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Tinubu, Obi, Atiku, INEC differ on court’s move to consolidate petitions

The practice of ‘courtocracy’: We ain’t seen nothing yet!

The All Progressives Congress (APC) and its presidential candidate Bola Tinubu, have opposed the proposal to consolidate the three petitions being heard at the Presidential Elections petitions Court (PEPC) challenging the outcome of the 2023 presidential election.

But, the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP), and its presidential candidate Atiku Abubakar have prayed the court to merge the surviving petitions while the Independent National  Electoral Commission  and the Labour Party are indifferent.

Justice Haruna Tsammani,  chairman of the five-man panel of the tribunal, had noted that the court is empowered by paragraph 50 of the First Schedule of the Electoral Act to merge all the petitions and decide them together, and directed the counsels to all parties consult their clients and report back.

At the pre-hearing session Monday, counsels  argued for and against the consolidation. Counsel for the APC led by Charles Edosomwam, argued that consolidating the petitions would be against the interest of justice. He said some issues in various petitions would be lost and his client would be prejudiced.

“Justice will not be served, the grounds for the petitions are not all alike. The justice factor is paramount, so many issues will be lost. In the interest of justice, the second respondent will be terribly prejudiced,” he said.

APC’s lawyer also argued that 180 days allotted for determination of presidential petitions is enough and there was no reason for joining all the petitions.
Similarly, counsel to Tinubu and Kashkm Shettima, Akin Olujinmi, noted that pragraph 50 of the first schedule to the electoral Act gave an impression that it is mandatory, “but in due respect, I submit that it is not.”

Read also: Supreme Court to deliver judgement May 26 in PDP suit against Tinubu, Shettima

“It would be absolutely difficult for us to consent, I most humbly urge the court not to consolidate”, he added.

But, counsel to PDP and Atiku,  Eyitayo Jegede, argued that the consolidation of all petitions will afford speedy determination of the petitions, and does not in any way make any of the petitions lose its character. He also argued that the court does not require the consent to or concurrence of any of the litigating parties

Also, Femi Ihero, INEC’s lawyer,  said “We are indifferent to whatever order the court makes. I am not in support or in opposition”.

Awa Kalu, counsel to Peter Obi and the LP said, “Taking into account the facts before you, and issues arising before you in the different cases, whatever the court directs, whatever the court decides.”

Tribunal to present pre-hearing report Tuesday

The PEPC will on Tuesday present a report of the pre-hearing on the petitions challenging the outcome of the 2023 presidential election.

The report will determine the progress of the petition and the time the petition will be heard and concluded. It is expected to contain modalities for the main hearing; to include the time for examination and across examination of witnesses.

Justice Tsammani,  said the report, when published will be binding on all parties. He also adjourned all petitions challenging the 2023 elections  Tuesday, 23rd May,  2023.

Court dismisses applications for live broadcast

The court, during the pre-hearing session on Monday, dismissed the applications for live broadcast of its proceedings.

Justice Tsammani who read the ruling, dismissed the application for lack of merit. He said the application is a policy issue that can only be established by the judiciary, but no such policy or regulatory framework have been put in place to support the application.

Atiku and the PDP in an application dated May 5, filed by their counsel, Chris Uche, specifically prayed to the court for an order directing the court’s registry and the parties on modalities for admission of media practitioners and their equipment into the courtroom.

Similarly, the LP and its Presidential candidate Obi filed an application in which they argued that Nigerians being stakeholders have a right to have real-time information about the election petition proceedings.

The legal team of Atiku, led by  Chris Uche had field a motion dated 5th May and filed 7th May, praying for an order of the court, allowing the television of the proceedings of its petition.

Atiku and his political party, the PDP, are specifically praying the tribunal for “An order Directing the Court’s Registry and the parties on modalities for admission of Media Practitioners and their Equipment into the courtroom.”

Similarly,  the Labour Party  and its Presidential candidate Peter Obi filed an application in which they argued that Nigerians being stakeholders have a right to have real-time information about the election petition proceedings.

The applications are hinged on sections 36(3) and 39 of the Nigerian Constition and Paragraph 19 of the First Schedule to the Electoral Act, 2022, which borders on fair hearing.

But, Justice Tsammani said the applications were outside the provisions of the concept and outside the claims brought by the petitioners for the determination of the court.

According to him, section  36 of 1999 constitution which guarantees fair hearing, means parties should be given equal opportunities; hence the right to fair hearing cannot be advanced by televising of the courts proceedings as presented before the court.

He said though the applications are novel and unprecedented, but  the applicants did not establish that by televising the proceedings, the rights or claims peculiar to the parties will be advanced.

“ There is no where in the first schedule in the electoral Act 2022 or other laws of this court that provision is made for televising of the proceedings of this court. Further more, the issue is a policy matter which can only be established by the custodians of the judiciary.  This court has no power to set that policy. In any case, we cannot permit a situation that may lead to dramatization of our proceedings. I am of the firm view that this application is devoid of merit and equally dismissed”, he said.

“The mere sentimental claim that the live broadcast of proceedings will benefit the voters has no utilitarian value on the matters before the court. The court can only be guided and act in accordance with the practice directions and procedures approved by the President of the Court of Appeal”, he also said.

Justice Monica Dongban-Mensem said “Nobody could predict the implication of live broadcast of the proceedings, it is better for the avoidance of the trial by ordeal of live cameras in court.”

Court’s dismissal not a setback,  Atiku reacts

The PDP and presidential candidate,  Atiku said that the dismissal of their application for a live broadcast by the court was not a setback to their petition against Tinubu.

Counsel to PDP and Atiku, Jegede,  stated this while fielding questions from newsmen shortly after the PEPC’s decision.

“There is no setback here. The court, in its wisdom, decided that the subject of our application on the live streaming and open telecast did not, in any way, connected with the merit of our petition.

“The petition is separate; it is ongoing. The application did not succeed to have the televised version of the proceedings. As far as we are concerned, we are now set for hearing.

“Tomorrow, we will be hear by God’s grace for pre-hearing report that will determine the progress of the petition and the time the petition will be heard and concluded,” Jegede said.

Court asks LP, Obi to reduce time to call witnesses

Also at the pre-hearing session on Thursday,  the panel expressed  concern over the seven weeks which Peter Obi and the LP is seeking to call 50 witnesses to testify against Tinubu.

Justice Tsammani said the time may be too much, considering that proceedings will end September.

Ob’s lawyer Awa Kalu said his team is still having difficulties getting documents from the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC).

“We applied for digital examination of BVAS, we have not even seen the BVAS”, he said.

Kalu told the could that he and his team are handicapped and pleaded that their circumstance be taken into consideration.

Justuce Tsammani said if Kalu and his team cannot give the court a reasonable time, it may be forced to ascribe time.

Kalu reduced the time requested from seven to six weeks. He also said if his team can get all documents, it can conclude on the matter in 14 days.

Monica Dongban-Mensem, also said, “It is our duty to give everyone equal opportunity,  but  must be within the law, there is a time frame for the hearing of this petition.  If we stand by your seven weeks , by the process are completed, this court will be left with only four days.”

Justice Tsammani concluded that the pre-hearing report would be presented tomorrow, Tuesday and it will include a timeline, and must be binding on all parties.

Counsel to INEC, however said it has acted on the request of LP.

“On the inspection of the BVAS machine, every data has been transferred to back server based on your lordship’s  order, and the information has been made available to them. The only information on the BVAS is on the governorship election.”

He however assured Obi’s lawyer before the court that all documents will be made available to them, and they can inspect the BVAS.