The Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) has told the presidential election petitions tribunal that President-elect Bola Tinubu of the All Progressives Congress won the February 25 election and was validly returned as the winner without needing to get 25 per cent of the votes cast in the Federal Capital Territory (FCT).
INEC stated this in its reply by its lawyer, Abubakar Mahmoud, to the petition filed by the Peoples Democratic Party and its presidential candidate, Atiku Abubakar, before the tribunal.
Nigeria’s electoral umpire said the APC candidate met all the legal requirements to be so announced as the winner of the election, arguing that a candidate must not secure 25 per cent votes in the FCT to be declared winner because the FCT was not accorded any special status in the constitution as being “erroneously” portrayed by some political parties and candidates who lost the election.
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On why it returned Tinubu as the winner, INEC said the APC candidate scored 25 per cent 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 second respondent was properly declared winner and returned as the president-elect of the Federal Republic of Nigeria,” INEC explained, adding that Mr Tinubu, having scored 25 per cent 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 per cent of the valid votes cast in the Federal Capital Territory unnecessary.”
It also argued that the declaration and return of Mr 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 per cent) of the valid votes cast in 29 states which is beyond the constitutional threshold for such declaration.
“The first respondent denies that scoring 25 per cent 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 lead, it did not act hastily, as claimed by Mr Abubakar and the PDP in declaring Mr Tinubu, the winner of the election.
It stressed that Mr Tinubu scored 25 per cent of the valid votes cast in 29 states of the federation (Ekiti, Kwara, Osun, Ondo, Ogun, Oyo, Yobe, Lagos, Gombe, Adamawa, Katsina, Jigawa, Nasarawa, Niger, Benue, Akwa Ibom, Edo, Kogi, Bauchi, Plateau, Bayelsa, Kaduna, Kebbi, Kano, Zamfara, Sokoto, Taraba, Borno and Rivers).
While faulting Mr Abubakar and his party’s 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 constitution’s provision, the FCT “has the status of a state and ought to be recognised as if it was 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 per cent of the votes cast in the FCT before being declared winner of the presidential election.”
INEC pointed out that the Federal Capital Territory “is regarded as the 37 states of the federation, and as such, a candidate needs to score 25 per cent of the valid votes cast in at least two-thirds of 37 states ( to be declared as winner in the presidential election).”
The electoral body further stated that, as against the request by Mr Abubakar and PDP, he could not be declared the winner by the tribunal because he failed to fulfil the constitutional requirement, stressing that the former vice-president “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 PDP and its presidential flag bearer, INEC stated that “the election was conducted in substantial compliance with the Electoral Act, 2022 and was not marred by any corrupt practices” and that Mr Tinubu “was duly elected by a majority of lawful votes cast in the election and his declaration and return as the winner of the presidential election” conducted on February 25, 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 second respondent as the winner of the presidential election conducted on 25th February 2023 is lawful, valid and constitutional,” said INEC, Mr Tinubu “was at the time of the election qualified to contest the election.”
INEC told the tribunal that PDP and Mr Abubakar “neither scored the majority of the lawful votes cast at the election nor scored not 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 1st petitioner (Atiku) is not entitled to be returned as the winner of the presidential election conducted on February 25.”
INEC, therefore, urged the court to dismiss the petition.
Mr Abubakar, the first petitioner, and PDP, the second petitioner, in the petition marked CA/PEPC/05/2023, had listed INEC, Mr Tinubu and APC as first to third respondents, respectively. They are seeking the nullification of the election victory of Tinubu in the February 25 presidential poll.
Mr Tinubu, who defeated 17 other candidates who took part in the election, scored 8,794,726 votes, the highest of all the candidates. Mr Abubakar came second with 6,984,520 votes in the poll; Obi came third with 6,101,533 votes.
PDP and Mr Abubakar are asking the tribunal to set aside Mr Tinubu’s victory and to declare the former vice-president winner of the election. They want an order mandating INEC to retrieve the certificate of return issued to the APC candidate or, in the alternative, conduct a fresh election.
Mr Abubakar and PDP are contending that Tinubu was not duly elected by the 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.