By Ikechukwu Nnochiri
ABUJA– The Presidential Election Petition Court, PEPC, sitting in Abuja, on Monday, rejected request to allow its day-to-day proceedings on petitions seeking to nullify the outcome of the 2023 presidential election, to be televised.
The Justice Haruna Tsammani-led five member panel dismissed as lacking in merit, the application which was brought before it by the two major candidates that are challenging the outcome of the presidential election that held on February 25.
The court held that no regulatory framework or policy direction, permitted it to grant such application.
It held that allowing cameras in the court room is a major judicial policy that must be supported by the law.
“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.
“We cannot permit a situation that may lead to dramatization of our proceedings,” Justice Tsammani held.
Besides, the court held that the request was not part of any relief in the petitions before it, saying it was merely hinged on sentimental claim that it would benefit the electorates.
It maintained that the petitioners failed to establish how televising the proceedings would advance their case, adding that such live broadcast would not have any utilitarian value to add to the determination of the petitions.
Whereas it was a former Vice President and candidate of the Peoples Democratic Party, PDP, Alhaji Atiku Abubakar, who came second in the election, that initially made the request for a live coverage, subsequently, candidate of the Labour Party, Mr. Peter Obi, threw his weight behind the demand for live broadcast of proceedings of the court on the petitions.
The duo, through their lead lawyers, Chief Chris Uche, SAN, and Dr. Livy Uzoukwu, SAN, maintained that petitions they lodged to query the declaration of the candidate of the ruling All Progressives Congress, APC, Asiwaju Bola Tinubu, as winner of the election, was “a matter of monumental national concern and public interest”.
They argued that the case involved the interest of citizens and electorates in the 36 States of the Federation and the Federal Capital Territory, Abuja, who he said voted and participated in the presidential poll.
Atiku and the PDP insisted that their case against Tinubu, being a unique electoral dispute with a peculiar constitutional dimension, they said it was a matter of public interest in which millions of Nigerian citizens and voters are stakeholders, with the constitutional right to be part of the proceedings.
They specifically applied for; “An order, directing the Court’s Registry and the parties on modalities for admission of Media Practitioners and their Equipments into the courtroom”.
“With the huge and tremendous technological advances and developments in Nigeria and beyond, including the current trend by this Honourable Court towards embracing electronic procedures, virtual hearing and electronic filing, a departure from the Rules to allow a regulated televising of the proceedings in this matter is in consonance with the maxim that justice must not only be done, but must be seen to be done.
“Televising court proceedings is not alien to this Honourable Court, and will enhance public confidence”, the petitioners added.
However, in separate processes they filed before the court, both Tinubu and the APC urged the court to dismiss the application which they described as an abuse of the legal process.
Tinubu, in a counter-affifavit he filed alongside the Vice President-elect, Kashim Shettima, accused Atiku of deliberately attempting to expose the judiciary to public opprobrium.
According to them, 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.”
The respondents maintained that Atiku’s request had no bearing with the petition, insisting that it was only aimed at dissipating the judicial time of the court
They stressed that Atiku failed to realise that the virtual court system that was adopted during the Covid-19 pandemic, was backed by a practice direction that was administratively issued by the President of the Court of Appeal.
“Another angle to this very curious application is the invitation it extends to the court to make an order that it cannot supervise.
“The position of the law remains, and we do submit that the court, like nature, does not make an order in vain, or an order which is incapable of enforcement,” the respondents added.
Besides, they argued that the application was at best, “academic, very otiose, very unnecessary, very time-wasting, most unusual and most unexpected, particularly, from a set of petitioners, who should be praying for the expeditious trial of their petition.”
“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.
“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.
“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.
“It 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,” Tinubu argued.
On its part, APC, through its team of lawyers led by Prince Lateef Fagbemi, SAN, told the court that contrary to Atiku’s claim, the presidential election “is not subject matter of any national concern”, insisting that the election was “well managed by INEC with turnout of voters in their millions”.
It argued that proceedings of the court was already being adequately coveted by the media.
“There is nothing unique or peculiar in the electoral dispute that emanated from the outcome of the 25th February 2023 election that is different from the earlier five presidential elections in the country since the Advent of the Fourth Republic and if anything, the February 25 2023 election referred to, has the least litigation since 1999,” APC added.
It further argued that live broadcast “will subject the proceedings of the court to unnecessary sensationalism and undue social media trial, which distracts from the kernel of the serious business before the court”.
Continuing its argument against the application, APC, averred that allowing live televising of the proceedings, “will defeat the protection afforded to witnesses, expose them to avoidable censure and put them in a precarious situation.
“Televising of election tribunal proceedings (live) will only cause unnecessary tension, violence and unrest among the public, which may lead to breach of peace”, APC added, even as it urged the court to dismiss the application in the interest of justice.
INEC equally opposed live broadcast of the proceedings.