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Full Text: Atiku Holds Press Conference After Supreme Court Loss

Being text of a World Press Conference on the Presidential Election Petition Judgement by Atiku Abubakar, GCON, Waziri Adamawa, former Vice President of Nigeria (1999-2007) and Presidential Candidate of the Peoples Democratic Party in the 2023 Election, at the PDP Headquarters in Abuja on Monday, 30th October, 2023.

Protocol.

Gentlemen of the Press.

Someone asked me what I would do if I lost my election petition appeal at the Supreme Court. In response, I said that as long as Nigeria wins, the struggle would have been worth the while. By that, I meant that the bigger loss would not be mine but Nigeria’s if the Supreme Court legitimizes illegality, including forgery, identity theft, and perjury.

If the Supreme Court, the highest court in the land, implies by its judgment that crime is good and should be rewarded, then Nigeria has lost and the country is doomed irrespective of who occupies the Presidential seat. If the Supreme Court decides that the Electoral umpire, INEC, can tell the public one thing and then do something else in order to reach a corruptly predetermined outcome, then there is really no hope for the country’s democracy and electoral politics.

Obviously, the consequences of those decisions for the country will not end at the expiration of the current government. They will last for decades. I am absolutely sure that history will vindicate me. We now know what the Supreme Court has decided.

At critical points in my political life, I always ignored the easy but ignoble path and chosen the difficult but dignified path, the path of truth, of morality, of democracy and rule of law.

I always chose freedom over servitude, whatever the personal discomforts my choice entails. When I joined politics, the critical challenge was easing the military out of power so that civilian democratic governance could be restored in Nigeria. It later became a very defining struggle, and, as one of the leaders of that struggle, I was targeted for elimination.

In one incident, nine policemen guarding my home in Kaduna were murdered in an attempt to assassinate me. I was also forced into exile for nine (9) months. In addition, my interest in a logistics company that I co-owned was confiscated and given to friends of the military government. As Vice President in the civilian government that succeeded the military, I, again at great personal cost, chose to oppose the extension of the tenure of the government beyond the two four-year terms enshrined in our constitution.

In response to the official backlash against me, I instituted several cases in the courts, which led to seven landmark decisions that helped to deepen our democracy and rule of law. At the current historic moment, the easier option for me would have been to fold up and retreat after the mandate banditry perpetrated by the APC and INEC.

But I went to the Nigerian courts to seek redress. I even went to an American court to help with unravelling what our state institutions charged with such responsibilities were unwilling or unable to do, including unravelling the qualifying academic records of the person sworn in as our President and by implication, hopefully who he really is.

I offered that evidence procured with the assistance of the American Court to our Supreme Court to help it to do justice in this case. I give this background to underscore that what we are currently dealing with is bigger than one or two presidential elections and is certainly bigger than Atiku Abubakar. It is not about me; it is about our country, Nigeria. It is about the kind of society we want to leave for the next generation and what kind of example we want to set for our children and their children.

It is about the reputation of Nigeria and Nigerians in the eyes of the world. We showed incontrovertible evidence that Bola A. Tinubu was not qualified to contest the Presidential Election because he forged the qualifying academic certificate, which he submitted to INEC. In fact, a simple check of Tinubu’s past records in its possession would have shown INEC that Tinubu broke the law and should not have been allowed to contest the election.

We showed irrefutable evidence of gross irregularities, violence, and manipulations during the elections. We showed incontrovertible evidence that INEC violated the Electoral Act and deliberately sabotaged its own publicly announced processes and procedures in order to illegally declare Tinubu elected. The position of the Supreme Court, even though final, leaves so much unanswered.

Even the rebuke by retired Justice Musa Dattijo Muhammad is a confirmation from within the apex court that all is not well with the Supreme Court. The court and indeed the judiciary must never lend itself to politicization as it is currently the norm with nearly every institution in Nigeria. By the way, the strong rebuke of the apex court by the revered Justice, who had meritoriously served for more than four decades, should not be swept under the carpet.
The alarm raised by Justice Muhammad and recently, former INEC Chairman, Prof Attahiru Jega, offer Nigerians an explanation into why the electoral and judicial system have become the lost hope of the common man.

Judges are no longer appointed based on merit but are products of the interplay of politics and nepotism. Worse still, the appointment of electoral officials has also been hijacked by the ruling party as seen in the latest nomination of Resident Electoral Commissioners where card carrying members of the ruling party and aides to politicians in the APC are being appointed into INEC. When two critical institutions like the court and the electoral commission are trapped in an evil web of political machination, it becomes next to impossible for democracy to thrive.

As a stakeholder in the presidential election of February 25, I, along with other well-meaning Nigerians have done my bit in ensuring that our democratic process enjoys the privilege of full disclosure of the character deficiencies of the current political leadership. I also believe that even if the Supreme Court believes otherwise, the purpose of technology in our electoral system is to enhance transparency and not merely as a viewing centre. We have to move with the world and not be stuck in time.

Implications of PEPC and Supreme Court judgments
I leave Nigerians and the world to decide what to make of the Supreme Court’s unfortunate decision. But here’s my take. The judgments of the PEPC and the Supreme Court have very far-reaching grave implications, including the following:

One is the erosion of trust in the electoral system and our democracy. Nigerians witnessed as the National Assembly changed the electoral law to improve transparency in the process. Of particular importance was the introduction of modern technology to help eliminate the recurring incidents of electoral manipulation, particularly during the collation of results. Nigerians and the world also witnessed as the leadership of the INEC, especially its Chairman and National Commissioner for Voter Education reassured Nigerians on national television multiple times that the use of that technology would be mandatory.

Yet that same INEC undermined the use of that technology during the elections and collation process and declared as winner someone who clearly did not win the Presidential election. They then went further to take sides in the courts in a dogfight to defend their illegality. Who would convince the millions of Nigerians to vote in future elections after they suffered endlessly on queues to register to vote, to collect PVCs and to vote, based on INEC’s assurances only to see their votes stolen and given to someone they did not vote for?

When people lose trust and confidence in elections, democracy is practically on life support. And by affirming and legitimizing the continued lack of transparency in our electoral system the courts are continuing to usurp the rights of voters to elect their leaders. The other grave implication is that contestants in Nigeria’s elections should do whatever is necessary to be declared the winner. That includes identity theft, impersonation, forging of educational and other documents, perjury, and violence.

And, as they do so, they should ignore whatever the law says and whatever assurances from the leadership of the electoral umpire about what the law says and what they would do in compliance. And they would do so knowing that our courts would approve of their behaviour or at best pretend not to take any notice of it. The third is that if you are robbed of victory, do not bother going to court for redress because your glaring evidence of the robbery will be ignored in favour of the mandate bandit.

Also, your lawyers, however distinguished and accomplished, may be ridiculed by the judges who may also go out of their way to make even a stronger case for the so-called “winner” than even their own lawyers were able to do. These are clearly self-help strategies and actions bereft of the law and constitutionalism. Only lawlessness and anarchy will result from such, with violence, destruction and implosion and loss of our country likely to follow.
I believe that we still have a small window to prevent these from happening. I still believe that we can rescue this country from the strange imposters that have seized it illegally and are holding it by the jugular. Let me caution that the leaders of those African countries that have completely collapsed into chaos never came together one day and agreed to collapse their countries. Rather their countries collapsed because of the incremental and compounding individual and collective utterances and actions of those leaders.

Nigerians know more about the person sitting in office as their President and how he got there, and the dangers that it portends for them and the country. It is for them, especially the younger generation whose futures are to be shaped by that man, to decide what they want to do with the knowledge.

Now, let me give a historical perspective to the constitutional evolution that gave birth to the 1999 Constitution. In the build up to the current democratic dispensation, agitation was rife amongst members of the political class and a large number of civil society bodies to envision a constitution that would operate a democracy in a functional order after the nasty military regimes. These agitations and necessities of the circumstance of that time led to the convocation of the 1995 Constitutional Conference, which I was privileged to be a part of, alongside other prominent political actors.

The Constitutional Conference was expected to create the frameworks upon which a new constitution would be built in order to make the dreams of a democratic society. A number of far-reaching reforms and recommendations were made, which drew from our past experiences and aimed at safeguarding the new constitution from the mistakes of the past.

One such headline recommendation was the concept of rotational presidency anchored on the principle of 6 years single term among the 6 geopolitical blocks. Even the notional idea of delineating the country along geo-political blocks was a creation of the 1995 conference. Another thematic recommendation at the conference was that the Federal Capital Territory should be given the democratic opportunity to elect for itself a mayor who shall emerge from popular franchise. These two recommendations were part of the landmark reforms that were submitted to the military government that convoked the Constitutional Conference.

However, and rather disappointingly, the government that midwifed the current democratic dispensation and enacted what is now known as the 1999 Constitution, expunged these two recommendations from what eventually became the body of legislation to govern our fledgling democracy.

As for me and my party this phase of our work is done. However, I am not going away. For as long as I breathe I will continue to struggle, with other Nigerians, to deepen our democracy and rule of law and for the kind of political and economic restructuring the country needs to reach its true potential. That struggle should now be led by the younger generation of Nigerians who have even more at stake than my generation.

So, let me make a few proposals that I believe will help. We can urgently make constitutional amendments that will prevent any court or tribunal from hiding behind technicalities and legal sophistry to affirm electoral heists and undermine the will of the people. Our democracy must mean something; it must be substantive. Above all, it must be expressed through free, fair and transparent elections that respect the will of the people.

Firstly, we must make electronic voting and collation of results mandatory. This is the 21st century and countries less advanced than Nigeria are doing so already. It is only bold initiatives that transform societies.
Secondly, we must provide that all litigation arising from a disputed election must be concluded before the inauguration of a winner. This was the case in 1979. The current time frame between elections and inauguration of winners is inadequate to dispense with election litigations.

What we have currently is akin to asking thieves to keep their loot and use the same to defend themselves while the case of their robbery is being decided. It only encourages mandate banditry rather than discourages it.

Thirdly, in order to ensure popular mandate and real representation, we must move to require a candidate for President to earn 50% +1 of the valid votes cast, failing which a run-off between the top two candidates will be held. Most countries that elect their presidents use this Two-Round System (with slight variations) rather than our current First-Past-the-Post system.
Examples include France, Finland, Austria, Bulgaria, Portugal, Poland, Turkey and Russia, Argentina, Brazil, Ivory Coast, Sierra Leone, Namibia, Mozambique, Madagascar and even Liberia where a run-off is expected to hold in the coming days.

Fourthly, in order to reduce the desperation of incumbents and distractions from governing and also to promote equity and national unity, we need to move to a single six-year term for President to be rotated among the six geo-political zones. This will prevent the ganging up of two or more geo-political zones to alternate the presidency among themselves to the exclusion of other zones.

INEC should be mandated to verify the credentials submitted to it by candidates and their parties and where it is unable to do so – perhaps because the institutions involved did not respond in time – it must publicly state so and have it on record.

A situation where a candidate submits contradictory credentials to INEC in different election cycles and the electoral umpire accepts them without question points to gross negligence, at best, or collusion to break the law by the leadership of the INEC, at worst. The submission of contradictory qualifying documents by a candidate as well as those found to be forged or falsified should disqualify a candidate even if the falsification or forgery is discovered after the person had been sworn into office.

The burden of proving that a document submitted to INEC is forged should not be on the opposing candidates in the election. It is never the responsibility of an applicant for a job to prove that the person who eventually got the job did so with forged documents.

In addition to these proposed constitutional amendments, the Electoral Act should be amended to provide that, except where they explicitly violate the Constitution and other laws, the rules and procedures laid down by the electoral umpire and made public for the benefit of the contestants and the voters will be treated as sacrosanct by the courts in deciding on election disputes.

A referee cannot be allowed to set the rules for the game only to change or ignore them when one side has scored a goal or is about to win the match. We must restore confidence in our electoral system which the current leadership of INEC has completely eroded and undermined. Also, we need well-thought out provisions in the legislation and regulations to reform the judiciary, including the introduction of an automated case assignment system; transparency in the appointment of judges; a practice directory that stresses that the goal of judges in election cases should be to discover and affirm voters’ choice rather than disregarding voters’ choice for the sake of technicalities.

There should also be publicly available annual evaluation of the performance of judges using agreed criteria. By improving the transparency of the electoral process and reducing the incentives to cheat, in addition to transparency in the appointment of judges and other judicial reforms, the number of election petitions as well as corruption in the judiciary will be significantly reduced. More importantly, we would have succeeded in taking away the right to elect leaders from the courts and return it to the voters to whom it truly belongs.

Gentlemen of the Press, I thank you profoundly for listening. May God bless you, and may God bless the Federal Republic of Nigeria.

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