• Saturday, February 24, 2024
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BusinessDay

2023 poll: Legal battles take off today

After several weeks of expectation, the legal battles challenging the outcome of the 2023 Presidential election in Nigeria will begin today.

The two main contenders are the Peoples Democratic Party ( PDP) and the Labour Party (LP) have since taken the All Progressives Congress (APC) and the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) to court in order to
reclaim their “mandate” which they claim was stolen.

Many Nigerians had wondered why the tribunal was not moving fast enough with the cases considering the date of inauguration of the new administration which is fast approaching.

In a recent interview with BusinessDay, Olisa Agbakoba, a senior advocate of Nigeria (SAN), said he could not understand why the Tribunal was dragging feet.

He said: “Why is it that the Tribunal is not active? I don’t understand it, because the elections took place almost two months ago.

Kenya takes only 14-day cycle to finish their petition, but we take 240 days; why? If the Kenyans can do it in 14 days what’s wrong with us? We need to be pro-active. You see the problem with the Nigerian judiciary is that they are still steeped in the theory of 100 years ago, when the judge sits and does nothing unless counsels make an application. Nowadays judges are pro-active.

So, in Kenya; the Kenyan Judiciary Motto is ‘Sustaining Judiciary Transformation.’ They are proactive.

“If it were in Kenya, the judges would have said No, No, No, we can see the potential of Mr. Tinubu becoming president when the petition is still pending; let us hear it. There are not too many issues to hear; complex as they are the question whether you need to win Abuja is one, the question whether you can be vice presidential candidate and senatorial candidate is another one, the question whether Mr. Tinubu’s qualifications are dated; these can be decided in one day.”

According to him, “All that the court does in case management theory which is to allot time, say – Mr. Obi, your lawyers one hour; Tinubu, your lawyers-one hour; this might be 9.O’cloclk in the morning; by 6pm they deliver a decision. Why can’t it be done?”

BusinessDay search revealed that all the four interested parties have put together a team comprising 90 Senior lawyers, mainly Senior Advocate of Nigeria (SAN), to do the legal battles.

Sections 132 (7) and (8) of the Electoral Act 2022, allows for petitions to be filed within 21 days after the declaration of results. The respondents have 21 days to respond, while the court has 180 days to decide.

The Federal Government has put together, a team of senior judicial officers drawn from State High Court, FCT High Court, Federal High Court and National Industrial Court, to preside over the Petition Tribunals.

The Presidential Election Petition Tribunal PEPT) sitting in Abuja, the nation’s capital, is made up of five Justices of the Court of Appeal to be led by the President of the Court, Bolna’an Dongban- Mensem.

Other members include Justices Haruna Tsammani, Jonah Adah, Bello Mohammed and Joseph Ikyegh.

The President-elect and the APC candidate, Bola Tinubu tops the pack with an assemblage of over 50 lawyers, followed by the PDP candidate Atiku Abubakar’s 19, while the LP candidate,
Peter Obi has 12 and INEC nine, all within the ranks of Senior Advocate of Nigeria (SAN)

This shows that while the President-elect Bola Tinubu and the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) who are defending the election have 59 lawyers, the two main Petitioners who are the main opposition candidates have a combined team of 31 lawyers, all made up of Senior Advocates of Nigeria ( SAN)

Renowned legal practitioner, Wole Olanipekun is leading the legal team of Bola Tinubu, which comprised Akin Olujimi, Yusuf Ali, Lateef Fagbemi, A.U Mustapha, Ahmed Raji, Abiodun Owonikoko, Kemi Pinheiro, and Niyi Akintola.

Others are H.M. Liman, Taiwo Osipitan, Babatunde Ogala, Roland Otaru, James Onoja, Muiz Banire, Olusola Oke and Mohammed Abubakar.

BusinessDay gathered that INEC, with a budget of over N3billion to defend the results of the February 25 presidential and National Assembly elections and the March 18 governorship and state assembly polls, has put together, a team of lawyers comprising nine Senior Advocates of Nigeria.

The former Nigerian Bar Association President, Abubakar Mahmoud, is leading the INEC team comprising Stephen Adehi, Oluwakemi Pinheiro, Miannaya Essien, and Abdullahi Aliyu. Others are Garba Hassan, Musa Attah, and Patricia Obi.

On the other hand, leading the Atiku’s legal team is Kyari Gadzama, who is leading others including Chris Uche (SAN), Paul Usoro (SAN), Tayo Jegede (SAN), Ken Mozia (SAN), Mike Ozekhome (SAN), Mahmood Magaji (SAN), Joe Abraham (SAN), Chukwuma Umeh (SAN), Garba Tetengi (SAN) and Emeka Etiaba (SAN).

Others are Goddy Uche (SAN), Maxwell Gidado (SAN); the National Legal Adviser of the PDP, A. K. Ajibade (SAN), O. M. Atoyebi, (SAN), Nella Rabana (SAN), Paul Ogbole (SAN), Nuremi Jimoh (SAN), and Abdul Ibrahim (SAN).
Peter Obi’s legal team, also made up of Senior Advocates of Nigeria ( SAN), has Livy Uzoukwu, Awa Kalu, Onyechi Ikpeazu, P.I.N. Ikwueto, Ben Anyachebe, S.T. Hon, Arthur Okafor, Ik Ezechukwu, J.S. Okutepa, Valerie Azinge, Emeka Okpoko, and Alex Ejesieme.

Amongst the several issues, PDP and the LP are challenging the independent National Electoral Commission’s declaration of the APC candidate, Bola Tinubu as the winner of the February 25 Presidential election, asserting that that the election was conducted in gross violation of provisions of the 2022 Electoral Act.

The PDP candidate, Atiku Abubakar has also filed a petition, urging the tribunal to “disqualify the APC candidate and President elect, Bola Tinubu on the grounds of “dual citizenship” for holding a Passport of Republic of Guinea,

Relying on Section 137 (1)(a) of the Nigerian Constitution which says a “person will not be qualified to be president if “he has voluntarily acquired the citizenship of a country other than Nigeria.” the PDP candidate urged the tribunal to disqualify Tinubu as he was not qualified to seek the Nigeria’s highest office in the first instance

But INEC in their response, declared that presidential election was conducted in substantial compliance with the Electoral Act, 2022.

Both the APC and INEC, in their separate replies to the LP and Obi petition’s asked the court to deny them all the reliefs sought on the grounds that their petition is “devoid of any merit and also founded on frivolity.”
The APC also filed a Notice of Preliminary Objection to the hearing of the petition on the grounds that the petition is incompetent and lacking in merit,

The party also queried tribunal’s power to hear the petition, adding that it lacked necessary jurisdiction to entertain it in the first place.

Read also: LP tackles Buhari for attributing party’s election loss to overconfidence, others

Amongst others, APC claimed that the Labour Party lacked the necessary locus standi to initiate the suit against the outcome of the presidential election on the grounds that it did “not present a valid candidate for that election”.

Thomas Ojo, filing the APC’s response from the chambers of Lateef Fagbemi, SAN, claimed that Obi was still a member of the PDP as at the time he was sponsored by the Labour Party.

“The 1st Petitioner herein resigned his membership of the PDP on May 26, 2022 and joined the Labour Party the following day being May 27, 2022.

“The 2nd Petitioner herein conducted its Presidential Primary on May 30, 2022 which produced the 1st Petitioner as the candidate it intended to sponsor in the General Election

“By section 77(3) of the Electoral Act, 2022, the 2nd Petitioner is mandated to have submitted its comprehensive register of members to the Ist Respondent 30 days before its presidential primary That is to say the said register of members must have been submitted to the Ist Respondent on or before 30th April, 2022.

“The 1st Petitioner as of April 30, 2022, was still a member of the PDP and his name was not and could not have been in the register of members submitted by the 2nd Petitioner to 1st Respondent”.

In another ground, APC argued that the LP and Obi’s petition was defective because they failed to include candidate of the People’s Democratic Party (PDP), Alhaji Atiku Abubakar, who came second in the Presidential election with 6,984,520 votes as against the petitioners who came third with 6,101,533 votes.

It is the APC’s submission that “For the Tribunal to grant prayer (iii) of the Petitioners, the Tribunal must have set aside the scores and election of Alhaji: Atiku Abubakar;

“Ahaji Atiku Abubakar must be heard before his votes can be discountenanced by the Tribunal. The petition is incompetent for failure to join as a party to the petition the presidential candidate of the People’s Democratic Party (PDP) Atiku Abubakar the Ist runner up and his political party People’s Democratic Party (PDP) as a Respondent whose right would be affected by the reliefs sought in the petition.”