, Buhari and the APC, opposed the appeal through their respective lawyers, and urged the apex court to dismiss it.
While INEC was represented by Yunus Usman (SAN), Buhari was represented by Wole Olanipekun (SAN), and the APC by Chief Charles Edosomwan (SAN).
They maintained that granting the prayer sought by the appellants would be of no utility value as presentation of evidence at the tribunal had closed.
Earlier on Tuesday, the Justice Muhammad-led panel of five judges of the Supreme Court struck out one other appeal filed by Atiku and his party.
The apex court struck out the appeal after it was withdrawn by Jegede, who said it was statute-barred since it was not heard within the 21 days of filing it as prescribed by the constitution.
The appeal by the PDP and Atiku challenged a ruling of the tribunal which held that they failed to file a response to an application by the APC.
The APC’s application had prayed for among others the dismissal of the appellants’ petition at the tribunal.
Atiku, PDP have done justice to their petition —Ex-VP lawyer
Reacting to the Supreme Court’s decision, Atiku’s lead counsel, Jegede, claimed the ex-Vice-President and the PDP had done justice to their petition.
Jegede said this kind of decision was anticipated and that proactive action had been taken during the hearing of the petition.
He said the issue of server, which was aimed at establishing that the election was rigged during the collation of results, was thoroughly addressed through witnesses and documents tendered and admitted during the presentation of the petition.
The lawyer restated that Atiku and the PDP had already done justice to all the replies made to their petitions by INEC, Buhari and the APC in their final written address.
According to him, the issues are whether Buhari was at the time of the election qualified to contest the election; and whether he submitted to INEC affidavits containing false information of a fundamental nature in aid of his qualifications for the said election.
Other issues for determination, he said, were whether it was established that Buhari was elected by the majority of lawful votes cast at the election; and whether the presidential election conducted by INEC was invalid by reasons of corrupt practices.
He also said another issue for determination was whether the presidential election conducted by INEC was invalid by reasons of non-compliance with the Electoral Act 2010 (as amended) and the Electoral Guidelines 2019 and the manuals issued for the conduct of the election.
He expressed optimism that the tribunal would do justice at the end of the day.
Jegede added that he and the PDP would on Wednesday adopt their final written address in the presidential election petition challenging the declaration of Buhari as winner of the election.