• About 100 SANs assembled to plead Tinubu, Atiku, Obi’s cases
• LP, PDP, others want tribunal to pay attention to substance, not technicalities
Despite the controversies generated by the general elections and the sense of urgency which some Nigerians had argued should follow the election petitions, the Presidential Election Petition Court (PEPC) is yet to commence hearing of the petitions, while time ticks away.
Former president of the Nigerian Bar Association (NBA), Dr. Olisa Agbakoba (SAN) had recently argued that the court could determine the cases before May 29 handover, if it speeds up the process to reduce tension being generated owing to the fact that the declared winner would assume office, while the legitimacy of his victory is still being challenged.
However, it appears the jurists are not persuaded by such arguments, since the law grants them power to set aside any victory not obtained in accordance with the law whether or not the winner is already in office.
According to the secretariat of the PEPC, which is the Court of Appeal, the petitions are not yet ripe for hearing as the replies to petitions are still being awaited before a date would be fixed.
The Electoral Act, 2022, in Section 132 (7) & (8), provides that election petitions are to be filed within 21 days after declaration of results. The respondents also have 21 days to respond to the petitions.
In all, the court has 180 days to decide the petitions and law permits day-to-day hearing, once it starts. Currently, five political parties and their candidates have filed a petition against the President-elect, Bola Ahmed Tinubu of the ruling All Progressives Congress (APC) within the time allowed by the law.
Already, APC has responded to petitions by the five political parties, alongside the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC), while that of some parties and more responses are still awaited.
Aminu Masari and Kashim Shettima’s responses are still awaited, as well as that of Hamza Al-Mustapha, who were joined in some of the petitions.
After responses of all the respondents to the petition, the Court of Appeal president will identify members of the panel, and fix the date for commencement of hearing.
After the March 1 declaration of Tinubu as winner of the February 25 presidential poll, political parties and their candidates challenged the results declared by INEC.
The first to knock on the gate of the PEPC was Action Alliance (AA) and its presidential candidate, Solomon Okangbuan, with suit number CA/PEPC/01/2023. AA filed its petition against the declaration of Tinubu on March 16.
The second party to challenge Tinubu’s declaration was Action Peoples Party (APP), which filed its petition on March 19. This was followed by Allied Peoples Movement (APM) and its candidate, Chichi Ojei, with suit number: CA/PEPC/03/2023; and the Labour Party (LP) with its presidential candidate, Peter Obi in a suit marked: CA/PEPC/04/2023, which was filed same day.
Atiku’s petition was filed exactly 21 days after INEC’s Chairman, Prof. Mahmood Yakubu, declared Tinubu President-elect on grounds that his party scored a majority of votes cast at the poll.
The AA, in its petition, is challenging the election on ground of non-compliance, claiming that by allegedly excluding its candidate, Okanigbuan, INEC failed to comply with relevant laws, including the Electoral Act, while APM is contending in its petition that Tinubu was not qualified to contest the election on grounds of the double nomination of his vice presidential candidate.
It is also questioning Tinubu’s candidate on the grounds of the substitution of the initial placeholder, Kabiru Masari, with Kashim Shettima.
Obi is challenging the election for non-compliance with the relevant laws. Besides non-compliance, Obi and LP, in their petition, are claiming that at the time of the presidential election, Tinubu and Shettima were not qualified to contest it.
In addition to those, Obi and LP in paragraph 28 of the petition, declared that Tinubu was not qualified to contest for the presidency because he was fined in America for involving in dishonesty bordering on narcotics trafficking.
Meanwhile, APC, in its reply to Obi’s claim, had prayed the court to dismiss the petition filed by LP and Obi, and urged the PEPC to reject the petition in its notice of preliminary objection marked: CA/PEPC/03/2023.
APC also prayed the court to dismiss the suit on the ground that Obi lacked requisite locus standi to institute the petition, because he was not a member of LP at least 30 days to the party’s presidential primary, to be validly sponsored by the party.
INEC, on its part, dismissed the parties’ argument that results collation were to be done electronically, citing paragraphs 50 to 55 of the regulations and guidelines for the conduct of the 2023 presidential election.
It also dismissed the allegation that its officials doctored results to favour a particular political party’s candidate or that there was over-voting. The Commission also said the reliefs sought by Obi and his party are not grantable and prayed the court to either dismiss or strike out the petition for being grossly incompetent, abusive, vague, non-specific, ambiguous, and academic.
With the exception of the 2015 election, when President Muhammadu Buhari defeated former President Goodluck, every presidential election held since 1999 has ended in legal fireworks, but none may be quite as dramatic as the just-concluded presidential election, reason all eyes will be on the judiciary, especially the Appeal and Supreme courts justices.
Already, Obi has assembled 20 Senior Advocates of Nigeria (SANs) in his 60-member legal team, some of who are Dr. Livy Uzoukwu, Awa Kalu, Dr. Onyechi Ikpeazu, P.I.N. Ikwueto, Ben Anyachebe, S.T. Hon, Arthur Obi Okafor, Ik Ezechukwu, J.S. Okutepa, Dr. (Mrs) Valerie Azinge, Emeka Okpoko, and Alex Ejesieme.
Atiku is also lining up 19 SANs to establish the claim of illegality in the election. The legal team headed by J.K. Gadzama, includes Chris Uche, Paul Usoro, Tayo Jegede, Ken Mozia, Mahmood Magaji, Mike Ozekhome, Joe Abraham, Garba Tetengi Chukwuma Umeh and Emeka Etiaba.
Others are Goddy Uche, Prof. Maxwell Gidado; PDP’s National Legal Adviser, A.K. Ajibade; O.M. Atoyebi; Nella Rabana; Paul Ogbole; Nuremi Jimoh and Abdul Ibrahim.
For the President-elect, Tinubu has engaged 50 SANs, led by Wole Olanipekun, to defend his mandate, while his party is backing him up with 12 SANs.
According to the APC, the support 12-man SANs team comprised legal luminaries with vast experience in election petition matters, constitutional law and litigation to be led by APC’s lead counsel, Lateef Fagbemi.
Other members are Ahmad El-marzuq, Sam Ologunorisa, Rotimi Oguneso, Olabisi Soyebo, Gboyega Oyewole, Muritala Abdulrasheed, Aliyu Saiki, Tajudeen Oladoja, Pius Akubo, Oluseye Opasanya, Suraju Saida and Kazeem Adeniji.
AS Nigerians await the PEPC to commence sitting any moment from now, stakeholders from the major opposition PDP, LP and others, yesterday, insisted that the judges must pay attention to the substance of the case, and not technicalities. They also said the judges must realise that in this particular case, their decision may make or mar the country.
Spokesman, Peter Obi Presidential Campaign Council, Tanko Yunusa, told The Guardian: “We expect the tribunal to do due diligence to the petition before it. I want to emphasise that the judges should look at the substance in the case and not technicalities.
In similar vein, National Publicity Secretary of PDP, Debo Ologunagba, said the party is expecting the tribunal to consider all the facts before it in accordance with the laws, and “the facts we have produced in our petition.
“We expect the tribunal to follow the law and then consider the facts, consider the issues, consider the Electoral Act 2022 and the Constitution and take a critical look at the points we raised in our petition.”
National Secretary of Social Democratic Party (SDP), Dr. Olu Agunloye, said the party did not file any petition against the presidential election but that the party is more interested in how the judges would address the case before them because it is critical to the survival of the country.
In a telephone conversation, Agunloye said: “We expect two things from the tribunal. One is that the case before them is not a technical case but political. We, therefore, expect that the tribunal would do the best, not only in the form of justice, but in the form of what we call better stability for Nigeria.
“Nigerians are not going to file into the court but the judges are expected to know that what they come up with in this particular case may determine whether the country collapses or survives.
“The second part is we expect that the judges or the tribunal will understand that this is not a case of ‘cash and carry’, it is beyond that. And besides, the tribunal is not also expected to look in that direction.”
National President, Middle Belt Forum, Birtus Pogu, pleaded with the tribunal to ensure that the petitions before them are treated and resolved before the swearing in date of May 29.
According to him, “all these things can be trashed out by the Election Petition Tribunal and the Supreme Court before May 29. But if we allow things to go out of control, then the Doctrine of Necessity may come in and the unexpected is likely to happen in the country.”
But National Legal Adviser of All Progressives Congress (APC), Babatunde Ogala, said the expectation of the party is that the tribunal should strike out the petition for being incompetent.
According to him, “we didn’t add anything to the petition we already filed before the tribunal. We have filed our response, our reply to the petition(s), which incorporated our preliminary objections to the competent of the petition by the opposition parties. We didn’t add anything but they have seven days to respond to us and that is what we are waiting for from the respondent of the petition.
“We have also filed a notice of preliminary objections and told the tribunal to strike out the petition for being incompetent.” One of Atiku’s spokesmen, Daniel Bwala, responding to a comment by the Minister of State for Labour and Employment, Festus Keyamo, on moves to disqualify Tinubu, said: “Keyamo said people are searching the Constitution from sections 1 to 320 to find a ground to disqualify Tinubu. No no no. He has been disqualified from the Electoral Act before we even reach the Constitution. By the time we reach the Constitution, it will be to convict him.”
Keyamo had said some people were searching the Constitution daily on how to disqualify Tinubu. He stressed that the ignorance displayed by those trying to disqualify Tinubu was very interesting.