By Ikechukwu Nnochiri
ABUJA – The presidential candidate of the Labour Party, LP, Peter Obi, has persuaded the Presidential Election Petition Court, PEPC, sitting in Abuja, to adjourn further proceedings on the case he filed to challenge the outcome of the presidential election that held on February 25.
Obi, through his team of lawyers that were led by Prof. Awa Kalu, SAN, on Wednesday, told the court that two of his key staff members, suddenly fell ill.
He said the indisposition of the duo, who were described as part of the engine room of his legal Secretariat, affected his plan to tender vital documents before the court to prove his allegation that the presidential election was rigged in favour of President Bola Tinubu of the ruling All Progressive Congress, APC.
“My lords, our plan for today’s proceedings was to start with the presentation of our documents, but unfortunately, we had some unexpected development.
“The unexpected development concerns the sudden illness of two of our key staff, for which reason I am constrained to ask for an adjournment till tomorrow.
“It is with the greatest humility and apology that we make this application.
“I assure my lords that we will be here tomorrow morning and we will proceed with vigour,” Prof. Kalu, SAN, pleaded.
Obi’s lawyer told the Justice Haruna Tsammani-led five-member panel that he had before the sitting commenced, informed President Tinubu’s lead counsel, Chief Wole Olanipekun, SAN, about the development.
In his response, President Tinubu’s lawyer, Chief Olanipekun, SAN, told the court that he was not opposed to the request for an adjournment.
Likewise, Mr. Abubakar Mahmood, SAN, who appeared for the Independent National Electoral Commission, INEC, as well as counsel for the APC, prince Lateef Fagbemi, SAN, said they were equally not opposed to the request.
However, the respondents prayed the court to minus a day from the three weeks that was originally slated for Obi to present his case.
In a brief ruling, Justice Tsammani acceded to the application and adjourned the petition till Thursday.
It will be recalled that Obi and the LP had indicated their decision to call a total of 50 witnesses in the matter.
Specifically, Obi, who came third in the election, is in the joint petition he filed with the LP, contending that Tinubu was not the valid winner of the presidential election.
The petitioners, in the case marked: CA/PEPC/03/2023, equally maintained that President Tinubu was not qualified to participate in the presidential contest.
According to the petitioners, as at the time Tinubu’s running mate, Kashim Shettima, became the Vice Presidential candidate, he was still the nominated candidate of the APC for the Borno Central Senatorial election.
The petitioners further challenged Tinubu’s eligibility to contest the presidential election, alleging that he was previously indicted and fined the sum of $460,000.00 by the United States District Court, Northern District of Illinois, Eastern Division, in Case No: 93C 4483, for an offence involving dishonesty and drug trafficking.
On the ground that the election was invalid by reason of corrupt practices and non- compliance with the provision of Electoral Act, 2022, the petitioners argued that INEC acted in breach of its own Regulations and Guidelines.
The Petitioners argued that the electoral body was in the course of the conduct of the presidential poll, mandatorily required to prescribe and deploy technological devices for the accreditation, verification, continuation and authentication of voters and their particulars as contained in its Regulations.
They are, therefore, praying the court to among other things, declare that all the votes recorded for Tinubu and the APC, were wasted votes owing to his non-qualification/disqualification.
“That it be determined that on the basis of the remaining votes (after discountenancing the votes credited to the 2nd Respondent) the 1st Petitioner (Obi) scored a majority of the lawful votes cast at the election and had not less than 25% of the votes cast in at least 2/3 of the States of the Federation, and the Federal Capital Territory, Abuja, and satisfied the constitutional requirements to be declared the winner of the 25th February 2023 presidential election.
“That it be determined that the 2nd Respondent having failed to score one-quater of the votes cast at the presidential election in the Federal Capital Territory, Abuja, was not entitled to be declared and returned as the winner of the presidential election held on 25th February, 2023.
In the alternative, the petitioners want an order cancelling the election and compelling INEC to conduct a fresh election at which Tinubu, Shettima and the APC, listed as 2nd, 3rd and 4th Respondents, respectively, shall not participate.
They urged the court to declare that since Tinubu was not duly elected by a majority of the lawful votes cast in the election, therefore, his return as the winner of the presidential election, was unlawful, unconstitutional and of no effect whatsoever.
In a further alternative prayer, the petitioners want the court to hold that the presidential election was void on the ground that it was not conducted substantially in accordance with the provisions of the Electoral Act 2022, and the 1999 Constitution, as amended.
Likewise, an order, “cancelling the presidential election conducted on 25th February 2023 and mandating the 1st Respondent to conduct a fresh election for the President, the Federal Republic of Nigeria”.
Both Obi and his Vice Presidential candidate, Baba Ahmed Datti, were in court on Wednesday to observe the proceeding.
Meanwhile, the court will by 2pm, continue further hearing on the petition that was filed by candidate of the Peoples Democratic Party, PDP, Alhaji Atiku Abubakar, who came second in the presidential election.