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UPDATED: Abubakar Atiku files Appeal against Yar’adua at the Supreme Court.

March 13, 2008
Saharareporters, New York

Lawyers to Alhaji Abubakar Atiku, the presidential candidate of the Action Congress, today filed a notice of appeal at the registry of the Supreme Court of Nigeria to challenge the controversial decision of the Justice James Ogebe-led Presidential Elections Petitions Tribunal. The notice of appeal joins Umaru Musa Yar'adua, Jonathan Goodluck, the People's Democratic Party (PDP), the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC), INEC’s Chairman, Professor Maurice Iwu, and 804 others.

The tribunal’s verdict has allowed Yar'adua to remain in power for now, despite the elaborate rigging of the 2007 general elections that have been adjudged as the worst in Nigeria's history.

Atiku’s decision to file an appeal was made despite strong pressures orchestrated by Yar’adua’s camp to get the AC presidential candidate to abandon an appeal.

As Saharareporters had earlier reported, Yar’adua’s handlers and political associates had designed an elaborate strategy to dissuade Atiku from appealing the ruling of the Ogebe tribunal that upheld Yar’adua’s “election.”

Yar’adua had recruited several traditional rulers, politicians, media practitioners as well as religious leaders to mount an emotional battle to blackmail Muhammadu Buhari and Atiku from appealing the tribunal’s bizarre ruling. Buhari, who ran for the presidency on the ticket of the All Nigerian Peoples Party (ANPP), had earlier filed an appeal against the verdict.

The Yar’adua camp had hired a few media houses to publicize a campaign calling on Atiku and Buhari to accept the Ogebe ruling that has received wide negative reviews by lawyers and Nigerians.

In private meetings with Atiku, some of Yar’adua’s associates made the case that an appeal by him would “heat up the polity” and prevent Yar’adua from “moving the nation forward.” But one source close to Atiku said the former Vice President to former President Olusegun Obasanjo rejected the arguments. “He told the stakeholders that the real danger is to allow a man to operate as president when his mandate did not come from Nigerian voters,” said the source. He added: “Alhaji Atiku told Yar’adua’s envoys that he is prepared to accept a loss to anybody if the election was transparent, but not when INEC read results based on pure fiction.”

One source also told Saharareporters that the former vice president was angered by the Yar’adua regime’s renewed efforts to take down his business concerns at the Lagos ports. Atiku reportedly told some associates that Yar’adua, who cultivates a public image of a decent man, was capable of acting with Obasanjo’s sense of vendetta and vindictiveness. He promised not to succumb to pressure as well as threats to his business interests. 

Atiku’s appeal is challenging the entire judgment of the five-man Ogebe panel. Many legal analysts and political pundits have condemned the judgment as lacking in judicial rigor and intellectual quality.

In fact, the lead judge, Justice Ogebe, while answering questions from members of the lackluster judicial sub-committee of the Nigerian Senate, explained that he had to abandon the reading of the judgment on account of media attacks that trailed his questionable elevation to the Supreme Court days before the judgment was delivered.

Ogebe asked Justice John Fabiyi to read the judgment on his behalf. “That decision further exposed the shameful quality of the ruling,” said a senior advocate of Nigeria who witnessed the ruling live. He added that “Justice Fabiyi delivered the ruling as though he was reading a comic script. It was pathetic.”

Though Justice Ogebe tried to play victim over the outcome of the ruling by blaming Nigerian politicians as sore losers, his views at his hasty and inept confirmation hearings further underlined the verdict’s ugly and fraudulent nature. In a curious confession, Ogebe told senators that the announcement of his Supreme Court elevation came after the verdict had been written. In fact, he stated that the judgment was already written by February 5th 2008. That revelation has fueled serious questions since that was the same day the panel heard final addresses by lawyers on both sides.

Justice Ogebe also made another eye-opening confession when he told the Senate that he “supervised” the writing of the judgment. That unwitting confession gave credence to an earlier report by Saharareporters that the verdict was written, not by any member of the Ogebe tribunal, but by an outside team recruited and paid by Attorney General Michael Aondoakaa.  

Authoritative sources told our correspondent that Justice Fabiyi had not seen the judgment prior to reading it in court. “That explained the litany of atrocious pronunciations and the existence of wrong dates that dotted the judgment read by Justice Fabiyi,” explained our source.
Meanwhile, several sources within the Yar’adua government have told Saharareporters that each of the five justices on the electoral appeal panel received $10 million to rule in favor of Yar’adua. The sources said the deal was brokered by several close associates of Yar’adua who themselves made a killing out of the judgment deal.

A source told Saharareporters that the panel’s only female member, Justice Uwanni Abba Aji, flew out of Nigeria the same night the judgment was delivered to an undisclosed country. Saharareporters had earlier reported that Justice Abba Aji was the last of the justices to be brought on board to rule for Yar’adua. The justice’s husband, Musa Abba Aji, and her brother-in-law, former Senator Mohammed Abba Aji, were both used to woo her. Her husband, a retired civil servant, was granted access to Yar’adua as part of a group of businessmen who had breakfast meeting with “the president.”

Former Senator Mohammed Abba Aji is currently in the U.S. sourcing for investors in Nigeria’s downstream oil sector on behalf of the Yar'adua regime. One source in Aso Rock told our correspondent that the lucrative business deal was “a reward for the senator’s help in getting Yar’adua a resounding victory.” 

With Buhari and Atiku’s appeals now on its dockets, legal analysts expect that the Supreme Court is likely to indicate soon the commencement date for hearings.

Contacted by our correspondents, several lawyers working on the case were reluctant to go on record as to what ruling to expect from the Supreme Court.

However, one member of Yar'adua's inner team, who requested anonymity, boasted that Buhari's petition was “dead on arrival.” He explained that top members of Buhari’s political party, especially ANPP governors, had promised to help frustrate his petition once again at the Supreme Court.

Atiku also faces some formidable challenges, with some members of his party, including former Lagos State Governor Bola Tinubu, hostile to his decision to appeal. Tinubu, who is close to Yar’adua and who wants to avoid prosecution by anti-corruption agency, EFCC, pressured the Lagos State government to praise the ruling of the Ogebe panel. A source close to Tinubu told us that the former governor considers Atiku to be part of the “Obasanjo machinery.” This source added that “We should not forget that Atiku was part of the massive rigging that Chief Obasanjo carried out in 2003. Did he come out to complain then?”

While it is not clear what to expect from the apex court on Atiku's appeal, one legal analyst told our correspondent that the case for invalidating the election “is solid.” He added: “Some of us are cautiously optimistic because the justices of the Supreme Court are usually bolder in taking legal decisions that may upset the powers-that-be but energize the people. The justices are not under duress to save their jobs or to seek promotion.”
But another senior lawyer with many years of practice before the Supreme Court cautioned against such optimism. “What matters is for Nigerians to be fully engaged in the progress of the case,” he advised. “Whatever the justices decide, it helps for them to know that Nigerians are watching closely, and that the majority of Nigerians are tired of fraudulent elections.” He paused before adding, “And fraudulent judgments.”

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