President Muhammadu Buhari Tuesday opened his defence in the petition by Atiku Abubakar and his party, the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP), before the Presidential Election Petition Court (PEPC).
President Buhari, whose legal team is led by Wole Olanipekun (SAN), tendered about 26 sets of documents and called three witnesses, including his Chief of Staff (COS), Abba Kyari.
Others were the President’s mates at the Provincial Secondary School, Katsina, Katsina State, Maj.-Gen. Paul Tarfa (retd.) and Suleiman Maiadua (a retired civil servant), who said they graduated with Buhari in 1961.
The PDP and Atiku closed their case in the court on July 19 after calling 62 witnesses.
The petitioners proposed to call 400 witnesses to prove their case against Buhari’s victory. They were allocated 10 days.
Among the documents tendered yesterday were copies of Buhari’s academic credentials, including a certified true copy (CTC) of the confidential result sheet of the University of Cambridge, West African School Certificate 1961 from Provincial Secondary School, Katsina.
Kyari, as the President’s third witness of the day, said as at November, 25, 1946 when Atiku claimed that he was born in Jada, Adamawa State, Jada was part of Northern Cameroon, which was also referred to as French Cameroons
Kyari said by the French policy of assimilation, every child born in Jada, whose parents are from Jada, was automatically a Cameroon citizen before the 1961 plebiscite was conducted.
The President’s CoS also confirmed that before the plebiscite, Atiku’s parents also qualified to be Cameroonians.
Kyari’s evidence confirmed the position of the APC, in its reply to the petition by Atiku and the PDP, that the party had on candidate in the last presidential election, having fielded Atiku, a non-Nigerian by birth, and that the votes recorded by the party qualified as wasted votes.
The APC had argued that by Section 131(a) of the Constitution, a person must be a citizen of Nigeria by birth to be qualified to contest for President.
The party noted that Atiku was born on November 25, 1946 in Jada, now Adamawa State, then in Northern Cameroon (and French Administered Territory) “and is, therefore, a citizen of Cameroon.”
APC added that “the first petitioner (Atiku) had no right to be voted for and returned in the February 23 election, having regard to the clear provision of Section 131(a) of the 1999 Constitution as amended, which unequivocally stipulates inter alia, that for a person to be qualified for election to the office of President, he must be a citizen of Nigeria by birth.
“The 1st petitioner is not a citizen of Nigeria by birth and ought not to have even been allowed, in the first place, to contest the election.
“From available records, the 1st petitioner was born on the 25th November, 1946 in Jada, Adamawa, in Northern Cameroon, and is, therefore, a citizen of Cameroon.
“His father was Garba Atiku Abdulkadir, who died in December, 1957. Prior to 1919, Cameroon was being administered by Germany.
“But following the defeat of Germany in World War I, which ended in 1918, Cameroon became a League of Nations mandate territory, which was split into French Cameroons and British Cameroons in 1919.
“British Cameroons was administered by the British from neighbouring Nigeria. In 1961, a plebiscite was held in British Cameroons to determine whether the people preferred to stay in Cameroon or align with Nigeria.
“While Northern Cameroon preferred a union with Nigeria, Southern Cameroon chose alignment with the mother country. The transition took place on June 1, 1961. It was as a result of that plebiscite that Northern Cameroon, which included Adamawa, became a part of Nigeria, and by derivation, the first petitioner (Atiku) became a citizen of Nigeria, but not by birth.”
Led by Olanipekun, Kyari confirmed being the CoS to President Buhari and two documents earlier tendered by the lawyer.
He confirmed a letter written by General Alani Akinrinade, which the court had earlier admitted as Exhibit R5, in which he described Buhari as a distinguished international fellow.
The witness also identified the curriculum vitae, which the court had admitted as Exhibit 6.
Kyari adopted his written statement, which he urged the court to adopt as his evidence in the case.
Under cross-examination by Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) lawyer Yunus Usman (SAN), Kyari confirmed that in the school certificate result tendered by the President and marked as Exhibit R19, Buhari has credit in five subjects, including English Language.
Kyari said he has known Buhari for about 40 years and had been his CoS since August 27, 2015.
He said Buhari communicates officially in English language, because English is the official language in Nigeria.
Usman asked Kyari to read a portion of a document, an exhibit before the court, where Atiku congratulated Buhari for winning the APC presidential primary and expressed optimism that he (Buhari) would provide the country with quality leadership.
Under cross-examination by the lead petitioners’ lawyer, Livy Uzoukwu (SAN), Kyari confirmed that Atiku was vice president for eight years and he (Atiku) contested to be the presidential candidate of the APC in 2014.
The witness said although he is 67 years old, he did not personally know Atiku’s grandfather and father.
When shown Buhari’s Form CF001 (record of personal information, which a candidate submits to INEC before election), Kyari said the President’s certificates were not listed.
When shown Exhibit P1 (Buhari’s CV attached to Form CF001) by Uzoukwu and asked to confirm if Buhari’s certificate were listed, the witness said the document did not contain certificates, but the educational institutions attended by the President.
Kyari, who said he has never been in the military, confirmed that he stated in paragraph 7(6) of his deposition that Buhari has Diploma in Strategic Studies, but said the certificate was not included.
When asked by the petitioners’ lawyer if he has copies of the Buhari’s certificates with him in court, the witness said no.
Kyari was not surprised that he received Buhari’s certificates from Cambridge University, 18 July 2019, marked as Exhibits R19 and 20, after Atiku and the PDP filed their petition and after he had deposed to his statement.
Kyari said he is from Borno but not a Cameroonian.
Tarfa, who was the first witness, said he was the President’s mate in the Army and that they were enlisted on April 16, 1962.
He said they were enlisted after passing the examination and that they were taught in English.
Under cross-examination Tarfa said the main language of instruction in the Army is English language.
Tarfa identified some of those with who they enlisted in the Army as Brigadier Ola Oni, Brigadier Duro Ajayi, Col. J. C. Ojukwu, the late Brigadier, Abdullahi Shelem and the late Maj. Shehu Yar’Adua,
When asked by Usman whether they were asked to hand over their certificates when they enlisted in the Army, the witless said nothing of such happened.
Usman: “You submitted all your school certificates to the Nigerian Army when you were enlisted?”
Witness: “There was nothing of such.”
Under cross-examination by Uzoukwu, Tarfa said as the Commander-in-Chief, Buhari has authority over all military formations.
Maiadua said he retired as a civil servant and has never been in the military. He said a former President of the Court of Appeal, Justice Umaru Abdulahi, was their mate in secondary school.
Maiadua identified Buhari and Abdulahi in a photograph taken by all his class mates at the Katsina Provincial College when they passed out in 1961. It was tendered before the court.
At the conclusion of Kyari’s testimony, the court adjourned the hearing till today for the second respondent to continue his defence.
The Supreme Court had fixed August 20 for the hearing of an appeal filed by Atiku and PDP against the PEPC’s decision.
The appeal is against a ruling in which PEPC held that Atiku and PDP do not have a reply to an application filed on May 14, 2019 by the All Progressives Congress (APC), seeking among others, the dismissal of their (Atiku and PDP) petition challenging Buhari’s victory at the last presidential election.
When the appeal was mentioned yesterday, the lead lawyer to the appellants, Paul Erokoro (SAN) said he regretted that he filed a fresh “application this morning” for leave to bring supplementary records from the lower court.
Lawyers to the respondents – INEC, Buhari and the APC – Usman, Olanipekun and Fagbemi said they were just served with the application and needed time to examine it and react.
A five-man panel of the court, led by Justice Mary Peter-Odili, adjourned the hearing till August 20.