@Atiku Vs @MBuhari: Olanipekun And The Business Of Defending Buhari's Certificate Claims.

By Tai Emeka Obasi.

When Chief Wole Olanipekun, SAN called his first witness and got him affirmed, I noticed a counsel full of confidence.

But the Tribunal wouldn't have been so much fun if the second Respondents' lead counsel wasn't involved. He was arguably the chief dramatist in court. Even when it appeared very clear he was clutching thin air, he made it look like he was holding a tiger by the tail.

But before we got to the stage of RW1, Olanipekun, leading other Senior Advocates of Nigeria, including Yusuf Ali, Dr. Alex Inziyon, A. B. Mahmoud, Prof Taiwo Osipitan,  Femi Atoyebi, Mike Igbokwe, Osaro Eghobamien, Ken Mozia, Day Akinlaja, Chief Olusola Oke, Nnamonso Ekanem, Akin Osinbajo, Stephen Zakari Adehi, Bode Olanipekun and many more non-yet senior advocates, established from the off the crux of their defense.

Whether the lead counsel was the one cross-examining or whether he passed the buck to Dr. Alex Inziyon, all the 62 witnesses called by the Petitioners were asked if they had heard President Muhammadu Buhari address the nation in English Language.

So, there were no pretences about it, Buhari's certificate saga was the real elephant in the room. But knowing that the issue wasn't really if Buhari was qualified academically or not but rather the claims of his qualification, which the president made under oath could not be substantiated by the man who occupies Aso Rock as Nigeria's number one citizen, I wondered what game Olanipekun and Co were up to.

Even the other members of the 'Allied Forces'(Chief Later Fagbemi coined this in court), the first and third Respondents complimented in asking all the Petitioners' witnesses if they had heard Buhari address the nation in English Language.

Could they not be aware what the allegations against their client were regarding his certificate claims?  Considering how high the stakes were and the professional level of the personalities involved in this mother of all election defences, there wasn't such possibility.

The Nigerian judiciary is full of hawks and when it comes to the department of election petition tribunals, the hawks wear iron claws. The Respondents knew exactly what was at stake but were clearly using diversionary tactic, apparently hoping that the Petitioners would make a blunder that would lead to a safety net.

But in this very tight situation that was akin to poker games, the defense team blinked first.

Truth be told, the blunder didn't come from Olanipekun. He had already presented his witness, made him identify Buhari from a group photograph way back in 1961 of the graduating students of Katsina Provincial School. This was to prove to the court that the president went to secondary school. Even though Dr. Livy Uzoukwu would later make mockery of the fact that Buhari could preserve a group photograph taken over 58 years ago but couldn't preserve the certificate that came out of it, it was the first Respondents' lead counsel that opened the barn door.

Retired Major General Paul Tarfa as RW1 had affirmed and evidently convinced the court  that he was Buhari's classmate at the Katsina Provincial School and that they were admitted into the Army on same day in 1962.

But to affirm that the Army took their certificates on admission, Yunus Usman, SAN asked that mother of all questions and got the mother of all answers as Dr. Uzoukwu put it during presentation of final address.

General Tarfa, under oath, told the court that the Army never collected their certificates, thereby confirming what the Army earlier responded. And most gravely affirmed, even if unwittingly, that the president of about 200 million people lied under oath!

From that very moment, any keen observer would have noticed Olanipekun's confidence had been deeply punctured. He had a very bad case to defend from the off but his own witness, Buhari's boyhood friend, had just made it far worse.

Attempts to recover from that upper cut never panned out any better. The WAEC deputy registrar on same day as RW2 couldn't affirm that what he presented was a certificate. Instead he told the court it was an attestation. And worse, bearing the first name of Mohamed instead of Muhammadu.

It was a terrible day for Olanipekun and after two further witnesses couldn't lift the clearly dampened spirit, he called for adjournment, despite having couple of hours left for the day and having a bus full of his witnesses waiting within the court premises.

He got his adjournment. And even a neophyte in court that day knew the election petition veteran needed to work on his witnesses to avoid further embarrassment.

The following day, he kicked off with Abba Kyari, the president's all-powerful Chief of Staff. The Buhari team needed to return confidence and who else but the man believed to be the unseen hand running Buhari's government?

The CoS started well until Dr. Uzoukwu took over. Even then the Petitioners' lead counsel appeared harmless with his routine questions from the start. But towards the end when he asked the witness if he knew that he already deposed under oath that Buhari had the certificates sometime in April before he journeyed to Cambridge to get the 'certificate' just 12 days before he appeared in the witness box, the CoS's sudden silence couriered the gravity of his claims had sunk in. The fact that he was sent to Cambridge by a man with first name Muhammadu to collect his certificate and he came back with an attestation bearing Mohamed was another matter on its own.

By the time the CoS left the witness box, it must have been clear to him that he put his boss in a bigger hole instead of adding anything meaningful to bring him out of the one he was.

Two more further witnesses, RW6 and RW7 didn't fare any better that Olanipekun hurriedly closed his case. And Chief Fagbemi followed suit immediately.

I waited to see Olanipekun's final address to know what magic he would weave to save his client's neck from the hangman. And after watching him in court 'vibrating and gyrating' in his known dramatis, he evidently fell short of making a terrible case look good.

Instead it was the Petitioners' lead counsel that drove the dagger deeper with his closing remarks -

No Original Certificates...

No CTC of certificates...

No photocopy of Certificates...

No photograph of Certificates...

No electronic copy of Certificates...

Nothing because no certificate existed in the first place.

The ball is right now in the court of the five Tribunal justices.

But certainly, if Olanipekun was a betting man, he'd definitely think twice before putting a dime on his winning this one. He impressively has had miracles happen in many of his past election cases but this particular case will evidently require more than walking on water to add it to his list of conquests.

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