The Presidential Election Petition Tribunal (PEPT) sitting in Abuja will hold a pre-hearing of the petitions filed by the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP), its presidential Candidate, Atiku Abubakar, and the Allied Peoples Movement on Thursday (today).
Atiku and the PDP, in the petition dated March 21, are challenging the outcome of the presidential election conducted on February 25.
Respondents in the petition, marked: CA/PEPC/05/2023, are the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC), Bola Tinubu, the presidential candidate of the All Progressives Congress (APC) and the APC.
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The PEPT, on Wednesday, adjourned to Friday the pre-hearing of the petition by the Labour Party and its presidential candidate, Peter Obi, challenging the outcome of the presidential election.
The petition is against INEC, APC, Tinubu and his running mate, Kashim Shettima.
Justice Haruna Tsammani, the presiding judge of the tribunal, adjourned the pre-hearing to enable all parties identify and agree on documents to be objected to and not during the proceedings.
Wole Olanipekun, counsel to Tinubu and Shettima, tried to appeal for more time to file the documents and examine them as necessary but the presiding justice insisted on the date.
The tribunal had on May 10 adjourned the pre-hearing session on Obi and the LP’s petition till May 17 at the instance of the petitioners. It was to enable all parties to agree on documents to be considered.
But at the resumed hearing on Wednesday, Livy Uzoukwu, counsel to Obi, said his team was yet to receive about 70 percent of required documents from INEC, and that the scheduled meeting with other parties to decide and agree on documents that would be considered did not yield any meaningful result.
He said: “Up till now, we are yet to receive about 70 percent of the documents that INEC is supposed to give us. We have made all the efforts we can, including meeting with the chairman of INEC, who publicly made a proclamation that they would give us all the documents required. We also met with all our colleagues in the legal departments, not less than six times; some documents were provided, yet all together, not more than 30 percent.
“A typical example is that of Rivers State, where the resident electoral chairman boldly told us they do not have forms EC8A to be given to us. We requested that they should put it in writing, but that was not done. Until now, if you ask me, INEC sees itself as a candidate in an election that it conducted.”
Uzoukwu also recalled court orders to allow for inspection and certification of proof of the documents.
When Justice Tsunami asked for the orders, Uzoukwu made reference to the order made on 3rd of March “that the applicants are hereby permitted to do electronic, scanning or make photocopies of voters registration, all papers used in conduct of the election for office of the president.”
He lamented that he had written to INEC at least five times with no response.
Abubakar Mahmoud, counsel for INEC, alleged that the counsel for the Labour Party did not show up for the meeting as agreed, and walked out of another rescheduled meeting. He said the documents for Rivers and Sokoto states have been provided, but the Labour Party refused to pay the sum of N1.5 million for Sokoto State and said the one for Rivers was not complete.
Olanipekun, counsel to Tinubu, wondered why Obi and the Labour Party was insisting on waiting for the Sokoto and Rivers states’ document. According to him, the party already has 34 out of 36 states, which he said was enough.
On the settlement of documents, he said:
“We have no problem on our side.” He added that counsels to all parties met, and identified issues to be objected to and not be objected to. “In that spirit of cooperation, we assisted to narrow down issues.”
He also said his team has served Obi’s team motions, which he said they were yet to respond to.
But Obi’s lawyer lamented that the motions were served very late. The motion they filed is asking that some paragraphs in their petition be struck out. Uzoukwu said his team will prepare a very robust response at the adjourned date.
Uzoukwu also said he would seek to explore other alternatives if INEC does not make the documents ready.
He denied allegations of walking out on the scheduled meeting of the parties to inspect and agree on documents to be tendered, and insisted that his team was ready to pay for the cost of documents..
Justice Tsammani, however, raised concerns that the process of settling documents was being delayed, noting that the pre-hearing session would end on May 21, 2023.
Tinubu rejects request for live broadcast of proceedings
The legal team of Tinubu, led by Olanipekun, rejected the application by the PDP and Atiku for a live broadcast of the tribunal’s proceedings, describing it as an abuse of the processes of the court, and prayed the court to dismiss it.
In their response to the application, they argued that Atiku’s application relates to policy formulation of the court, which is outside the tribunal’s jurisdiction as constituted.
They also argued that the request should not be granted because the court “is not a rostrum or a soapbox, it is not also a stadium or theatre. It is not an arena for ‘public’ entertainment. With much respect to the petitioners, the motion is an abuse of the processes of this honourable court.”
“The application also touches on the powers and jurisdiction invested in the President of the Court of Appeal by the Constitution, over which this honourable court as presently constituted cannot entertain,” they said in their counter affidavit.
They added: “The application touches on the administrative functions, which are exclusively reserved for the President of the Court of Appeal. The application is aimed at dissipating the precious judicial time of this honourable court.
“The said application does not have any bearing with the petition filed by the petitioners before this honourable court.
It is in the interest of justice for this honourable court to dismiss the said application filed by the petitioners.”
They also faulted the applicants’ reference to the fact that virtual proceedings were allowed during the COVID-19 pandemic.
While noting that the petitioners have brought their application under Section 36(3) of the Constitution which provides that the proceedings of a court/tribunal shall be held in public.
They however argued that the word ‘public’ as applied under Section 36(3) of the Constitution has been defined in a plethora of judicial authorities to mean a place where members of the public have unhindered access, and the court itself, sitting behind open doors, not in the camera.
They said: “Even in situations where a class action is presented, the particular people constituting the class being represented by the plaintiffs or petitioners are always defined in the originating process.
“Here, in this application, the public at whose behest this application has been presented is not defined, not known, not discernable.
“Beyond all these, it is our submission that the court of law must and should always remain what it is, what it should be and what it is expected to be: a serene, disciplined, hallowed, tranquil, honourable and decorous institution and place.”
Meanwhile, Uzoukwu, in an interview with journalists after the pre-hearing session, said: “Live transmission should be among the applications to be heard on Friday, but surprisingly again, INEC is objecting. A public institution that is being funded by the government representing the people is saying they don’t want the people to enjoy live streaming. Again, what are they hiding?”