Monday, 11th December 2023

Atiku, Obi reject PEPC ruling, head for Supreme Court

By Azimazi Momoh Jimoh, Terhemba Daka (Abuja), Seye Olumide (Ibadan), Lawrence Njoku (Enugu), Adewale Momoh (Akure) and Nnamdi Akpa (Abakaliki)
08 September 2023   |   4:45 am
Nigerians are set to be treated to another round of legal fireworks over the February 25th presidential election as former Vice President and presidential candidate of the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP), Atiku Abubakar, and his Labour Party (LP) counterpart, Peter Obi...

• It’s a shame on Obi – Apapa’s LP faction accepts tribunal judgment
• Accept PEPC verdict, Ohanaeze, Bello appeal to Atiku, Obi
• Akeredolu, Afenifere, Osoba congratulate Tinubu
• Yoruba Ronu, Uwazuruike slam tribunal ruling
• Okechukwu pushes for electronic transfer of results to curb litigations

Nigerians are set to be treated to another round of legal fireworks over the February 25th presidential election as former Vice President and presidential candidate of the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP), Atiku Abubakar, and his Labour Party (LP) counterpart, Peter Obi, announced not only their displeasure with the ruling of the Presidential Election Petition Court (PEPC) on Wednesday, but their determination to appeal the judgment and pursue ‘justice’ to the Supreme Court.

The tribunal on Wednesday ruled that the petition filed by Obi, Atiku and their parties had no merit and unanimously upheld the election of President Bola Tinubu. The judgment was delivered by the chairman of the tribunal, Justice Haruna Tsammani, assisted by other members of the panel, Justices Monsurat Bolaji-Yusuf, Stephen Adah, Moses Ugo and Abba Mohammed.
 While Atiku slammed the PEPC ruling, saying the judgment was bereft of substantial justice as it failed to restore confidence in democracy, Obi insisted he would exhaust every legal process available to him.
Atiku, who spoke at a press conference at the national secretariat of the PDP, disclosed that he had already instructed his lawyers to file an appeal at the Supreme Court against the judgment of the PEPC. 
He stated: “Our gains in ensuring transparent elections through the deployment of technology was heavily compromised by the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) in the way it managed the last presidential election, and I am afraid that the judgment of the court as rendered by the PEPC failed to restore confidence in our dreams of free and fair elections devoid of human manipulations.
“My ultimate goal in this pursuit is to ensure that democracy is further strengthened through the principles and processes of fair hearing. Though the judgment of the court on Wednesday is respected, it is a judgment that I refuse to accept because I believe that it is bereft of substantial justice. However, the disappointment in the verdict of the court can never destroy my confidence in the judiciary.”
Acting national chairman of the PDP, Ambassador Umar Damagum, who also supported the idea of appealing the judgment, said “the judgment left lovers of democracy in and outside the country, more confused with a lot of questions on whether the Nigerian Constitution, Electoral Act and other laws guiding the conduct of credible election in our country are still functional.”
According to Damagum, “observation from the faces of Nigeria across the country shows hopelessness and despair since the pronouncement of the judgment.
“As a law-abiding political party, we received the judgment with shock along with other Nigerians. Members should however not lose focus or be distracted,” he stated.
The LP flag-bearer, Obi, speaking at a press briefing in Onitsha, Anambra State, disagreed with the judgment but praised the panel for delivering it in the stipulated time frame.
“In my capacity as a presidential candidate and on behalf of the Labour Party, we will immediately challenge this judgment through the appellate process, as permitted by the Constitution.
“The PEPC is not the ultimate authority in this matter, the responsibility now rests with the Supreme Court, which I have confidence in. I urge Nigerians to maintain their focus, steadfastness, and commitment to peaceful processes. This matter has not yet reached its logical conclusion,” he said.
Obi underscored the pivotal role of solid national institutions and the public’s confidence in them in a thriving democracy. He pointed out that electoral litigation could be significantly reduced if INEC discharged its statutory functions transparently and fairly.    
However, when such bodies falter, as he said INEC did in this case, the judiciary becomes an imperative recourse.
 “I will exhaust the process before I can think otherwise. I respect the process. I’m a process person, and what we are going through is what will unite us. You cannot use a wrong premise to make things,” he stated.
A faction of LP led by Lamidi Apapa has, however, accepted the verdict of the PEPC. Reacting, Apapa in a statement issued by the factional National Publicity Secretary, Abayomi Arabambi, said it was shameful that Obi and his legal team were unable to prove the allegations of irregularities in the February 25 election.
Apapa also accused Obi of allegedly siphoning money donated for his presidential campaign in 2022. “Obi has just gone on a wild goose chase. Imagine the candidate that failed to fund the party in order to engage the number of required polling agents, also the filing of the witnesses outside the stipulated time has shown that the legal team is a failure.
“Some of us have been saying that Obi decided to go to the tribunal to justify all the money he collected during the campaign, all that money was corruptly siphoned.”
The Chidi Ibeh-led faction of Ohanaeze Ndigbo yesterday urged Atiku and Obi not to appeal the verdict of the tribunal, while pleading with them to accept the verdict in good faith.
In a statement in Abakaliki, the Secretary-General of Ohanaeze Ndigbo, Mazi Okechukwu Isiguzoro, also urged President Tinubu to genuinely reach out personally to the duo, extending hands of fellowship and friendship to them as a pragmatic footpath for national healing and reconciliation.
 He further pleaded with President Tinubu to indeed be magnanimous in victory and personally visit Obi and Atiku, adding that this would go a long way in dousing the heightened tensions and calming down the nerves of their supporters.
“It is important to note that Atiku and Obi have the constitutional right to appeal the judgment to the Supreme Court. However, in the interest of peace and brotherhood, they should accept the verdict in good faith and should not appeal to the tribunal judgment,” the group said.
Similarly, Kogi State governor, Yahaya Bello, while applauding the PEPC ruling which affirmed the election of President Tinubu and Vice President Kashim Shettima, called on the aggrieved opposition parties not to dissipate energy seeking to appeal it, but accept the verdict in good faith. 
Still basking in the euphoria of Wednesday’s All Progressives Congress (APC) victory at the Court of Appeal, Bello, while fielding questions from newsmen after he emerged from the Vice President’s office, asked the aggrieved opposition parties to, rather, deploy the resources at their disposal to other more meaningful ventures. 
“As far as I’m concerned, I don’t think there is any ground for appeal. I will rather appeal to them that they should drop any appeal going to the higher court and then save the resources, save the trouble, advise their supporters and admonish them that they should accept yesterday’s judgment. No flaw.”
The governor equally appealed to the opposition to join hands to support the efforts by the President Tinubu-led administration towards ameliorating the hardship being faced by citizens. 
He said: “I advise all those that feel aggrieved, we have only one country, Nigeria. They should all come together and support President Tinubu and ensure that we fix this country. Whatever hardship we are facing today is the effect of the past. 
On the outcome of the Kogi State tribunal, which nullified the election of two APC Senators, and gave victory to the opposition PDP candidates, Bello, while suing for calm, quipped: “I want to assure you that even judging from the pronouncements yesterday at the Appeal Court, we are going to have our 3/3 Senate in Kogi, I can assure you,” the governor said without being categorical. 
“This is democracy and they have the right of appeal. I think they will take the appropriate steps to ensure that no violence is orchestrated anywhere. We will follow the due process of the law and whatever will be the outcome at the end of the day, we abide by it,” he said. 
Recall that the Kogi Election Tribunal had declared Natasha Akpoti-Uduaghan of the PDP winner of the election in Kogi Central Senatorial District, after nullifying the victory of the APC candidate, Abubakar Sadiku-Ohere.
The National Assembly election petition tribunal sitting in Lokoja, Kogi, also sacked the Chairman, Senate Committee on Customs Excise and Tariffs, Jibrin Isah (APC, Kogi East), on the ground that elections were cancelled in 94 polling units.

MEANWHILE, congratulatory messages have been rolling in, in torrents, for President Tinubu, who is in India to attend the G-20 Summit. Ondo State governor, Oluwarotimi Akeredolu, has congratulated the President on the verdict of the tribunal.

Akeredolu, in a statement by his Chief Press Secretary, Richard Olatunde, described the PEPC judgment as a revalidation of the people’s mandate and the renewed hope agenda of President Tinubu’s administration.
He said: “As true democrats, we must embrace the tenets of democracy, which also encompass post-election litigations. Our struggle for service must also fuel our reverence for democratic values. The tribunal has dispensed justice. Now is the time to come together and build our nation.
“Our judiciary has again lived up to expectations. It has reaffirmed our belief that it remains the last hope of the masses. We must collectively commend the pivotal role our Judiciary has played in enriching our democracy and upholding justice. Notwithstanding our days in court, we urge Atiku and Obi to sheath their swords and join hands with the President to develop the country.
“The tribunal verdict should be accepted in good faith by all lovers of democracy. Our commitment to advancing the national project must be built on national interest which prioritises the good of the people above personal victory.”
Also, the pan-Yoruba socio-political organisation, Afenifere, which backed Obi during the election, has congratulated President Tinubu on the validation of his victory at the PEPC.
A press statement signed by the organisation’s National Publicity Secretary, Comrade Jare Ajayi, stated that the national leader of the group, Reuben Fasoranti, expressed delight over the judgment.
While congratulating Tinubu and Shettima, Afenifere stated that the judgment should be seen not only as an indication of growing democracy in the country, but also a challenge on the present administration to actualise its various promises to Nigerians.
The statement read: “Your victory raises a lot of hope and you cannot afford to fail Nigerians. Incidentally, your manifesto on how to reset Nigeria resonates with my vision for having a Nigeria of which we all would be proud – as I mentioned to you on the two occasions you visited me last year in Akure.
“Going by the steps you have taken so far; I believe that you are setting the country on a sound footing for progress. Nigeria can begin to enjoy life more abundant and good welfare that they deserve,” Ajayi stated.

FORMER governor of Ogun State, Segun Osoba, yesterday, called on politicians to forget the past, accept the verdict of the PEPC and join hands with President Tinubu to rebuild the country. Osoba, while reacting to the judgment of the tribunal, said “this is not the time to be too emotional on the verdict but to think seriously on how to support the Federal Government to rebuild our ailing economy.”
The founding member of the ruling party said he was highly delighted and relieved over the judgment, saying, “the judges delivered a good job and their decisions further indicated that the Nigerian judiciary is reliable.”
Meanwhile, a Southwest group, Yoruba Ronu Leadership Forum, described the verdict as sensational. In a reaction, President on the forum, Akin Malaolu, said the tribunal gave its verdicts on the first petition made by APM and it took itself into making speculations on behalf of the Vice President when it said the breaches made by the political party were termed ‘not intentional’.
According to him, “this was an anomaly of a judgment and quite speculative in character. The findings have shown that the breaches were true and also intentional in nature and not otherwise.  The tribunal may be acting out a script already laid out for them.”
Ex-president general of Aka Ikenga, Chief Goddy Uwazuruike, yesterday, bemoaned the tribunal decisions, saying the PEPC failed to realise that it was on trial in the court of the people.
Reacting to the outcome of the judgment, Uwazuruike noted that those who benefitted from the injustice sees nothing wrong in the system  He said: “The judgment showed that justice is lying prostrate while technicality stood triumphant over it. Indeed, the PEPC relied on technicality in analysing the trial, including the evidence of the witnesses.
 “People expected that the tribunal will order the ‘Independent’ in INEC to live up to its name as INEC bluntly refused to produce the documents used in the election but the tribunal did nothing. This amounted to an unfair trial because the defence decided the evidence that will be available, notwithstanding the notice to produce served on it and the reassurance of the chairman that it will comply.

“World over, the judiciary does not rely on technicality. It relies on substantial justice, on what the people understand. Those who were beaten up during the election, those who were denied the right to vote, those who witnessed the mutilation of results are still wondering what happened? Election judgment based on technicality is naked injustice.”

ONE of the founding members of ruling APC, Osita Okechukwu, has canvassed the promulgation of a revised Electoral Act that will resolve all evident ambiguities, by enthroning mandatorily only electronic accreditation and transmission of results.
Reacting to the outcome of the judgment, he noted that although the main opposition PDP had bright chances of bouncing back through the 2023 presidential election, the political greed of the party’s candidate denied the party victory.
He argued that electronic transfer of results would drastically reduce the spate of litigation after the conduct of elections. He noted: “I subscribe to the idea that we should totally abolish manual collation of results and make electronic transmission of results mandatory. We also need to return to the popular Justice Uwais Handbook on Electoral Reform, which among other fine democratic tenets recommended how best to transparently recruit the INEC Chairman, Commissioners and sundry officials.
“With these altercations, Election Petitions will definitely be concluded before swearing-in of winners. Let us not forget that our democracy has witnessed tremendous advancement and keep in mind the fact that democracy is not a revolution, but a work in progress,” Okechukwu submitted.