•As court okays substituted service through APC
By Ikechukwu Nnochiri
The Presidential Election Petition Court, PEPC, sitting in Abuja, on Friday, ordered that the President-elect, Bola Tinubu, should be served with copies of petitions seeking to nullify his election, through substituted means.
The court, in a ruling by a three-man panel led by Justice Haruna Tsammani, directed that the petitions should be served on Tinubu, through his political party, the All Progressives Congress, APC.
It equally ordered service of the petitions on the Vice-President-elect, Senator Kashim Shettima as well as on Mr. Ibrahim Masari who was initially nominated as Tinubu’s running mate for the presidential election that was held on February 25.
The ruling of the court followed three separate ex-parte applications that were brought before the court by the candidate of the Peoples Democratic Party, PDP, Atiku Abubakar, his counterpart in the Labour Party, Peter Obi, and the Allied Peoples Movement, APM.
Atiku and Obi had accused the President-elect, Tinubu, of deliberately avoiding the service of their petitions on him. They told the court that several attempts they made to effect service of the petitions on Tinubu, proved abortive.
According to the petitioners, Tinubu had after he was declared winner of the presidential election, relocated to a place with heavy security. They further told the court that the Vice-President-elect, Shettima, could also not be reached as he had equally relocated from his known address to a location where he would stay until his inauguration on May 29.
They averred that the bailiff of the court who was sent to serve the petitions on Tinubu and Shettima returned with the processes as all attempts to gain access to them failed.
Consequently, relying on Section 6(6a) and 36(1) of the 1999 Constitution, as amended, Section 15 of the Court of Appeal Act, as well as Paragraph 8 of the First Schedule of the Electoral Act 2022, the petitioners sought the intervention of the Court.
Both Atiku and Obi further supported their ex-parte motions dated March 23, with affidavits of urgency and non-service, even as they persuaded the court to hear the applications, outside the pre-hearing session of their substantive petitions.
They specifically prayed the court to allow them to serve the processes on Tinubu, Shettima and Masari, “by delivering and/or leaving/pasting the petition and all other processes filed in the petition at either the office of the National Legal Adviser of the APC or any other officer of the APC at its national secretariat in Abuja”.
As well as, “An order deeming the aforementioned mode of service as good and proper service”.
While Atiku’s application was moved on Friday by his legal team led by Mr Eyitayo Jegede, SAN, that of Obi and LP was moved by Mr Ikechukwu Ezechukwu, SAN.
It will be recalled that the Independent National Electoral Commission, INEC, had on March 1, declared Tinubu of the ruling APC as the winner of the presidential poll, ahead of 17 other candidates that contested the election.
According to INEC, Tinubu scored a total of 8,794,726 votes to defeat Atiku who polled a total of 6,984,520 votes and Obi of the LP who came third with a total of 6,101,533 votes.
However, both Atiku and Obi rejected the outcome of the election which they insisted was rigged in Tinubu’s favour.
Aside from accusing INEC of acting in breach of its own electoral Regulations and Guidelines, the petitioners equally argued that Tinubu was not legally qualified to participate in the presidential contest.
More so, they argued that he did not garner the highest number of lawful votes cast at the election, adding that votes credited to the APC candidate amounted to wasted voted by reason of corrupt practices that marred the election.
Atiku further alleged that the electoral body deployed a third-party device he said was used to intercept and divert votes to the APC and its candidate.
While both Obi and Atiku separately claimed that they won the election, they asked the court to either declare them winners or in the alternative, order a fresh election.
Both petitioners urged the court to compel INEC to withdraw the Certificate of Return it earlier issued to Tinubu of the APC.
On its part, the APM, in its petition marked: CA/PEPC/04/2023, which it filed through its lawyer, Mr. O. M. Atoyebi, SAN, argued that the withdrawal of Masari who was initially nominated as the Vice-Presidential candidate of the APC, invalidated Tinubu’s candidacy in view of Section 131(c) and 142 of the 1999 Constitution, as amended.
The party argued that there was a gap of about three weeks between the period that Masari who was listed as the 5th Respondent, expressed intention to withdraw, the actual withdrawal of his purported nomination, and the time Tinubu purportedly replaced him with Shettima.
It argued that Tinubu’s candidature had elapsed as at the time he nominated Shettima as Masari’s replacement, “and he was no longer in a position constitutionally to nominate a running mate since he had ceased to be a presidential candidate of the 2nd Respondent having regards to the provisions of section 142 of the 1999 Constitution”.
APM further contended that the nomination of Masari activated the joint ticket principle enshrined in the Constitution, stressing that his subsequent withdrawal invalidated the said joint ticket.
It, therefore, prayed the court to declare that Shettima was not qualified to contest as the Vice-Presidential candidate of the APC as at February 25 when the election was conducted by INEC having violated the provisions of Section 35 of the Electoral Act, 2022.
The party is among other things, seeking, “an order nullifying and voiding all the votes scored by Tinubu in the presidential election in view of his non-qualification as a candidate of the APC”.
Likewise, an order to set aside the Certificate of Return that was issued to Tinubu and to also issue an order declaring the candidate with the next highest number of votes as the winner of the presidential election. The court had earlier ordered INEC to grant Tinubu who is currently out of the country, access to all the electoral materials it used for the presidential poll, to enable him to prepare to defend his election victory.
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