Saturday, 23rd September 2023

Technicalities, time wasting won’t be entertained, PEPC warns Atiku, Obi, Tinubu’s lawyers

By Leo Sobechi, Ameh Ochojila, John Akubo (Abuja) and AbdulGaniyu Alabi (Kaduna)
09 May 2023   |   4:15 am
As legal fireworks began yesterday on the outcome of the presidential election, 73 days after the February 25th poll and 69 days after chairman of the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC), Prof. Mahmoud Yakubu, declared the ruling All Progressive Congress’s (APC) flag-bearer, Bola Tinubu, winner...

• Court adjourns Obi’s petition, Atiku’s live broadcast request
• Tribunal dismisses AA’s suit challenging Tinubu’s victory
• Action Alliance: Why we withdrew petition
• CDD: Search for electoral justice shows Nigeria democracy deepening 

As legal fireworks began yesterday on the outcome of the presidential election, 73 days after the February 25th poll and 69 days after chairman of the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC), Prof. Mahmoud Yakubu, declared the ruling All Progressive Congress’s (APC) flag-bearer, Bola Tinubu, winner, the Presidential Election Petition Court (PEPC) began its sitting and issued stern warning to all lawyers representing the presidential candidates who filed petitions before the court to avoid unnecessary technicalities and address the substance of their petitions.

The five-man panel, comprising Chief Registrar of the Court of Appeal, Haruna Tsammani; Justice Stephen Adah of the Court of Appeal, Asaba division; Justice Misitura Bolaji-Yusuf, Court of Appeal, also of Asaba Division; Justice Boloukuoromo Ugoh of Kano division; and Justice Abba Mohammed of Ibadan Court of Appeal, began sitting yesterday to hear petitions filed by aggrieved candidates against the declaration of Tinubu.
Giving assurances that justice will be served, presiding justice of the PEPC, Justice Tsammani said: “We are determined to look at the matter dispassionately and give justice to whoever deserves justice.”
He warned parties against unnecessary applications that could delay proceedings, adding that the tribunal would consider the substance of each case over technicalities so that “whoever leaves here will be satisfied that justice has been done.
“Election is time-bound; let us not waste unnecessary time. Let us cooperate with each other so that everyone will leave here satisfied. Avoid unnecessary technicalities. We are determined to look at all the matters brought before us. Let us look at what is good for our country and avoid time-wasting applications,” he said.
Five political parties and their candidates are challenging the outcome of the presidential election on grounds of non-compliance with the electoral laws as well as the guidelines of the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC).
The PEPC thereafter adjourned Peter Obi’s petition until tomorrow, May 10, after it entertained some preliminary issues from Obi’s legal team, led by Livy Uzoukwu, a Senior Advocate of Nigeria (SAN).
Obi, who was the presidential candidate of the Labour Party (LP), came third in the election, but he is praying the court to nullify the polls owing to alleged malpractices by INEC.
Tinubu and APC’s lawyer, Wole Olanipekun, and Lateef Fagbemi, both SANs, informed the court they had filed their responses to the pre-hearing questions earlier raised by the court. Thereafter, the court adjourned Obi’s petition until Wednesday.
Tinubu is fighting to retain his victory amid opposition parties’ frantic call for an order to overturn his mandate. One of the top contenders in the legal dispute, Atiku Abubakar of the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP), has urged the PEPC to allow a live broadcast of the court’s proceedings.
Atiku and the PDP who jointly filed their petition at the court are praying for “an order directing the court’s registry and the parties on modalities for admission of media practitioners and their equipment into the courtroom.”
In the request filed by his lawyer, Chris Uche, a SAN, Atiku argued that the petitions before the court are “matters of national concern involving citizens who voted during the last election.” Atiku further argued that the litigation presents a unique constitutional dimension for the court to determine.
“An integral part of the constitutional duty of the court to hold proceedings in public is a discretion to allow public access to proceedings either physically or by electronic means.”
The petitioner further contended that the Court of Appeal’s adoption of virtual hearing and electronic filing permits the PEPC to transmit its proceedings live.
Citing the maxim that justice must not only be done, but must be seen to be done, Atiku said: “Televising court proceedings is not alien to this Honourable Court, and will enhance public confidence.”
Recall that a similar call by the Nigerian Bar Association (NBA) and human rights lawyer, Femi Falana, had urged the court to grant permission to media houses to transmit the court’s proceedings live.
After the court heard three out of the five petitions against Tinubu, it adjourned until today, May 9, to hear Atiku’s petition. Earlier, the PEPC dismissed a petition challenging Tinubu’s victory as the President-elect following an application through the Action Alliance (AA) team of lawyers, led by Oba Maduabuchi, SAN, who applied to discontinue further proceedings in the matter.
Following a no-objection stance by all the respondents in the matter, Justice Tsammani dismissed the petition. Similarly, in the pre-hearing session on the suit by the Action Peoples Party (APP), counsel to APP, Obed Agu, hinted that there is room for out-of-court settlement, stating that given the weighty evidence against APC and its presidential candidate, it would be advisable to settle out of court.
The court, however, advised him to liaise with the lead counsel to respondents, and subsequently adjourned the suit to May 10 for continuation of hearing. On the petition by LP, the court ordered the counsels to harmonise their briefs to enable it to determine which to take and also adjourned the suit to May 10 for continuation of hearing.
Atiku and Obi, through their counsels, both pledged their cooperation with the PEPC.  Obi, particularly, showed up at the tribunal’s inaugural sitting yesterday. He was accompanied by the National Chairman of the party, Julius Abure, and other national officers of the party, alongside Senator-elect for Anambra Central, Victor Umeh.
Explaining its decision, AA said it withdrew its petition because of the nation’s unity, saying the party would not want to be the reason Nigeria will be thrown into another horrific experience similar to June 12, 1993 presidential election won by the late Chief M.K.O. Abiola.
Chairman of the party, Dr. Adekunle Rufai Omo-Aje, stated this in a statement made available to journalists in Kaduna. He added that as active democrats in the democratic experiment, AA would not be used by proponents of the Interim Government to achieve their concocted agenda of taking over the government through the back door.
“Thirdly, our party believes in the three key principles of a healthy democracy, which are: Equity, fairness and justice. The agitations around our country today are because parts or all of these key principles have been relegated.
“We believe it is not fair to abort ascendancy of a southerner to the most exalted seat and position, especially after a northerner has successfully sat on the same seat for eight years.
“We do not want to be seen as being used as a vehicle for further relegation of these all-important principles of democracy.
“We also considered those who participated and won in the elections. We considered Senator Rabiu Musa Kwankwaso of New Nigeria Peoples Party (NNPP) and Prince Adewole Adebayo of Social Democratic Party (SDP).
“These two men, among others, had their parties winning positions in the elections, yet they never approached this PEPC in spite of their party’s losses.”

MEANWHILE, the search for electoral justice is responsible for the post-election suspense pervading the country’s socio-political environment almost three months after the general elections.
The Director of Centre for Democracy and Development (CDD), Idayat Hassan, made the observation in an interaction with The Guardian. She noted that despite the feelings in political circles, the elections are already over.

“Where we are now,” she added, “is the post election phase, where basically people are trying to get electoral justice. And, being a very contested election and the role social media also played, it has unnecessarily heated the polity.
“But currently, all elections are concluded, and we have moved from the electoral commission, from the conduct of the elections, to the declaration of results; we are now at electoral adjudication, so all focus is on the judiciary.”
The CDD Director, however noted that basically, the election is not concluded until all remedies have been concluded, stressing that there is nowhere people will not contest the outcome of an election.
While acknowledging that post-election litigation is within the rights of gladiators as part of democracy itself, she declared: “I am happy to see that people are going to court to challenge the outcome of the elections if they feel that it doesn’t reflect their rule.
“It is okay; it is not the first time. In every electoral circle in Nigeria people have gone to the court to actually review the process. If you look at the pre-election phase itself, there were more than 1,800 cases at the level of the Court of Appeal, while 200 again made it to the Supreme Court.
“Knowing the litigious nature of Nigerians itself, we shouldn’t expect anything else. And, it is also a sign that democracy itself is being deepened. Instead of people going to the streets, instead of protesting, rioting, they are seeing the court as the last hope of the common man.”