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Cablegate: Nigeria: Presidential Election Tribunal Closes,

VZCZCXRO3015
PP RUEHMA RUEHPA
DE RUEHUJA #0254 0391214
ZNR UUUUU ZZH
P 081214Z FEB 08
FM AMEMBASSY ABUJA
TO RUEHC/SECSTATE WASHDC PRIORITY 2045
INFO RUEHZK/ECOWAS COLLECTIVE
RUEHOS/AMCONSUL LAGOS 8713
RHEBAAA/DEPT OF ENERGY WASHDC
RHEHNSC/NSC WASHINGTON DC
RUEAIIA/CIA WASHINGTON DC
RUEKDIA/DIA WASHDC
RHMFISS/HQ USEUCOM VAIHINGEN GE
RUFOADA/JAC MOLESWORTH RAF MOLESWORTH UK

UNCLAS ABUJA 000254

SIPDIS

SENSITIVE
SIPDIS

STATE FOR INR/AA, AF/W
DOE FOR CGAY

E.O. 12958: N/A
TAGS: PGOV PINR KDEM KJUS NI
SUBJECT: NIGERIA: PRESIDENTIAL ELECTION TRIBUNAL CLOSES,
VERDICT DATE TO BE ANNOUNCED

REF: ABUJA 183

1. (U) On February 5, the Presidential Election Tribunal
heard closing arguments in the joint petition filed by
Muhammadu Buhari (All Nigeria People's Party, ANPP) and Atiku
Abubakar (Action Congress, AC) contesting President
Yar,Adua,s (People,s Democratic Party, PDP) April 2007
election. A strike called by the Judiciary Staff Union of
Nigeria, protesting a withholding of pay, delayed proceedings
originally scheduled for February 4 (Reftel). The court will
announce the verdict date via hearing notice posted outside
chambers. Lawyers expect a final judgment in the case as
early as March.

2. (U) Before final arguments, the court entertained
objections to Independent National Electoral Commission
(INEC) Chair Maurice Iwu's responses to a list of questions
(known as interrogatories) about the procurement and delivery
of ballots for the April elections. The Supreme Court on
January 25 ruled against Atiku's application to permit Iwu to
appear before the court and answer questions, instead
compelling INEC to remit responses by sworn affidavit to the
court by January 29. Dissatisifed with Iwu's responses, on
February 5, Atiku's legal team asked the court to allow the
insertion of INEC's official report on the 2007 elections
into evidence. Babatunde Kasimu, Atiku's lead attorney,
argued Iwu's responses to his client's list of questions were
directly contradicted by statements Iwu himself made in
INEC's official report, which was published September 2007.
(Note: On January 31, Leadership newspaper published an
advertorial exhibiting pages 30-31 of INEC's report, in which
Iwu stated the ballot papers had been printed in South
Africa, and not in-country as was claimed in his
interrogatories. End Note.) The justices unanimously
concurred with counsel to Yar'Adua that new evidence cannot
be remitted after the May 31, 2007 deadline, pronouncing "if
the petitioner knew it was vital to the case, it would have
been tendered earlier." Atiku's team is likely to appeal the
inadmissibility of the INEC report to the Supreme Court.

3. (U) Attorney General Michael Aondoakaa, as well as
Minister of Culture Adetokunbo Kayode attended the
proceedings. Aondoakaa also visited court on February 4,
presumably to resolve the strike situation. At the time,
Aondoakaa met with lead counsels for Atiku, Yar,Adua, and
INEC before informing PolOff he was "heading straight to the
Villa to try and solve the (strike) crisis." Buhari and
Atiku running mate, Ben Obi, also attended closing arguments.
As on January 28, when the tribunal resumed hearing
following the holiday hiatus, several heavily-armed riot
police encircled the court complex and adjoining streets.
Many PDP supporters displayed placards backing Yar,Adua,s
presidency while Buhari supporters waved banners pronouncing
"Don,t blame me, I voted for Buhari" (in both English and
Hausa).

4. (SBU) COMMENT: Both the government and the opposition
(each for their own reasons) are eager for an expeditious
Tribunal verdict. Though no date has yet been announced,
Post expects it may happen within the next month. Regardless
of the verdict, it will be challenged at the Supreme Court,
so the legal battle over the presidential election is likely
to continue into the spring. END COMMENT.
SANDERS

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