Attorneys for former Nigerian Vice President Atiku Abubakar will present their case today before a tribunal examining the Vice President?s and other candidates? defeats in April?s general elections. Nigeria?s tribunals were set up to adjudicate the concerns raised by the losing opposition candidates. Today?s appearance comes after the former vice president?s attorneys petitioned the court, challenging the Independent Electoral Commission?s (INEC) declaration of Alhaji Umar Yar'Adua as the winner. The attorneys are contending that not only were there widespread voter irregularities during the vote, but the electoral Act of 2006 was grossly violated. Both local and international observers called the elections deeply flawed.
From the capital, Abuja, Abubakar spokesman Shehu Garba tells VOA English to Africa Service reporter Peter Clottey that the tribunal has an opportunity to establish benchmarks for future elections.
?For us it?s an important moment for the evolution of democracy in this country. We?ve gone through what they called elections, but which in the judgment of observers both local and foreign was a flawed election. So we are there in order that we strengthen this young democracy. But the court of the land that has shown independence has very rare courage, in adjudicating on matters that are political and constitutional in this country. They have the chance to give new meaning to free and fair elections in Nigeria,? Garba noted.
He said the former vice president?s court challenge is good for the country?s young democracy.
?We have an opportunity to have the court lay down some benchmarks, minimum standards for future elections in this country. This is how we are looking at the processes that are beginning today,? he said.
Garba said the Nigerian Constitution does not preclude the president as being above the law.
?That does not place this or any other president above the law of the land. What we want the court to do is to rule on our contention that the elections were not conducted substantially, in accordance with the electoral laws that exist in Nigeria, and not in accordance with the constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria,? Garba pointed out.
He said if the former vice president wins his court challenge, it would set the stage for a fresh round of elections.
?In the event that the court agrees with us that this is so, it then means that the government has no legitimacy to assume the reigns of government and administration in Nigeria, and therefore, should vacate for there to be another round of free and fair elections in the country,? he said.
Garba said a credible election is priceless.
?I want to assure you that given the unstable situation that Nigeria is in at the moment, there is no price that is too great to pay, in order for us to secure the future of this democracy,? Garba noted.
He dismissed as baseless a recent meeting of religious leaders calling on the vice president to rescind his decision to challenge the April elections.
?The question which should have been asked of these rulers and religious leaders is where were they when this massive vote rigging took place, and what did they say? Where were they when the former president himself was punishing the vice president? In fact, Atiku (Abubakar) feared for his life, and would have been eliminated politically and physically, were it not for good luck,? Garba said.